Recommend’s 50th Anniversary issue puts the spotlight on the future of travel. In 20 years, would space travel be the norm? Would virtual reality take over travel agents’ role? Would the sharing economy become an even more important component of traveling? Or would the human contact continue to be the single element that ties travelers of all ages together? We wanted to know the answers to these questions, so we asked industry experts across all markets. The Future of Travel article that appears in the 50th anniversary issue digs deep into the issue, but the industry experts we spoke with had a whole lot more to say, so we decided to continue the Future of Travel conversation online and feature some of the Q&As in their entirety.
Recommend: What shifts are you noticing in cruise travel today that will affect cruise travel in five years, or maybe even 10, 20 years from now?
John Delaney: The cruise guest of today is a sophisticated traveler who holds increasingly high expectations for the precious time that they get to spend with loved ones and friends. The quality of every aspect of their cruise goes under sub-conscious scrutiny – dining, service, activities, shore excursions, down to how you are greeted when you board. This collective raising of the bar puts increased expectations on cruise lines to differentiate themselves with special touches that each brand can own. For us, the size of our small ships and our sail away experience are examples of a physical and emotional differentiator for Windstar.
REC: Looking to the future, what do you envision will change the most in terms of how people take cruises and their expectations?
JD: Experienced travelers will continue to seek out even more exotic destinations as well as specialized experiences and less crowded ports.
In the future, one trend I see emerging in travel in general is that a company’s environmental footprint is really gaining importance and people are endorsing their interest in leaving a softer footprint through their travel purchases. One major example is the emergence of LNG-powered ships that offer cleaner energy sources as well as sustainability. Sustainable travel is the wave of the future that resonates with boomers, Gen X, and the next big generation of cruisers – millennials.
Additionally, I see the cruise/travel/attractions industries embracing the sharing economy and technology trends that have proven to be successful models in lodging and transportation, such as AirBNB and Uber. Maybe group sourcing of shore excursions or a world-wide museum pass – with all the innovative minds out there the possibilities and opportunities are immense.
REC: What will be the role of small ship cruising in the overall cruise landscape five, 10, 20 years down the line?
JD: Small ships offer high touch, personalized service from skilled professionals that know your preferences without having to ask. The key thing for small ship operators looking to the future will be to use both technology and service to deliver preferred travel experiences. This merges the intelligence we have on guest behaviors with the advantage of being extremely high-touch.
We must become more nimble to better anticipate and take care of guest wants and likes/dislikes, taking the CRM model to the next stratosphere.
Our goal should be to create that intersection of highly personalized service with tracking and technology. Using both people skills and computer data to not only know, but also predict preferences. What flavor creamer or morning smoothie you like is a given now, but what active and adventurous shore excursion might you want to try next – we will suggest that for you.
REC: Personalized service and human connection are an important part of any cruise traveler’s vision for a perfect vacation. How do you see that evolving?
JD: Because Windstar operates true small ships with high repeat rates, our staff are legendary for remembering guests (even after years) and your individual likes and dislikes. They get to know people right away and have a talent of reading and engaging cruise guests. The trick in creating a perfect vacation is always knowing when and where a guest wants interaction, information, or services and even to what degree and frequency.
For example, we often hear from our Yacht Club Members that the stateroom steward always has everything perfectly in place just how they want and yet they rarely see them; or that the steward turns up with a hello and your favorite chilled wine and bottle of beer in an ice bucket, at always the right time, like they can read your mind. It’s the combination of human touch and tech – both working together to produce the magical moments guests remember.
REC: Which “unexplored” cruise destinations do you see taking center stage in the future?
JD: China. The coastline of China is so vast and rich in culture, yet the government openness to the opportunities for cruise travel is limited. If China ever did more to promote cruising and increase Asia sourcing, we would have a whole new region to explore – from famous cities to undiscovered cultural gems in the colorful harbors that dot the rich Pacific rim.
REC: How do you see the travel consultant’s role evolving five, 10 years down the line?
JD: I believe that consumers are going to expect more and more from a travel advisor or travel specialist. Customization is the norm now. Agents will be expected to have even greater and more detailed, personal knowledge of the far broader array of travel choices available today, and not just for cruises. This expectation will grow exponentially in the future. There is so much information available online and so many more travel and cruise options out there than 10-15-20 years ago. Consumers want their travel agent to aggregate that information for them. They are expected to design the perfect vacation itinerary that factors in their client’s preferences while providing the right mix of new and enriching experiences that they can brag about.
The volume of options is dizzying from hotel choices to airline classes of service, not to mention the sustained boom in cruise growth. There are so many more choices at all levels. The agent’s ability to help navigate and successfully match a client to the ever broadening array of choices will be super important to their vitality and success.
Click here to read The Future of Travel.