Looking Ahead: Trends to Watch in 2016

The year may be wrapping up but the Travel & Tourism industry never sleeps, so we rounded up the potential trends to watch for in 2016. Trends ranged widely; from several surprisingly unique emerging destinations to advancements intended to ease and personalise the travel experience, it’s a fast-changing world out there. Let’s take a look at which trends will continue to be relevant in 2016, and which trends you might not have predicted are coming.

Emerging Destinations

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Myanmar and Cuba are two emerging destinations that will likely continue to rise in the coming year. Myanmar’s tourism industry has continued to grow at a clipped pace for several years, ever since the U.S. restarted diplomatic relations with the country in 2012. In the wake of that, both the WTM Global Trends Report and members of the U.S. Tour Operators Association (USTOA) anticipate this trend will continue. Likewise, Cuba tourism continues to benefit from international press as the “Cuban Thaw” continued strong in 2015. Both US and European tourism trends indicate a growing and continued interest in Cuba travel. According to Terry Dale, president and CEO of USTOA, “About thirty-four percent of our members currently offer programs to Cuba, and of that number, more than half plan to increase offerings within the next few years.”

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And more than that, vacation spots like China and Mexico topped the destination list for UK holidaymakers — 50% of respondents indicated an interest travelling there in 2016. And a surprisingly offbeat destination is at the cusp of growth: Iran. With much of the Middle East facing a tourism crisis and improved diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran, the country is emerging as culturally rich and as an intriguing option in the region. Our most recent Economic Impact report for Iran indicated an anticipated a 3.2% rise in visitors in 2015. With recent stories and favorable press, alongside evidence of continued interest in 2016, travel to Iran will likely rise in the coming year.


Lower global fuel prices in 2015 prompted two aviation trends expected to make waves in 2016. Many airlines have begun to pass on fuel savings to consumers, and fall 2015 saw some of the lowest airline ticketing prices in years — 18% lower fares in the U.S. market during September compared to the previous year. More than low-cost savings, however, lower fuel prices sparked a resurgence in the era of ultra-long-haul flying. On Feb 1, 2016, Emirates will fly a nonstop route from Dubai to Panama City. This flight, coming in at 17 hours and 35 minutes, is just the first of several more routes travellers can expect in the coming years.

Additionally, cruising is on the rise. According to data from the Cruise Line International Association, global ocean cruise passenger rates have increased steadily since 2009. Moreover, river cruising also gained popularity throughout 2015 and many tour agents anticipate continued strong bookings.

Styles of Travel

Travellers are going niche in 2016, using travel agents and online research to book vacations tightly focusing on specific experiences. A recent TripAdvisor survey indicated 69% of travellers plan to try something new in 2016. The Travel Market Report found three possible trends these travellers will look for: adventure travel, experiential travel, and wellness travel. Even more niche, the WTM Report noted a rise in “Hipster Holidays” across European cities. The TripAdvisor survey also showed that millennial travelers want novel and adventurous experiences in the coming year.

Pauline Frommer attributes these trends to “a change in mindset, leading vacationers to pick trips that they think will add to their mental and/or physical wellbeing — which ain’t a bad development at all.”

Mobile and Technology

Prior to arriving at a destination, travellers are embracing the ease of mobile technology. The WTM Report noted that global mobile sales accounted for 12.5% of all online travel sales. But the real shifts are happening when travellers are on the ground in a new place. Personalization of the travel experience is key in 2016. Travellers continue to use smartphones while on vacation and this has prompted some cities to test out new initiatives that allow for greater access to tourism information and services.

According to the report, in the UK, “Bristol installed over 200 beacons in 2014 as part of a trial to promote and enhance visitor experiences around the city, with further installations seen at the city’s museum in 2015.” These beacons allow travellers and locals to more readily explore and customise their travel experience on the ground. And research is already rolling in that Smart City projects are having a positive effect on tourism.

Sharing Economy

Companies like Uber and AirBnB continued to grow rapidly in 2015, yet they still comprise just a small fraction of share in their respective markets. According to the WTM Industry Report, “Only 3% of UK holidaymakers use a peer-to-peer site to book travel, although the vast majority (97%) of those that have used such a site say they would do so again.” While just a fraction of the market, this is still a fast-growing trend in the world at large, as well as Travel & Tourism specifically.

Asia is a hotspot for rapid expansion in the sharing economy. While cultural practices of owning goods slowed the growth of sharing sites in the past several years, 2015 marked a shift in the trend. The WTM report notes that “Chinese sharing economy firms have now expanded, styling themselves after Western counterparts such as Airbnb and Uber.”

While there are no guarantees on any travel trends, knowing where the trends are headed helps Travel & Tourism stay responsive in this fast-changing world.

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