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Tourism trends - Travellers want more individual holiday experiences

Consumers will demand more individual and authentic travel experiences in the future and will rely more than ever on technology to plan and enjoy their trips, some 50 international travel experts agreed at the 20th World Travel Monitor Forum in Pisa.

In the short term, factors influencing travel and tourism in 2013 will be broadly similar to 2012, the experts agreed during workshop discussions. In general, they are of the opinion that consumers will continue to focus on their personal financial situation, holiday prices and value for money offers, while the image and stability of destinations will also have a strong impact, they predicted.

Technology will further extend its influence, in their view. Consumers will take advantage of modern technology to adapt their travel behaviour, especially how they use information and buy travel products and services, says the report. In essence, people will rely more on personal information and recommendations available on commercial and social websites, and will use mobile technology to access travel products and services both before and during their trips. In the medium term, the experts believed that travel demand and supply will emerge.

One trend will be that consumers will seek new and more authentic experiences, they predicted. More people would turn their backs on artificial 'travel worlds' and, instead, seek authentic holiday destinations and experiences with more interaction with local communities, for example. This view tied in with a presentation by Professor Dr Felizitas Romeiss-Stracke, director of the Munich-based Tourism Architecture Platform, who forecast that "physical experiences in authentic places" will become more important in the travel and tourism industry in future.

Calls on cruise industry to change course

According one of the leaders in the cruise shipping sector, the international cruise industry must proactively face up to its challenges and respond openly to criticism. "After years of continued growth, the stretchmarks are starting to show," Professor Alexis Papathanassis, from the University of Applied Sciences in Bremerhaven, Germany, warned during the meeting.

He said profit margins are characterised by a declining trend whilst (particularly fuel) costs are rising; working and pay conditions are increasingly being questioned, and the sector's environmental practices and economic impact for destinations are under public scrutiny. The renowned cruise industry expert warned that the sector was sailing towards serious challenges and potential criticism from customers, suppliers, investors and the media unless it changed course in time.

In financial terms, the cruise sector's profit margins have fallen about four cent over the last decade mainly due to declining onboard revenue per day and increasing fuel costs, Papathanassis pointed out. He noted that the notion that larger ships and the accompanied spending opportunities on board automatically lead to higher onboard revenue per passenger is not supported by the analysis of public financial reports. Moreover, the larger proportion of economic and financial benefits remain largely in the source markets or production locations, while only a relatively small fraction flows to the destination ports in the form of direct spending. "Cruisers spend on average between €50 and €70 at the ports of call; the question is whether this money covers the indirect costs and whether it goes into the wallets of the local people," he commented.

Consequently, countries considering investing in cruise terminals in order to attract vessels and more visitors are well advised to consider the role of cruise tourism in their overall tourism development strategy, evaluate the cost-benefit from becoming cruise destinations and very carefully plan cruise-related infrastructure projects, he urged.

Another critical area is safety and security. Following the Costa Concordia accident at the start of 2012, cruisers still consider cruises to be a safe option, Papathanassis said. Nonetheless, according to a research study he supervised, approximately half of the respondents expressed doubts on the crew's ability to deal with an emergency and clearly perceived safety as their own responsibility. This finding could serve as a valuable input to the improvement of safety procedures and information policies on board, he said.

Working conditions

Moreover, Papathanassis was particularly critical of the working conditions for cruise ship staff, especially salary levels, which effectively mean that many workers rely on tips, while working long hours and living under suboptimal conditions. In this light, some labour organisations accuse cruise-ships of being more like 'sweat-ships' (a pun on 'sweatshop' factories), he noted. Obviously, what constitutes fair pay and acceptable working conditions can be conveniently seen as a relative matter defined by the living standards in the crews' source countries and by the recruiting structures in the corresponding labour supply chains. At the end of the day though, it is matter of perceived responsibility and ethical imperative at the consumption-end of the cruise supply chain (i.e., cruise operators and guests).

However, things are changing. Modern technology means such things are no longer invisible in the background, he emphasised. "The age of digital transparency has arrived ... . What happens at sea does not stay at sea anymore!"

In response, cruise companies should revise and improve their information and communication policies to actively and constructively respond to criticism from different stakeholders including customers, suppliers, investors and media, on these topics, Papathanassis recommended. They should aim for 'win-win' agreements with stakeholders, trust their customers' ability to filter unwarranted criticism, and act to rectify warranted criticism. Critics ought to be perceived as valuable quality control partners.

"For the maturing cruise sector, the greatest challenge ahead lies with socio-economic responsibility and action-focused reputation management he said. "Reputation is about 'meaning what you say' and 'saying what you mean'!" he concluded.

- Taken from ITB World Travel Trends 2012-2013. Prepared by IPK International.

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