Crystal ball gazing and the Gadaffi factor

25 October 2011

As the news drifted across the conference room that one of the most notorious tyrants of the Middle East had been killed, I couldn’t help thinking that this welcome news for all those in Libya and the West might lead to a period of increased optimism. As contractors will be rushing to put in their bids to rebuild the country I started to think about what the country could offer in terms of tourism potential. Whilst there are those hastily investing in Iraq it’s clear that the lessons learned here may lead to some caution in Libya, until the new government has been established.

The global tourism industry has been badly affected by a considerable number of factors over the last couple of years including not one but two ash clouds, a tsunami, an economic downturn and the Arab Spring.  

I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on the trends shared in the last WTM global trends report 2010 in association with Euromonitor International and ponder on what the new report for 2011 might bring.
I wondered whether the demise of Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden might help us to take a more optimistic view on the next twelve months. The report’s predictions on the weak growth in Europe were pretty accurate however there is no doubt that uncertainty over the euro crisis is far from over, especially whilst Berlusconi continues to say rude things about Angela Merkel. This is unlikely to create the goodwill required to collaborate and sort out the euro issues and the weaker members of the euro zone.
My bets are on some considerable growth in South America as Brazil plans the arrival of the global events in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and 2016 and starts to tackle crime in the favelas. The signs so far are promising with the recent increase in traffic to and from the region as mentioned in a recent blog. It will be interesting to see if the new Atacama Cosmology Telescope (ACT) in the Chilean Atacama desert may lead to a future tourism opportunity and challenge the new astro tourism developments of South Africa as mentioned in last year’s report.
The excitement surrounding the Olympics in the UK is increasing despite the huge number of people who did not manage to buy any tickets. I’ve even noticed some of my friends starting to become a bit more active of late – maybe spurred on by the many stories of those in training. I was also inspired to read about British athlete Lizzy Hawker who has just started a two month 1,000 mile run across Nepal, yes not a walk but actually running around some of the highest peaks in the world. [1] I remember it was a tough trek to Annapurna on some of the paths and cannot imagine how gruelling a run would be!
I think we have no illusions that it will be a slow recovery for the UK tourism industry as the report forecast last year and there are many still lobbying for a reduction in airport departure tax to try and stimulate the long haul travel market. There is no doubt that anyone seeking to escape the UK for some winter sun over the next few weeks can find some amazing bargains.
I reviewed the recent Hitwise statistics on UK online travel retailers and whilst the trend has been largely downward in the airline sector due to the many crises, there were some hopeful signs from domestic travel operators and from online travel operators such as Travel Republic, On the Beach and Teletext.
IMRG Experian Hitwise Hot Shops List
Travel (e.g. flights, holidays, hotels, car hire)
Thomas Cook
The Train Line
British Airways
Travelodge UK
Travel Republic
Premier Inn
First Choice
On the Beach
National Express
Virgin Atlantic
Teletext Holidays
KEY: /denotes movement up / down since May 2010.  denotes same place.
The IMRG-Experian Hitwise Hot Shops List of the top UK travel e-retailers* The Hot 100 List is published annually and tracks popularity, as indicated by visits. This List is based on April 2011 data. * The IMRG-Experian Hitwise Hot Shops List excludes eBay and price comparison / aggregator websites such as Kelkoo and Froogle.
Having just spent a day looking at social media and technology trends at the Socon 2011 conference I am in no doubt that 2012 will be the year of the mobile and gaming as growth in the use of smartphones appears to know no bounds. I was also very lucky to see the first application of the Microsoft Kinect technology in the airline industry yesterday which will change how we search for information online, Headcams and other mobile devices such as ipads, smart phones and intelligent cameras are likely to change how we report on our travels. Many devices are going to become more intelligent than ever and we had an amazing presentation on some of the many possibilities that they will be giving us over the next decade. Nokia’s “burning platform” (as it was referred to yesterday by an audience member) is hoping for a rather dramatic turnaround with Microsoft to try and rescue its market share position which has fallen rather drastically from its 41% market share as reported in last year’s WTM report.
As Nokia and other large hotel groups start to build their social listening hubs, following in the footsteps of Dell it is clear that there is a big change coming in how business is structured. As the COO of the US Navy admits what a crucial role social media played in working with the families of those involved in the Japanese tsunami, we will see it become a much more pervasive part of how we do business. As discussed at the Socon conference we are likely to see a change in how organisations are structured as they start to resemble more flexible democratic networks rather than rigid hierarchies in order to attract “Generation Y” employees.
The raft of BBC wildlife programmes on the Blue Planet and Frozen Planet may help to drive more tourism to destinations such as Antarctica. The new trans Siberian tourist  train called Vostok from Moscow to Beijing started in August 2011 which may also stimulate further  travel to snowy, cold places.
There is no doubt that the Joanna Lumley TV series on the Northern Lights helped to fuel greater interest in the northern lights of Scandinavia and perhaps her recent UK TV programme on Greece might help to stimulate interest to the lesser known areas of Greece, which could do much to help its ailing economy.
Interest in ice tourism where you can stay at ice hotels in places such as Iceland, Norway and Sweden are also becoming more popular where you can lay your head on a frozen block for the night.
We may of course here in the UK have another snowy winter and the airports have been reassuring us that they are in much better shape this year to cope with any snow dump. The weather forecasters are predicting another cold winter so their new equipment may well be put to the test.
So do you think the “Gadaffi effect” may lead to some increased optimism in your market? 
What are your predictions for 2012 global trends?
What does your crystal ball tell you?
We look forward to hearing your point of view.

[1] Sunday Times “The greatest British Athelete you’ve never heard of” 16October 2011

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