With only days to go before we reach 2020, what lies in store for the travel industry as a new decade begins?
This year has been pretty tumultuous for the travel industry, with the failure of the UK’s oldest tour operator, Thomas Cook, and the ongoing uncertainty of Brexit coupled with a weak pound that’s continued to impact holidaymakers’ purchasing power abroad.
While the industry hopes to enjoy more placid waters during 2020 and a much-needed period of stability and clarity to bolster consumer confidence, what are the trends that will shape travel’s key sectors and destinations over the next 12 months? We take a look at trends across different sectors.
The impact of the loss of Thomas Cook Airlines is set to have a profound effect on the industry during 2020 and beyond - particularly at its largest airports, Manchester and Gatwick, where the airline provided 1.17 million and 700,000 seats respectively during the summer 2019 season, according to airline data firm OAG.
Other airlines have moved quickly to fill some of this lost capacity, with Tui Airways adding two million seats for next summer and Jet2.com another 700,000 seats.
Jet2 has already purchased Cook’s former slots at Manchester, Birmingham and Stansted airports from the official receiver, while easyJet has done the same at Gatwick and Bristol.
But Cook was far from the only airline failure in 2019, with smaller carriers such as flybmi and Wow Air also going out of business earlier in the year.
Another brand set to disappear from the UK skies in 2020 will be Flybe, which will be renamed Virgin Connect following the airline’s purchase by a consortium including Virgin Atlantic and Stobart Aviation.
The development of Virgin Connect will be closely watched, particularly after the previous closure of the Virgin Little Red short-haul operation in 2015.
Further consolidation in the aviation industry is also set to be a trend in 2020 as larger airline groups snap up a dwindling number of smaller independent carriers, such as the recent €1 billion deal for British Airways’ parent firm International Airlines Group to buy Spanish airline Air Europa, which has an extensive South American route network.
The seemingly inexorable expansion and development of the cruise sector will continue apace throughout 2020.
The annual number of UK and Irish passengers broke the two million milestone in 2018.
Virgin Voyages makes its long-awaited debut with the brand’s first ship, Scarlet Lady, making its inaugural voyage from Miami on 1 April. A second ship, Valiant Lady, will be launching in May 2021.
Also making its debut in April will be Celebrity Apex, the second of Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Class ships, which will be departing from Southampton for its first five sailings.
Another major event will be the launch of P&O Cruises’ latest ship Iona in May.
The largest ship ever built for the British market, Iona will have capacity for 5,200 guests and features the spectacular SkyDome entertainment area.
Saga will also be launching its second new- build ship next year as Spirit of Adventure follows in the wake of sister vessel Spirit of Discovery.
The new ship will offer some fresh features including two new speciality restaurants and new cabins when it sets sail in August from Dover.
Other ships set to launch during 2020 include Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess, Royal Caribbean’s Odyssey of the Seas, MSC Virtuosa and Silversea’s Silver Moon and Silver Origin, designed for the Galapagos islands.
There are also plenty of river cruise vessels on the way during 2020, with new ships from AmaWaterways, Aqua Expeditions, Avalon Waterways, Tauck, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and Viking River Cruises, which is launching Viking Osiris on the Nile.
There has been a quiet revolution going on in the touring and adventure sector over the past few years.
Clients are now being offered itineraries to a wider range of destinations using different modes of transport, while operators are also adding more flexibility into their itineraries and a more adventurous choice of activities.
This diversification in the sector led TTG Media to launch the first New to Touring & Adventure Festival in 2019 to help agents better sell this type of holiday.
Such was the event’s success, a second New to Touring & Adventure Festival will be held on 23 March 2020 in Birmingham.
Other trends identified in this sector according to Shearings Holidays include growth in the solo travel market, which has been increasing over the past five years, while those in the over- 50s market are also looking to “experience more while on holiday”, including some adrenaline- fuelled activities.
Adventure specialist Explore says there are signs of “a shift in the way we are travelling”, including more demand for “undiscovered” destinations such as Benin, Lebanon, Albania, Japan and Botswana in 2020.
A trip through Central Asia exploring the Silk Road has been added by Wendy Wu Tours, alongside a Mekong tour of Cambodia and Vietnam on its new Victoria Mekong ship.
Other developments include small-group operator Rabbie’s adding its first programme to western Europe with 32 European Trails itineraries, as well as new “off-the-beaten-track” trips around the UK and Ireland including gin, beer and whisky itineraries.
Another company to dip its toes in the escorted touring market during 2020 is Latin Routes, which is offering nine small-group multi-centre itineraries throughout Latin America, with departures starting from May.
Japan grabbed plenty of headlines in 2019 for successfully hosting the Rugby World Cup, as well as the Abta Convention, and the global spotlight will continue to shine on the country as it hosts the Tokyo 2020 Olympics from 24 July to 9 August.
The Far Eastern destination has ambitious targets for increasing tourist arrivals and it seems to be working, with many UK operators reporting strong interest in Japan.
Elsewhere, Abta has identified several long-haul destinations as ones to watch in 2020 including Chicago, Singapore and South Korea, alongside the Caribbean island of Grenada, Namibia in Southern Africa, and Uruguay in South America.
British Airways says New York remains its most popular holiday destination ahead of other favourites such as Orlando, Las Vegas, Dubai and Barbados.
The airline’s fastest-growing holiday destinations for 2020 include the Seychelles, Durban and the Maldives.
Dubai is never far from the headlines as a destination and it will gain more exposure when it hosts Expo 2020 for six months from October 2020 to April 2021.
The first expo to be held in the Middle East is expected to attract up to 25 million visitors.
While “droves” of UK tourists are still heading to Dubai, Emirates Holidays says there is now more demand for mid-range hotels from British visitors as they look to “push their pound further”, as well as an increase in last-minute bookings.
Other emirates such as Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and Ajman are also proving popular, while Emirates Holidays has seen a surge in bookings for personalised tailor-made tours to India.
When it comes to new long-haul airline routes, Tui is adding flights to Cuba and Gambia – two former Cook destinations – with a weekly service from Manchester to Varadero in Cuba for summer 2020 and flights from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham to Gambia starting in November 2020.
Virgin Atlantic is also offering more flights from Manchester to Orlando, Barbados and Las Vegas in summer 2020, as well as extra services from Heathrow to Delhi and San Francisco.
The short-haul market is inevitably being most affected by the disappearance of Cook, with other airlines starting to fill some of the gaps.
Jet2, for example, is introducing six new destinations in Greece for summer 2020 including Santorini, Mykonos and Lesbos.
Meanwhile, British Airways is adding a new route from Gatwick to Antalya for next summer as Turkey’s recovery as a major summer destination continues gathering pace.
BA has also named Dalaman in Turkey as one of its fastest-growing holiday destinations for next year, alongside Palma in Majorca, Tel Aviv and Marrakech.
The airline’s most popular short- haul destinations are Tenerife, Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Corfu and Faro.
Abta, meanwhile, is predicting great things for several short-haul destinations in 2020 including Vienna, the Netherlands, Madrid, Basilicata in Italy and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.
Being a European Capital of Culture can also boost visitor numbers to a city, with Galway in Ireland and Rijeka in Croatia enjoying this status in 2020.
Another development to watch is the reintroduction of flights to Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Red Sea coast after the UK government finally changed its advice on using the resort’s airport in October, after four years of advising against all non-essential travel.
Add-on products can often be an afterthought to booking flights and hotels, but they can also be a moneyspinner for agents.
Like other areas of the industry, there is some consolidation going on with Holiday Extras purchasing airport hotel and parking specialist City Hotel Reservations – the latest in a string of acquisitions for the company.
Travel giant Tui has also been specialising in selling tours and activities through Tui Destination Experiences, as these products have a global value of €160 billion and sales have been growing at a faster rate than tourism generally.
Another factor to watch in 2020 is how Attraction World “rebuilds” its brand under new chief commercial officer Olly Nicholls, who has vowed to establish “close partnerships” with the trade since being appointed in September.
The world of car rental is also undergoing a makeover, largely driven by technology, with major brands reinventing themselves as “mobility” providers as they offer a wider choice of services, alongside traditional holiday rentals.
These range from chauffeur-driven airport transfers to car clubs such as Zipcar, which is part of Avis Budget Group, for shorter rental periods.