Technology's a hot ticket to the future

In a fast-changing world, here's five things you'll need to keep up with in 2012.

1 Prices are rising

WE'VE had a fantastic run with cheap travel in the past few years but expect to pay a bit more in the next 12 months.

Strong demand for business travel is expected to drive up prices of both airfares and hotels.

American Express predicts economy class airfares will rise between 6 per cent and 10 per cent on short-haul routes and 5 per cent to 9 per cent on long-haul routes, despite airline competition and the growth of low-cost carriers.

Hotel rates are also on the rise, with American Express predicting mid-range hotels will increase their rates by 3 per cent to 8 per cent and upper-scale hotels will add between 6 per cent and 10 per cent to their prices.

Global forecasts by Carlson Wagonlit Travel show we can also expect to pay more at overseas hotels, with modest increases in North America, Europe and Africa and increases of about 10 per cent in Latin America.

2 Channels are changing

Travel deals and information will be released in different ways as social media and other technology-based channels continue to grow.

Hot deals are increasingly being sent out through channels such as Twitter and Facebook and many are available only for a day, meaning travellers must be actively engaged with the technology to benefit.

The annual Frommer's Unlimited Digital Content Trends Survey found two-thirds of travel companies planned to spend more of their marketing budgets on social media this year.

The Global Trends Report, which was recently released by World Travel Market and Euromonitor International, says 2012 will also bring the "gamification" of the travel industry.

With growth in online sales outpacing growth through traditional channels, travel providers are looking for new ways to grab travellers' attention and generate brand loyalty.

"Gaming is used to encourage consumers to share their experiences, photos and videos to help generate brand awareness and loyalty," the report says.

"Gaming dynamics work through the offer of points, badges, status levels, as well as real gifts such as trips or air miles."

3 The Chinese are coming

Don't be surprised if you start to see tourist signs in Chinese as well as English, or Chinese dishes popping up on menus where you don't expect to see them.

Tourism destinations around the world are setting their sights on Chinese travellers and operators are scrambling to cater for what they consider a lucrative but demanding market.

China is already Australia's most important tourism market in economic terms and there are estimates its value could almost triple by 2020.

Big hotel chains are training their staff and rolling out menus and activities designed for the Chinese market, while many smaller operators are attending workshops to learn what changes they need to make.

Just as we saw a big emphasis on catering for Japanese travellers in the 1980s, we can expect China-fication in 2012 and beyond.

4 The future is near (field)

If you haven't yet heard of near field communication (NFC), you certainly will.

Last year was widely touted as the year of the mobile phone for the travel industry but there is so much more to come. NFC, or the ability to transfer information and money simply by waving your smartphone near a receiving device, is expected to turn smartphones into everything from boarding passes to a way to pay for duty-free goods, without the need for paperwork or plastic cards.

Travellers in the US state of New Jersey are now able to purchase train tickets by waving their phones in front of a sensor and, many say, the technology is likely to spread quickly.

Airlines could potentially use the technology to automatically check passengers in when they arrive in the airport terminal, or to check whether they have made it to the boarding gate.

Passengers might use it to get their boarding passes, pay excess baggage charges, claim their frequent flyer points or enter airport lounges.

It remains to be seen what investments will be made during the course of the year but the technology is ready to go.

5 Good deeds are contagious

The World Travel Market Global Trends Report identifies "luxury without guilt" as a key trend coming out of Europe in the wake of the global economic crisis.

The report says upmarket travellers are happily enjoying luxury breaks by choosing more ethical providers, or trips that give them the opportunity to give something back.

"Voluntourism" is not a new trend but it has tended to be adopted by backpackers and other young travellers on dedicated volunteer trips.

A British travel agency, Kuoni, recently released a collection of socially and environmentally responsible luxury holidays that include volunteering stints or activities such as meeting farmers who have been helped by Fairtrade organisations.

The Global Trends Report says animal welfare and environmental concerns are also meriting more attention in the devising of menus at upmarket properties.