The future of travel is AI; the present is alt-lodgings, tours and beach reviews

At the Phocuswright Conference, a travel industry meeting recently held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, blockchain and artificial intelligence were touted as the flying cars and robot maids of the future. But the present looked alluring, too, with attention heaped on alternative lodging, beaches, tours and hurricane recovery. The annual event, now in its 24th year, explored the innovations and interests helping to expand the travel universe. Among the forward-thinkers: some of the biggest names in travel (Priceline, Kayak, Google and TripAdvisor, among others), as well as many start-ups (Beachy, TWIP, Luxtripper) wishing upon a star to become the next Airbnb or Uber. Here are some of the top trends to keep an eye - or booking finger - on. 

1. Online booking sites are expanding into tours and excursions. "Until just a few years ago, this content was very difficult to find and book online," said Douglas Quinby, senior vice president of research at Phocuswright, a travel industry research firm. "Now all of the big players - Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, and others - are investing heavily in the space."  

2. Puerto Rico is looking forward to Christmas. Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., said the island is encouraging "meaningful travel and travel with a purpose" - as in, give the hurricane survivors a hand - but will welcome leisure tourists on Dec. 20. He said Old San Juan is stirring back to life, with cruise ships resuming their ports of call. "Old San Juan is a resilient city," he said. "The cobblestones are intact; the walls are up." Hotels are using this opportunity to rebuild and renovate. Of the 149 properties endorsed by the tourism office, he said, nearly 110 are operational. He added that 67 tourist attractions across the island are open, as is the west coast town of La Parguera, home of a bioluminescent bay. "We're planning a big comeback party," he said.  

3. Call it Keeping Up With Airbnb: Major hotel booking sites are adding alternative lodgings, such as private accommodations, hostels and B&Bs, to their traditional properties. "More and more travelers are less concerned with hotels vs. homes vs. hostels and more concerned with location, price and quality," Quinby said. Searches on Expedia, and result in a grab bag of possibilities, and Trivago recently started featuring HomeAway vacation rentals.  

4. Everyone wants a piece of China. However, the travel companies don't want to just penetrate this emerging market; they want to adopt the country's progressive mobile practices. "China is far ahead of the rest of the world in mobile travel trends," Quinby said. Chinese travelers research and book trips on their phones, he said, and "the apps, payment services and other features are more advanced and widely accepted."  

5. For beachgoers who care as much about the scene as the sand, a start-up called has come to the rescue. The Berlin-based company, which won Brand USA's Marketing Innovation Award, provides comprehensive reviews of more than 1,500 beaches in 50 destinations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The site covers the condition of the beaches plus such essentials as parking, watersports, food, atmosphere and demographics. The founders plan to add U.S. beaches next year. Inspectors wanted.  

6. Booking by voice command - "Alexa, teleport me to Fiji!" - is still a work in progress, but "machine learning," a cousin of artificial intelligence, has arrived. "Increasingly your favorite travel brands will know what you want before you ask for it," Quinby said. Creepy or cool? You decide.  

7. If you are long on travel aspirations but short on cash, two new players, Affirm and Uplift, have introduced payment installment plans. Take heart: You'll probably pay off your Machu Picchu trip way before your student loans.  

8. Hotels are trying to woo travelers away from online travel agencies and toward loyalty programs. To entice guests, they are dangling discounted rates and such perks as free WiFi. The courting must be working: The number of U.S. hotel guests who belong to a frequent-stay program jumped from 37 percent two years ago to 63 percent, according to Phocuswright.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Travel

Cambodia up close: River cruise on the Mekong
Cambodia up close: River cruise on the Mekong

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — “Life is not staying still,” Vuthy spoke softly to me, like a kind older brother. “It is moving from one place to the next.” I followed his rhythmic breathing — in, out — inhaling the lotus air and untangling my own breath from the outside breeze, flowing in through the open temple doors...
You ate what?! A fearless foodie's foray into the bouchons of Lyon.

Andrew picks up his beer and leans back against the red banquette seating at Le Romarin, a tiny bistro-bar in the heart of Lyon. Over the next 48 hours, we're planning to eat our way across this famously gastronomic city, but something is worrying him. "I'm looking forward to the wine," he says. "I'm looking forward to the cheese. I'm...
Relax at Lake Oconee with golf, spa, shopping
Relax at Lake Oconee with golf, spa, shopping

It’s springtime, and the greens are calling. Pack up your golf clubs because it’s time to escape the city and head to tranquil Lake Oconee. With 117 holes of golf plus spa treatments and shopping, this waterfront destination in Greene County is a great retreat for couples, families or even a long weekend with friends. Located halfway between...
Airlines for America forecasts 151 million flyers for record-high spring travel season

Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, expects an all-time high of 150.7 million passengers – 2.47 million per day – to fly globally on U.S. airlines between March 1 and April 30, a four percent increase from 145 million passengers in the spring of 2017. To prepare for the expected increase...
Celebrate cherry blossom season with these events for all ages

Spring marks the time to put the heavy coats away and get ready to enjoy the warm weather ahead. In Washington, D.C., spring also means the familiar pink-and-white blooms of the cherry blossom tree.  In 1912, Tokyo, Japan, gave 3,000 Yoshino cherry trees to the city as a sign of unity between the two nations. The trees blossom in spring and in...
More Stories