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You, too, are the travel experts, so we conducted a Future of Travel survey a couple of months back on recommend.com to get your take on what’s trending in travel in 2017 and 2018. We wanted to know from you where families are headed next year; what popular experiences are popping up on your radar; is Costa Rica still a top adventure destination; and which global risk you thought would impact travel and tourism in the next couple of years. Here’s what you and your peers had to say.

Travel niche graph

I see an important role for agents for the sophisticated travelers who prefer leaving the details to a skilled, knowledgeable and well-connected consultant.

Fastest Growing Travel Niche
No surprise that one of the fastest growing travel niches continues to be river cruising, with cruising in general vying for the top spot, as well. Of course, the fact that cruising on mega-ships and river cruising is so popular is no surprise given the fact that according to the 2017 CLIA State of the Industry, it is expected that 25.3 million passengers will cruise this year, a rise of 1.1 million over 2016. Additionally, there’s a total investment of more than $6.8 billion in new ocean vessels in 2017, according to the CLIA report, as well as 18 new river cruise ships on order for this year, an increase of about 7 percent over last year.

Cruising might grab the spotlight, but survey participants also pointed to luxury, family/multigenerational, honeymoon/romance, destination weddings, wellness and adventure as popular niches. And a few of you even noted that driving vacations in Europe are popping up on your radar.

Experiential Travel
River cruising, adventure and wellness are also three of the most popular forms of experiential travel, according to the survey. Many of the participants also pointed to eco-tourism and cultural-focused vacations, with some of you noting that clients are seeking “more immersion in local culture, and seeking vacations that give back to local communities; exploring destinations in smaller groups.”

Travel motivation graph

Top Travel Motivation for Your Clients
Almost 50 percent of those who participated in the survey said that the top motivation for their clients to travel is to visit a new destination, with 15 percent saying that vacationers are still seeking some R&R when booking their holidays. That said, exploring the world’s diverse destinations still seems to lure travelers, with 11 percent of participants saying their clients are interested in “seeking out new cultures.”

The Caribbean is one of the top trending regions of the world, according to the survey participants. (Photo credit: Saint Lucia Tourist Board)
The Caribbean is one of the top trending regions of the world, according to the survey participants. (Photo credit: Saint Lucia Tourist Board)

World’s Most Popular Regions?
The survey also asked which region of the world was most trending with your clients, and Europe took the top spot, with 35 percent of survey participants saying that their clients are interested in crossing the Atlantic to explore the wonders of France, Italy, Spain, the U.K., etc. That’s no surprise given how strong the dollar is against both the euro and the pound. That said, the tropical Caribbean islands, with their laid-back vibe, came in a close second in our survey, with Asia and Latin America going neck-and-neck for third place.

Top U.S. & International Destinations
We got a bit more granular and asked the survey takers which U.S. and international destinations they thought would become even more popular in 2018. We got some interesting answers, including New England and Palm Springs, although many still pointed to Alaska and the National Parks as top draws for vacationers who wanted to explore their own backyard.

TOP INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS
• Iceland

• Australia
• New Zealand
• Cuba 
• Italy 

When it comes to international destinations, Iceland is still holding its own as one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations in recent years—with those Northern Lights, otherworldly landscapes and unspoiled wilderness drawing your clients in. Two other far-flung destinations that participants see an increased demand for are Australia and New Zealand, ideal for those adrenaline-junkies. For a closer, but no less exotic vacation, survey participants point to Cuba, offering quite the appeal, and one of those destinations that insiders recommend travelers visit now before it gets “spoiled” with excessive tourism. And, of course, Italy still remains one of the most popular European destinations.

Survey says: Florida is popular for family vacations.
Survey says: Florida is popular for family vacations.

Top Family, Luxury, Wellness & Adventure Destinations
As part of the survey, we were interested in learning which destinations for specific travel niches are gaining interest among consumers this year and into 2018, and according to the survey, Orlando, Florida—most notably Walt Disney World—continues to be one of the most popular spots for family travel. In fact, Florida received 112.8 million tourists in 2016, a 5.9 percent increase over 2015 and the sixth-consecutive record year for Florida. Also notably strong destinations for family travel are the Caribbean; Mexico; Alaska; and Hawaii.

TOP FAMILY DESTINATIONS
• Florida
• Caribbean
• Mexico
• Alaska 
• Hawaii

When it comes to top luxury destinations, many of the participants penned in Italy; the South Pacific; Hawaii; and Mexico, but they also noted river and small ship cruising, many of whose itineraries sail through Europe.

With wellness vacations taking center stage for bookings, we wondered, too, where vacationers were jetting off to to seek their Earth-based Nirvana. The travel consultants who participated in the survey are booking vacations in Arizona, Bali, Thailand, India, and the Caribbean. Given these destinations’ prominence for offering some of the world’s best spa and holistic experiences, it comes as no surprise that these continue to be on the radar for 2018, as well. And in case you haven’t stepped into the wellness travel niche, this might be a wake up call: Wellness tourism is set to grow to be a $678.5 billion industry in 2017, according to the Global Wellness Institute.

Wellness vacations, according to survey takers, are very popular. This photo was shot in Sedona, Arizona. (Photo credit: loosegravel photography/austin wylie)
Wellness vacations,
according to survey takers, are very popular. This photo was shot in Sedona, Arizona. (Photo credit: loosegravel photography/austin wylie)

Closely related to wellness is adventure tourism, with travelers seeking out destinations where they can partake in an array of outdoor activities. It makes sense, then, that Costa Rica, Peru and Iceland—with their spectacular open-air offerings—are top of mind for our survey participants when asked to name the top adventure destinations for 2018. These destinations, too, fit in nicely with the top motivating factor for adventure travelers, which, according to new research conducted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in conjunction with researchers from East Carolina University, is “transformative experiences.”

TOP CRUISE ITINERARIES
• Caribbean
• The Med
• The Danube
• Alaska 
• South Pacific

Top Cruise Itineraries
The survey respondents covered the globe when asked to forecast the top cruise itinerary for 2018—responses hop-scotched from the Caribbean to the Med, and on over to Alaska, as well as the South Pacific, with one travel consultant writing, “For me, clients still want the Caribbean, but Mediterranean itineraries and river cruises on the Danube are strong.”

Hotel trends graph

Hotel Trends
The hotel room is no longer considered just a place to drop one’s suitcases. Hotels have come a long way, baby, with many serving as cultural hubs and community gathering places that bring like-minded guests together, and all-inclusives upping the ante when it comes to luxury offerings. With that in mind, we asked survey participants what hotel trends are popping up on their radars. Thirty-five percent said boutique hotels are still quite popular, with hotels debuting in emerging destinations and locally immersive hotels also being top of mind for many vacationers. And with the rise in the popularity of wellness vacations, it’s no surprise that a good number of respondents pointed to wellness-focused hotels as being one of the top hotel trends.

global risk graph

People will rely more on travel agents for safe, organized travel experiences and the most up-to-date and reliable information concerning the global situation.

Global Risk & Safety Concern
We asked the survey participants to address the global risks that could impact potential growth in the coming years, and 65 percent said that terrorism would be the most impactful. Political instability, too, concerned 26 percent of those who responded. We wondered, too, if travel consultants were seeing a rise in domestic travel due to global risks, and 50 percent of those who responded said that they had in fact seen their clients opt to explore their own backyard rather than vacation abroad due to concerns. For those respondents’ clients who decided to travel abroad, we wondered if safety was a major concern: 52 percent of respondents said that for their clients it is somewhat concerning.

People are coming back to travel agents because the web is so vast. We often have first-hand knowledge of the cruise or destination they are planning.

The Bottom Line
We also wanted to know what the year ahead looked like in terms of bookings, and 66 percent of respondents noted that in terms of sales for 2017/18, they were optimistic or cautiously optimistic, with 17 percent saying they were predicting stable growth, and 8 percent noting that it’s going to be a banner couple of years.

Hawaii, according to the survey, is a top place for a luxury vacation.
Hawaii, according to the survey, is a top place for a luxury vacation.

The Changing Role of the Travel Consultant
One of the questions we posed to our readers who opted into the survey was how they see the role of the travel consultant growing or changing in the years to come. Many of our readers pointed to specialization, with some saying that, “Consumers are starting to understand the need to seek out specialist versus generalist, so they are looking for destination- or product-focused agents.” One respondent noted that, “education and experience will weed out part-time adventurists trying to be travel professionals,” with another adding that “expertise and service are becoming more and more important.”

We have to be knowledgeable in not only destinations but in the safety of the destination as well. We need to be honest with our clients and be able to build a trust with them.

Many pointed to the issue of safety, with one noting that, “We have to be knowledgeable in not only destinations, but in the safety of the destination as well. We need to be honest with our clients and be able to build a trust with them.”

Still others pointed out that there is so much information on the Internet that the travel consultant’s role is to “untangle all of the information and narrow down a [client’s] options.” In fact, wrote another respondent, a travel agent’s role is to “sift through the maze of so-called deals online and truly find clients the best value and make sure they get what they pay for.”

Millennials, too, were top of mind, with respondents pointing out that although the younger generation is searching everything online, they still “pop in and have us book it as they’ve had bad experiences online.”

Education and experience will weed out part-time adventurists trying to be professionals.

Although there were many respondents who noted that the role of the travel agent faced an “uncertain future,” the majority were optimistic, with one stating that “despite the information and reservation options on the Internet, I see an important role for agents for the sophisticated travelers who prefer leaving the details to a skilled, knowledgeable and well-connected consultant. That’s why people use doctors, plumbers and tax accountants rather than doing it themselves.”

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