My Take on Travel Trends: Themes from the NYT Travel Show

Carolyn at the New York Travel Show
Published Jan 25, 2020

By Carolyn Ray

Carolyn at the Frommer's Stand

In January, I spent three days at the New York Times Travel Show, one of the largest industry, trade and consumer trade shows. There were more sessions than I could possibly see, and press conferences hosted by regions and countries including Guadeloupe, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, Florida, Nepal, Cuba, Puglia and Dubai. I also tested some new products designed for women, notably the outwear, sleeping masks, travel mats and luggage. I invite your thoughts and hope to explore each of these topics in more depth in upcoming articles.

It was also a thrill to meet an array of incredible women who are long-time friends of Journeywoman, including Pauline Frommer, Patricia Schultz (1000 Places to See Before You Die) Susan Van Allen (100 Places in Italy that Every Woman Should Go), Linda Meyers, Cook in Tuscany, and Renee Blodgett, We Blog the World.

Theme #1: Responsible travel: "Doing better"

The impact of tourism impact on the environment is not debatable. However, there is evidence of a collective desire to be more responsible and an acknowledgement that this has not been the case in the past.

As travelers, we must be knowledgeable to avoid being victims of 'greenwashing' and call on the industry to follow words with actions. There was much discussion about the People:Planet:Profit equation, and a belief that the travel industry can be both profitable and take care of the planet.

Plastic pollution is top of mind. Africa is a strong advocate against single use bottles, as is the cruise industry. There is also concern about the size of cruise ships, which carry about 3,000 people on average, and pressure to reduce emissions, become carbon-neutral and minimize food waste. Although fuel efficiency on airplanes and ships is improving, some companies, like Hurtigruten, already have hybrid expedition ships, and are promising the most advanced and environmentally friendly expedition ships at sea, with state-of-the-art green technology and hybrid power. "Leave the place better than you found it" was a popular theme expressed by everyone, along with a desire to protect and preserve authenticity of the culture, history and environment.

Overtourism is still the elephant in the room. Countries, cities and operators stated that they take overtourism seriously, but note that tourism can help communities that need it through employment. Therefore, the solution rests with the destinations who control the experience and the crowds. It was recommended repeatedly to travel in the off-season for the most competitive pricing, and for the least impact on the environment. Not to mention you can have a better experience when there are less tourists around.

Theme #2: Women's safety: "Without travel, the world would be a more dangerous place"

I asked every exhibitor for data on women's safety. Most responded with a generic acknowledgement that their region is safe for women, but some, such as Morocco, were fairly open in saying women should not travel solo. The growing presence of solo women tours was prevalent, and many were offering no single supplement, particularly in the cruise sector.

It was exciting to see women-owned and operated companies, but what is still lacking is women in leadership positions at large enterprises (such as Lisa-Petroff-Perlo, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises, who was an obvious standout on a discussion on the State of the Industry with five men). The cruising sector is positioning itself as the 'safest', most secure choice for women. There was one session on general safety with the Department of Homeland Security, which focused on four areas: Get Informed, Get Required Documents, Get Enrolled (in STEP: Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and Get Insured. More information here: travel.state.gov/content/travel.html. (Please see our Earthquake and Tsunami Tips that I obtained from Discover Puerto Rico.)

Theme #3: Smarter travel: leveraging credit cards and loyalty programs

I'm always looking for ways to save money on flights. I've learned the hard way that there is no special 'good' day or time to book a flight. Even after hours of searching, the variance is sometimes no more than $50. This is NOT a good way to spend time! I pride myself on being an effective good points collector but after I heard Jamie Larounis, The ForwardCabin.com and Dave Grossman, MilesTalk.com present a session called 'How to Navigate the Complicated World of Credit Card Points and Frequent Flyer Miles', I realized I'm not doing enough to maximize credit card points and reward programs.

Here are some of their highlights:

  1. Know your credit cards: There are 3 kinds of credit cards. A credit card that earns miles or points in a single loyalty program currency (like World of Hyatt Credit Card); a card that earns points with bonus multipliers that can be transferred to other programs (like Chase Sapphire Preferred), and a credit card you keep for the tangible benefits (like American Express Platinum Card which gives you lounge access). Most credit cards are waiving F/X fees but you should check.
  2. Try to stay in one airline alliance if you can (eg oneworld, StarAlliance, SkyTravel). It's a little-known secret that you can book Virgin using Delta points, even though Virgin isn't in the SkyTravel alliance. And… (this is the important part) use partner programs to earn points. By buying products through airline partners, you can often get points. I checked Aeroplan and there are almost 300 partners listed on the website. These are businesses I already buy from but I'm not getting points!
  3. Tools of the trade: Five websites were recommended by the speakers to consolidate and/or track your points. Award Wallet, Where to Credit, Award Hacker, ExpertFlyer, KVS availability, and Cashback Monitor.
  4. Use AARP discounts to save money, particularly on British Airways.
  5. Use Google Flights to figure out which flights connect where. Sometimes you can use less points to buy connecting flights through the partner airline. For example, using points to buy a ticket on United may be cheaper than on the Air Canada route.
  6. Don't exchange money at airport money exchanges, use a credible ATM once you arrive. You'll save money on the fees and get the local rate.

(Please note: If you have more tips to save money, send them to editor@journeywoman.com)

Theme #4: River Cruising is HOT HOT HOT

There is no question that cruising is a growth market, with 32 million people projected to go on cruises this year (that's the population of Canada)! MSC is adding 17 new ships in the next eight years, and Royal Caribbean has $66b in new ships on order.

River cruising seems to be the hottest trend, with smaller boats that offer guests easily accessible trips, but also stunning views from the water at a slow pace. The best rivers to explore, according to Pauline Frommer, are the Danube, Mississippi and Mekong Rivers, due to their diversity and variety. I was pleased to see that Rivera, which has 30 vessels, offers a no single supplement on its smaller boats which are also very accessible.

In response to the question of 'can you have an authentic experience on a cruise ship?', Oceana has developed a 'go local' approach that targets baby boomers and experienced travelers, offering authentic culinary experiences where you can go to local markets and take cooking classes, sheep herding in Spain or the opportunity to stay overnight in a city. Norwegian now offers open dining times and 27 restaurants onboard one ship. Another on-board trend is the entertainment, which ranges from Cirque de Soleil experiences to Broadway Shows.

Cruise ships are embracing innovation to make logistics easier. For example, most are experimenting with AI, Google Home and Alexa to help with booking shore excursions, guest safety, on-board check-in, ordering food or opening doors with wristbands.

Expedition cruising is also hot, with trips to the Galapagos and Antarctica. People are planning trips years in advance to celebrate milestones and anniversaries.

TIP: One of Pauline Frommer's observations was about shore excursions. She noted: 'there is no bigger scam than shore excursions' because the same guides are used by all ships, yet the guests are charged a premium depending on what cruise line you are on. She also said Australians are the best people to travel with, so giddy up!

Theme #5: Emerging destinations are HOT HOT HOT

Travel brochures

I sat in on a session for travel planners and advisors which noted that the most popular destinations in the world were still (as expected) in Europe (Italy, France, Spain), followed by Greece, the UK, Ireland, Japan, Germany and South Africa. The emerging destinations being booked included: Egypt, Croatia, Colombia, Slovenia, Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco and Ethiopia. I've been to some of these and hope to visit the others in my lifetime. Ethiopia is surprisingly historic, with its well-preserved underground churches carved into solid rock in Lalibela and Gondar, the 'Camelot' of Ethiopia, with its 17th century castles.

The other destination that seemed to be on everyone's lips is Tanzania. As you'll see in our interview with Pauline Frommer, she just returned and loved it. Others include Ghana, which is inviting return and investment through its 2019 "Year of Return" campaign. 2020 will be 'Beyond the Return'. And the third area is the 'Stans' of the Silk Road – Uzbekistan,Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkenistan. (Any Journeywoman who have tips or stories about these areas, please send them along!)

The oddest destination I came across was Chernobyl. According to Anna, who worked at the Chernobyl Tours booth, since tours started 11 years ago, they have grown in popularity and now 125,000 people visited to Chernobyl last year. Who comes? Students, scholars, and researchers want to understand the effects of radiation. The brochure states: "the radiation dose of one day in the Chernobyl Zone is 160 times less than a chest x-ray, 3600 times less than a full-body CT-scan." Those are some interesting comparisons, to be sure!

This deserves more attention, so look for tips for these and other off-the-beaten track places in these countries soon!

There's more to share, so keep an eye out. As always, comments are welcome at editor@journeywoman.com

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