11 trends that could affect your travels in 2011

Going somewhere? Things are looking up for travel as experts predict not just recovery but growth in the industry in 2011. Surveys report that travellers plan to take more trips than in past years — even if those trips are shorter and modest spending is the norm. According to the ITB World Travel Trends Report, Canadians are anticipated to take more than 29 million trips this year and Americans a whopping 64 million.

However, increasing demand is just one of the factors set to change how we travel in the year ahead. Add in security changes, new vacation options and new technology and it’s going to be both an exciting and trying time.

Travel experts and industry watchers have now levelled their predictions for 2011. Here are some of the trends and issues that could affect your plans.

11 travel trends for 2011

Demand — and costs — on the rise. The scales of supply and demand will once again tip in favour of travel providers instead of travellers. During the recession, we got used to the bargains as companies desperately tried to fill tour seats, cruise ships and hotels rooms. However, industry watchers warn those deals and extra perks will be harder to come by now that more people are travelling again — and providers can raise rates without much worry. The bottom line: expect to budget more for hotel stays and cruises.

Transportation costs take off. What about getting to your destination? Expect to pay more for that too. Decreased capacity as companies downsized their fleets, increasing demand, higher costs for fuel and fewer discounted fares mean airfares are on the rise. By how much? Expect an extra 3-7 per cent to your flight, according to Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) — not to mention potential fee increases. If you’re a first class or business traveller, you might see a decrease instead as companies aim to keep your business.

What if you plan to hit the road or ride the rails instead? Watch out for increasing costs here too, especially as the price for crude oil climbs. (And did we mention the HST?)

The return of the travel agent. Think online travel services, online reviews and do-it-yourself vacations are taking over? Not so fast, says a report from Forrester Research. Planning a trip online can be a confusing and frustrating experience, and online providers continue to be plagued by customer service issues. As a result, more people are turning to the expertise of a travel agent for guidance — and backup for when things go wrong. (Read the full story here.)

Security versus privacy. Remember last year’s fuss about invasive body scanners and pat-down procedures? Don’t expect the controversy or the policies to end anytime soon. While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to come under fire over privacy issues, body scanners and pat-downs are becoming standard procedure around the world — including in Canada. If you’re selected for secondary screening, you’ll have a choice between the pat down and the body scan.

Think you can try to protect your privacy? Think again. Measures like underwear designed to shield your private parts will lead to a pat-down, warns a recent post on the TSA blog.

Looking for value. Backpacking and couch surfing aren’t your style? This year, travellers will be looking for value to make their moderate budgets stretch as far as possible without compromising quality or experience. Everyone has their own list of top destinations, like Lonely Planet’s Best value destinations, but there are some consistent trends. Places that are still recovering from economic woes or other issues are still offering deals — like Iceland, whose currency issues were compounded by volcanic ash, and Mexico, whose reputation has been damaged by crime and the H1N1 outbreak. Countries that used to get a bad rap — like former “axis of evil” country Syria — are worth a second look as conditions and politics have changed, but travellers are often slow to forgive or forget.

Thinking outside the box.Looking for something different? Keep an eye on “emerging destinations” — those lesser known locales that are expanding their tourism offerings. Instead of heading to tourist hotspots, many travellers are expected to explore new places like Nicaragua or Italy’s less travelled regions. Countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Panama, Albania or Bulgaria are now appearing on must-see lists, but you don’t have to venture quite so far. According to Lonely Planet, many North American spots are also gearing up for their fair share of tourism income this year as well — like the Arctic or farm tourism in Canada’s prairie provinces.

There is good news if you still want to save on accommodations: alternatives like renting a vacation home or apartment will continue to be popular.

Defining events. As Canadians experienced with the 2010 Olympics, a major event can bring big changes and set the tone for months beforehand. Some of this year’s big happenings and anniversaries include:

– The 2011 Cricket World Cup will take place in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — a first for Bangladesh and the 290th anniversary of the first match played in India.

– The Royal Wedding. Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding is already gaining worldwide attention, and souvenirs are already on the shelves.

– The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War will have history buffs flocking south this summer for re-enactments and other events.

– The 20th Anniversary of Soviet Union’s Collapse will have people “seeing red” — and bring a renewed interest in all things from the communist-era.

– The UN’s International Year of the Forest initiative will see events all over the world to help protect and promote forests. As an added bonus, Parks Canada is keeping its fee freeze for a second year.

More custom options. Forget one-size-fits-all packages. Customized travel options are predicted to be big again in 2011, according to Pauline Frommer in an article from the Toronto Star. Want to learn a new skill or plan a trip around a favourite hobby? Find activities suitable to your abilities and interests? Try something new — like adventure travel or volunteering? There are itineraries for just about everyone. Offerings are also predicted to cater to a wider range of travellers — like family-friendly, multigenerational vacations that include not just the kids and parents, but grandparents and extended family as well.

Going mobile. Remember the news coverage of stranded holiday travellers using Twitter to deal with flights? Mobile devices like tablets and smart phones are set to be one of this year’s hottest tech trends, so it’s no surprise travellers are taking advantage. From digital travel guides to a flood of travel apps and online reviews to online booking, expect even more offerings to help with planning and troubleshooting your trip — not to mention a never-ending supply of ideas and inspiration.

Going social. Flights won’t be the only status updates you’ll be watching. Reports note that travellers are increasingly using social media both to plan their trips and share their travels. In the U.S., more than half of all leisure travellers use social media, according to the ITB — including millions who “like” or “follow” travel companies through their social media offerings. Watch for travel companies, events and attractions to get wise to this growing trend — like offering discounts and updates through Twitter or Facebook pages, for instance.

Want to share your voyages? Try out sites and applications that let you post updates and photos to make your friends and family envious.

Bed bugs. We wish we could report this problem was getting better, but these pests seem to be everywhere — including major cities and high end hotels. Along with rising airfares, bed bugs are one of the top concerns of this year’s travellers, according to a survey conducted by TripAdvisor.com. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do is to try to stay informed and take steps to avoid exposure — like keeping your luggage off the floor. (Don’t worry — we’ve got more tips to avoid bed bugs when you travel.)

As always, political turmoil, terrorism, natural disasters and weather will affect everyone’s travels, but these trends could make it both an exciting and difficult year in travel. No one is quite sure what the future holds, but staying informed and shopping around can help you make the most of your plans and your budget.

Sources: Carson Wagonlit Travel North America, The Guardian, ITB World Travel Trends Report, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011, Lonely Planet press releases, MSN Travel, The Toronto Star, TripAdvisor.com, UN World Tourism Organization, USA Today .

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ thesuperph

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