Highlights From World Travel Market 2008

This week’s show in London focused on global travel trends, responsible tourism and travel technology.


The global economy was the reluctant star of this year’s World Travel Market (WTM), which took place Nov. 10 to 14 at ExCel London. The event drew a record crowd of nearly 50,000 attendees from 200 countries.

Not surprisingly, much of the discussions in the show’s sessions touched on the current financial crisis spanning the globe, how the travel industry will be affected and what companies can do to brace for the downturn, which is expected to last at least through 2009.

Figures from the United National World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) show international tourism arrivals grew less than 2 percent over the summer months compared to an average growth of 5.7 percent for the first four months of 2008. Growth for the industry is expected to stall or decline in 2009.

The good news is that people are still traveling—they’re taking trips that are closer to home, giving a boost to local and regional markets, and increasingly considering emerging destinations that offer good value for their money, such as South America. WTM chairman Fiona Jeffery and several other WTM speakers noted that there are opportunities for suppliers who are acutely aware of business conditions and trends adjust their offerings accordingly.

WTM Global Trends Report 2008

The WTM Global Trends Report, conducted by Euromonitor International, showed some surprising and not-so-surprising results. A few highlights:

  • Expect to see more consolidation, particularly in the airline industry. In 2008, 24 airlines have gone out of business, to date. Continental and Northwest merged in the United States; British Airways is poised to merge with Iberia; and Lufthansa and AirFrance/KLM are bidding for Austrian Airlines. Budget brands could grow though, as indicated by Ryanair’s announcement to launch a transatlantic carrier.
  • Independent and unbranded accommodation suppliers may be squeezed out of the market by increased operating costs coupled with tightened credit. But budget-lodging brands are expected to benefit from the trend of business and leisure travelers trading down in their hotel choices in order to save money.
  • The big trend for the North American market is the demand for philanthropic travel, also known as voluntourism. Much of this “conscientious consumption” is coming from the luxury market, since high-end travelers are those who can most easily afford expensive long-haul trips to exotic destinations, where there also could be poverty and environmental destruction. Recent catastrophic events, such as 9/11, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the Sichuan earthquake also have spurred the demand for this type of travel.
  • In Europe, hospitality tourism is hot. This travel segment includes home stays and exchanges, couch surfing and hospitality clubs. While saving money may be one reason for this trend, increased demand for authentic cultural experiences while traveling is another key factor.
  • In Africa, fair-trade holidays are boosting sales of sub-Saharan tourism, but not as much as they could be. Fair-trade branded products were valued at $3.6 billion in 2007, representing 47 percent growth year-over-year. A few niche tour operators are active in this market, but this is a segment that is ripe for growth, according the WTM report.

Responsible Tourism

For the second year in a row, WTM designated a World Responsible Tourism Day. In addition to announcing this year’s World Travel Awards, sessions focused on how to choose among carbon offset programs and how suppliers can reduce greenhouse gas emissions; a discussion with Ed Fuller, CEO of Marriott Hotels & Resorts, who stressed that hotel chain growth “can be done sustainably and responsibly”; how to build a green resort; water issues and whether there is enough of a supply for tourism; and the impact of airlines on the environment.

While there is a growing interest in ecotourism, voluntourism and sustainable practices around the world, particularly in the travel sector, the consensus is that the mass-market travel consumer is not willing to pay a premium to switch suppliers for this type of travel. Instead, these guests are more likely to support suppliers who partner with local social outreach organizations and who instill a commitment to sustainable practices, says Hugo Kimber, CEO of The Carbon Consultancy, based in Swindon, in the United Kingdom.

Technology in Travel

EyeForTravel, a media and research organization specializing in technology and online travel, held daylong conferences on each of WTM’s three main days. Industry niches included mobile technology in travel, the evolution of online travel, and online content and conversion strategies. While the sessions were geared toward travel suppliers as opposed to consumers, here’s what users can expect: increasingly targeted and personalized content, and more packages and discounts. Mobile technology will mostly be used by companies to provide relevant travel information to users on their PDAs and cell phones as most people are still not comfortable making purchases on their mobile devices.

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