Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Travel Industry Game Changers

You can view the original article with pictures here.

The birth of the world’s largest airline:  The merger of American Airlines and USAirways, which became official on Dec. 9, 2013, hopefully marks the end of a wave of airline consolidation that has left the U.S. with only three major carriers that fly internationally. All the mergers and acquisitions over the past few years (United swallowed up Continental and Delta ate Northwest) have resulted in higher air fares, more hassles, and less customer-friendly policies.

I'll miss you Continental…and your customer service!

The death of loyalty:  With only three major U.S. airlines for international frequent fliers to choose among, and with planes so full, airlines don’t need our loyalty nearly as much as they did back when they started their loyalty programs. And so this year they made changes to those programs, drastically devaluing their miles and making it tougher to earn free flights. Hotels did the same, drastically devaluing their points and making it tougher to earn free nights. The only way to win the loyalty game nowadays is through credit cards that offer big sign-up mileage bonuses and double or triple points when you spend. Holiday shopping through airlines’ online shopping portals offering bonus miles helps too. 

This is exactly how we accumulate so many rewards points. We use our United card for EVERYTHING and I shop online through their website to get 4x and even up to 15x the points! Read my post about it here

The ability to stay glued to a screen throughout a flight:  You can now use some personal electronic devices during takeoff and landing. On certain airlines you can even stay connected to the Internet throughout, thanks to gate-to-gate Wi-Fi.

Hotel nickel-and-diming hit an all-time high:  The hotel industry will collect $2.1 billion in fees and surcharges in 2013—up from $2 billion last year. We’re all accustomed to “resort fees” that are basically surcharges for using a hotel’s facilities, but the latest crop of surprise fees includes charges for early check-in, early departure, mini-bar restocking, baggage holding by the bellman, use of the in-room safe, and mandatory valet parking. 

I was so mad when we stayed in Hawaii and had to pay $20 a night to park (not valet) and when we arrived at 10PM they still charged us for that night!

Travelers substituted vacation rentals for hotel rooms:  A good way to avoid getting socked with hotel fees is to avoid hotels, which may be one reason why the vacation rental market really took off this year. The big players like Airbnb and HomeAway are meeting the consumer demand for authentic local flavor and promising to give travelers more of the hotel-like features they want. Airbnb hired veteran hotel exec Chip Conley to be its new Head of Global Hospitality and train Airbnb home owners to be better hosts, and HomeAway created a new site specifically for luxury rental villas, some of which come with concierges. 

We have yet to try Homeaway or Airbnb but we might our next time out in Hawaii.

The peer-to-peer sharing economy saved travelers money and connected them with more locals:  Not only are travelers sharing accommodations through peer-to-peer services like Airbnb, they’re renting cars through car-sharing services like RelayRides and connecting with locals for unique tours via peer-to-peer sites like Vayable (see #10). Using these services is not without its risks, of course, but it’s a trend that’s transforming the travel landscape, causing the big established players to get in the game—which is why Avis paid $500 million for Zipcar this year. 

U.S. airports got first-class lounges that don’t require a first-class ticket:  This year American Express started opening luxe Centurion Lounges that are accessible for a one-time fee regardless of which airline you’re flying. They’re currently at Las Vegas McCarran and Dallas-Fort Worth, with more to open in key hubs, including San Francisco. These world-class lounges serve gourmet cuisine, provide shower suites and family rooms, lend out iPads, and sometimes even have a spa with free massages. They’re accessible to AmEx cardholders for a $50 fee and to AmEx Platinum and Centurion cardholders for free.

U.S. airports became places to go to for dinner:  This year Denver chef Justin Cucci of Root Down opened an outlet of his popular field-to-fork restaurant at Denver International; Chicago chef Rick Bayless opened a sit-down Tortas Frontera in O’Hare’s international terminal; Houston chef Bryan Caswell brought 3rd Bar Oyster and Eating House to George Bush Intercontinental; and, in Los Angeles, Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio opened an outlet of Ink.Sack at LAX. Expected soon at LAX: James Beard Award-winning chef Suzanne Goin’s Larder at Tavern.

U.S. cruise ships drew a more global crowd:  Cruise lines have been marketing themselves to an international audience in a big way, and the result is that, on your next cruise out of a foreign port, you’ll find more Europeans, South Americans, Australians, and/or Asians. As an example, 23 nationalities were represented on the Oceania cruise I took through the Panama Canal this year.  When a preponderance of certain nationalities are onboard, the cruise experience gets modified to suit local tastes. You might find, for instance, that dining service is tweaked to suit Brazilians onboard who want to eat late, or that an Asian cruise itinerary skips beautiful beaches because the Chinese onboard dislike harsh sunlight.

Ordinary people became tour guides:  The sharing economy has disrupted the tours-and-activities world too. Over the past couple of years, an array of Web sites has come along to match travelers to locals at their destinations for neighborhood tours and unique experiences. Basically, these sites—such as Vayable, SideTour, Getyourguide, and Canaryhop—want to be the Airbnb of tours, and they can be a great way to meet locals. Through Sidetour in New York City, for instance, you can “visit romantic comedy film sites with entertainment writers” or “dine with an investment banker who became a monk.” If it’s a licensed tour guide you want instead, you can find one through Viator’s guide finder.

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