The best and worst travel trends for 2015

The selfie stick? It's so 2014. Now major galleries and museums and sports arenas around the globe have called "time" on this wand of Satan. In South Korea, the government has implemented huge fines for retailers selling uncertified selfie sticks. It shows, if nothing else, just how quickly trends in travel can come and go.

There are other trends that have staying power. Our smartphones, which already turn us into travel agents and photographic wizards and put maps, guidebooks and foreign phrasebooks in our hands, will bring us cheaper methods to keep in touch. Ingenious souls, meanwhile, have worked out ways to parlay this connectivity into a more intimate view of the world, offering us a chance to sit down for a family meal in a home in Mexico City or Mumbai.

There are new kinds of hotels for travellers who want chic and basic at a knockdown price, and some hotel rooms you won't even need a key or a card to enter. The savvy traveller also has new ways to score an upgrade without breaking the bank, or shoot for the stars if your pockets are deep enough. Here are the trends shaping (for good and bad) travel in 2015.

THE TREND

Off the eaten path

THE LOWDOWN

In some countries, your waiter will probably go home to a more interesting meal than what he brings to your table – India take note.  Home is often where the gastro stars rule in the kitchen, and there are now several websites that put you in touch with locals for a home-cooked family meal. It's cultural as well as culinary, a window on domestic life that tourists rarely get to see. Traveling Spoon (www.travelingspoon.com) takes you into the family dining room to experience home cooking in 16 Asian countries. Eat With (www.eatwith.com) and Feastly (www.eatfeastly.com) extend the home-diner experience in other parts of the globe while Home Food (www.homefood.it) admits you to to the kitchens of Italy for regional food  that will have your taste buds singing an aria. 

EXPERT TIP

It's a great ice breaker if you bring a little something for the host. Flowers or chocs are ideal but alcohol might offend.

THE TREND 

Connected in the clouds

THE LOWDOWN

The ability to connect to on-board WiFi and check and send emails, log into Facebook and Instagram that pic of the clouds you just shot is the next must-have for full-service airlines. Among the international airlines that service Australia, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates, JAL, Garuda and United offer WiFi on most of their flights.  

EXPERT TIP

Read the fine print before you sign on to an onboard  pay-as-you-go internet service, the charges per MB can be astronomical. 

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THE TREND

When in roam

THE LOWDOWN

After being shafted for years by service providers who regard global roaming as a licence to pillage, Aussie travellers are finally getting a fairer shake. Vodafone now offers a $5 per day roaming deal in 47 countries and Telstra has recently come on board with its International Travel Pass which offers data, messages and voice calls, while Optus has a Prepaid Travel Pack at a reasonable price. The best deal of all is in Europe, where the price for data roaming within the EU for anyone with an EU-country SIM card has been capped at 30¢/MB since July 1 last year.  This requires a post-paid account with a European telco, and is thus out of reach of most Aussie travellers. 

EXPERT TIP

Best bet by far is buy a local SIM card for the country you're in. 

THE TREND

Posh digs without the pricetag

THE LOWDOWN

These are the beds of choice for the flashpacker, the uber-backpacker looking to travel with comfort but not too many frills, and with deeper pockets and probably a few more candles on the birthday cake. The poshtel comes with double rooms rather than dorms, free WiFi, and a communal kitchen with an espresso machine a high probability. Originality is key. STF Jumbo Stay Stockholm is a converted Boeing 747, located close to the Swedish capital's airport.

EXPERT TIP

Check the poshpacker website, poshpacker.co

THE TREND

Book now, pay later

THE LOWDOWN

For a modest deposit, Qantas now offers the facility to lock in your flight booking and pay the balance later. On selected flights, just $25 will secure your seat. There is a catch. Qantas advises that "the total ticket price may change due to amendments in taxes, fees and carriers charges, as well as fare adjustments." STA Travel offers a similar book now pay later deal, with a non-refundable deposit of $300, with the advantage that it locks in the fare at the agreed price with the freedom to pay the balance  one week before departure.

EXPERT TIP

STA's deal can help you lock in a sharp earlybird-fare deal. 

THE TREND

Tours de lycra

THE LOWDOWN

For the middle-aged urban male, cycling is the new golf, and they're packing their passion when they take a holiday as well, signing up for week-long cycle tours through Sicily and Provence and even tackling a stage of the Tour de France. The booming demand means a huge choice of scenarios, from self-guided trips in two-star accommodation  to escorted tours with boutique accommodation and Michelin star meals. Golf holidays, meanwhile, are on the downturn. 

EXPERT TIP

Doubts about your pedal power? A guided group tour with a sag wagon as backup is the way to go. 

THE TREND

One for the converts

THE LOWDOWN

From the dark lords of the finance department comes "Dynamic currency conversion (DCC)", a cunning ploy to fleece you of your cash. You're buying a new coat overseas, paying for a city tour or a meal with a credit card. "Would you like to pay in Australian dollars or in local currency?" you're asked. If you select this option you're invoking the dynamic currency conversion, and adding anything from 3-5 per cent on top of any international currency conversion fee that your card provider charges. 

EXPERT TIP

Always select to pay in local currency and dodge the DCC bullet. 

THE TREND

I feel better now

THE LOWDOWN

As waistlines and unhealthy lifestyles bloom and the work/life balance goes ever more crazily out of kilter, the wellness vacation becomes the magic wand to put things right. This is a holiday with a brand new you at the end of it. At the top end are luxury retreats set in a tropical part of the planet attended by Ayurvedic doctors and masseurs trained in esoteric therapies that may involve Buddhist chanting. Mealtimes bring spa cuisine of such ethereal beauty that eating them becomes a criminal offence. 

EXPERT TIP

Be clear about what changes you want to make, and stick to the programme.

THE TREND

We have liftoff

THE LOWDOWN

Looking to a wind back the clock with a nip and tuck, or maybe a complete hip replacement?  Thousands of Aussies will soon be heading overseas for medical treatments, particularly for cosmetic, dental and elective surgery. The lure is resort-like facilities, well-trained medical staff, prices just a fraction of the same treatment at home and – for those with ready cash – no wait list. In our region, Thailand is a world leader,  Singapore and India are not too far behind.

EXPERT TIP

Look carefully before you make any surgical leaps, and check your travel insurance policy.

THE TREND

Key findings

THE LOWDOWN

Those electronic cards that you swipe or insert to open your hotel room door are heading the way of the room key, at least according to some major industry players. Guests can now enter thousands of rooms at Starwood hotels using an app on their smartphone. Hilton  and Marriott are gearing up to join the charge. Guests register for keyless entry, download the app and they're good to go. When the room is ready, the number is relayed to your phone. 

EXPERT TIP

Time to buy a backup smartphone battery? 

THE TREND

The big squeeze

THE LOWDOWN

As seating becomes ever more exotic and refined in the golden uplands of business and first class, economy passengers face an ever bigger squeeze. In terms of width and leg room, economy seats on budget carriers are as tight as they can possibly be without causing impacted hip and knee joints, not to mention passengers' ability to evacuate a stricken aircraft. Airbus has filed a patent for a fold-down, bicycle-type saddle seat with a tiny back and arm rests. Be afraid. 

EXPERT TIP

Practise shallow breathing since a full inhalation may inconvenience the passenger sitting next to you. 

THE TREND

Tours de force

THE LOWDOWN

Rather than off-the-shelf tours that show you only the postcard highlights, tour operators are looking to build authenticity.  Trafalgar offers Be My Guest, a home-cooked family meal, which might take you into a chateau in France or a California winery or   Cultural Insights;  a backstage look few outsiders are ever privileged to have. Insight Vacations offers Signature Events – dining, hotels and experiences out of reach of the average independent traveller. www.trafalgar.com 

EXPERT TIP

This could swing the balance the other way for tour-averse travellers. 

THE TREND

Off again, on again

THE LOWDOWN

After years of insisting that using personal electronic devices (PEDs) such as tablets and even e-readers at altitudes below 10,000 feet could interfere with flight systems, most major airlines now allow their uninterrupted use from  "gate-to-gate". This follows a  US Federal Aviation Administration report, which found that interference from PEDs does not threaten the safety of commercial airliners. There's a caveat in that all PEDs must be in non-transmitting mode.

EXPERT TIP

Don't forget your USB charge cord.

THE TREND

Upping the ante

THE LOWDOWN

As flight time approaches, quite a few airlines with empty seats in premium economy and business class now allow you to upgrade at a big discount. Included in the list are Etihad, Virgin, Thai, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Ask at the check-in desk, and be prepared to hand over your credit card.  Qantas has recently introduced Bid Now Upgrades, which allows passengers on selected flights to upgrade using a mix of Qantas Frequent Flyer points and cash. This is similar to Virgin Australia's UpgradeMe Premium Bid system. Optiontown sells unsold premium seats aboard a few international carriers at a big discount.

EXPERT TIP

Fly in a quiet time and you'll up your chances.

THE TREND

Coming of the Drone

THE LOWDOWN

The hottest travel accessory, camera-equipped drones are being used by intrepid travellers to record their exploits as they raft rapids, ski down pine-clad slopes, climb vertiginous alpine peaks and pedal through the vineyards of Chianti. The results are phenomenal. The photographer becomes the subject of their own documentary, every finger-tearing handhold, every near-death escape chronicled in lavish colour. 

EXPERT TIP

Check the Hexo+ fully autonomous camera-equipped drone and start dreaming. 

TRAVEL TRENDS WE'D LIKE TO SEE

TOTALLY WIRED

A common electrical plug and a common voltage.  Electrical appliances are the same everywhere you go. So what's with the different socket?

JETIQUETTE, MORE PLEASE

Right, it's crowded back here in economy, kids are restless and we're only halfway through a 14-hour flight and you missed your meal choice,  but we're all in this together so let's smile and be nice.  

AIRLINES, ENFORCE THOSE CARRY-ON LIMITS

When was the last time anyone checked your carry-ons? Rarely, right? Which is the reason the bin above your seat  is now so packed that you can't find a home  for your own single, compliant carry-on.

SENSIBLE APPROACH TO DUTY-FREE LIQUOR

If I buy duty-free liquor in London Heathrow and carry it on the aircraft on the way back to Australia, security staff at Dubai, Singapore or wherever will confiscate it before I reboard, even if it's sealed in a tamper-evident plastic bag. This is an Australian government requirement and it's ridiculous. 

TAILORED TRAVEL INSURANCE PREMIUMS 

Older travellers who are careful, sensible, healthy and don't take foolish risks pay a higher travel insurance premium than millennials who run with the bulls in Pamplona and get hammered most nights. My car insurance premium is based on my vehicle and my driving history, so why can't the insurance industry do the same when I travel?

TRENDS IN ESCORTED TOURS

DENNIS BUNNIK, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BUNNIK TOURS SAYS:

1. SMALLER GROUPS

Our maximum groups sizes range from 12 to 20 people allowing for a more personalised holiday experience. Other advantages of small group travel include more one-on-one time with your tour guide and less time waiting.

2. MORE CHOICE

Twenty years ago all coach touring was essentially the same – large groups seeing the major tourist sights.   Today travellers have a plethora of choice as the touring companies have realised not all travellers are the same. Niche interests, regional tours and the option of large or small group sizes are just some of the choices. 

3. AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES ON THE RISE

In the past the touring market was dominated by large multinational companies designing tours for the international market. Australians  have to travel further and have longer holidays so don't want to rush through a destination. The rise of Australian tour companies means that there are now more tours specifically designed for the Australian travellers. 

4. MORE EXPERIENCES

Gone are the days of endless temples, cathedrals and museums. Cooking classes, behind the scenes tours and other activities that allow travellers the opportunity to really experience the culture of the country they are visiting are growing  For example on our Japan Discovery tour this year we have included a traditional Japanese art class as well as sake brewing and tasting. 

5. MORE FREE TIME

With the rise of Australian tour companies, there has been a trend towards better balanced tours that provide free time for independent exploration.  

See www.bunniktours.com.au

TRENDS IN OCEAN CRUISING

STUART ALLISON, PRINCESS CRUISES, VICE-PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND SAYS:

1. DESTINATION IMMERSION

Cruise guests increasingly want more enriching experiences, not just to see the sights when they travel. Asia will be the next big destination with many cruise lines adding capacity. Cruising is a very appealing way for Australians to see the region as countries like Japan suddenly become much easier to visit if you go by ship.

2. MULTI-GENERATIONAL

There is no better holiday to appeal to multiple generations than a cruise – there is something for everyone onboard a ship so each guest can do their own thing and then come together for  dining and entertainment

3. SHORT AND LONG OF IT

There are more short cruises than ever before, which provides a great opportunity for newcomers to sample cruising. At the same time long voyages have never been so popular, from month-long trips around Australia to a circumnavigation of the world.

4. SOUTH AMERICA

An exciting destination, which is becoming increasingly popular but which is hard to travel around unless you're quite adventurous. We recently announced our first roundtrip cruise around South America, sailing from Australia in 2017 and it's been very popular.

5. THE DOLLAR

With the Aussie dollar declining by 20 per cent in 12 months, holidaying around the world has suddenly become more expensive. However this is not the case in cruises from Australia, meaning a cruise close to home will become even more popular. Travellers can visit 140 destinations across 63 countries on Princess Cruises  from Australia, without the need to spend foreign currency as shore excursions and  onboard services are all in Australian dollars. 

See www.princess.com

TRENDS IN HOTELS

SIMON MCGRATH, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, ACCOR HOTELS PACIFIC SAYS:

1. EVERYTHING MOBILE

We're also noticing that guests are bringing their own content with streaming video services in Australia now reaching more than one million subscribers;  ensuring reliable internet service is crucial.

2. ECONOMY GOES PREMIUM

AccorHotels has been focused on upgrading ibis hotels, our economy brand since 2013 and working to the notion that economy doesn't have to mean bland – it now has personality. Rooms may be compact but economy hotels are making up for this in the public areas. 

3. SEXY AIRPORT HOTELS

With AccorHotels opening Pullman Sydney Airport next year and Pullman & Ibis Brisbane Airport in 2017, no longer are airport hotels purely functional, they are becoming more destinations in their own right with art, style, great restaurants and facilities. 

4. OUTSIDE THE SUSTAINABILITY SQUARE

Saving on daily washing of towels for example is now a given. A number of our hotels are introducing solar panels to heat water and generate electricity, while AccorHotels in Melbourne have partnered with Soap Aid to recycle disused soap bars which are then refined and repackaged and sent to disadvantage communities in India. 

5. LOYALTY & DIGITAL

International hotel groups are  increasing investment in their own digital and loyalty programs to encourage direct bookings and therefore better enabling them to own the customer relationship. Loyalty programs are key for hotel groups in ensuring repeat business  and building vocal brand advocates. 

See www.accorhotels.com

TRENDS IN RIVER CRUISING

DEBRA FOX, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, APT SAYS:

1.  EXCLUSIVE EXPERIENCES

The opportunity to be able to experience something totally unique is becoming a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.  For example, on an APT Magnificent Europe river cruise, guests can  enjoy  a journey aboard  an authentic replica of the Imperial Royal train of the Hapsburgs; a private visit to Namedy Castle, including a cocktail reception and lavish royal banquet; and a private musical soiree at Vienna's newly refurbished City Palace, featuring members of the Mozart Boys' Choir. 

2. COMBINATION ITINERARIES

We are seeing more guests lengthening their stay by combining their river cruises with other itineraries to create longer and more immersive journeys. Some guests are joining together two or more river cruises while others are extending their river cruise with land journeys.

3.  IN-DEPTH DISCOVERIES

Itineraries that cater to particular hobbies or interests such as our collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra which will see a quartet playing aboard six of our departures in March 2016. In addition we are introducing Celebration of Wine Cruises, Family Christmas in Europe cruises, and Cycling Cruises.

4.  NEW DESTINATIONS

River cruise fans are always looking for new destinations. In recent years we have added the Douro in Portugal, the Mississippi in the USA and the lower Ganges in India. In 2016 we continue to expand our portfolio of French river cruises to include Bordeaux. We will also debut a new river chip, the RV Samatha, on the Irrawaddy river in Burma. 

5.   TASTE THE DESTINATION

Authentic gourmet experiences are an important element of a river cruise. In Europe we continue to offer sensational dining on board our river ships.  In Vietnam, APT's Asia Ambassador, Luke Nguyen is heavily involved in advising on some of the culinary elements of our Vietnam program.  

See www.aptouring.com.au

About the writer

When Michael  "The Tripologist" Gebicki  started travelling, the inflight entertainment was projected onto a pull-down screen  and the only reason you might call home from a holiday would be to relay a ransom demand. It's been a wild ride since. Would he swap today's travel for yesterday's?

"About 10 per cent of yesterday's travel I miss, the  rest has been changed for the better."

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