20 travel trends

29 Jan 2016 by Jenny Southan
British Airways A350

From in-flight streaming to virtual concierges, Jenny Southan identifies the innovations that will be shaping your journey in the year ahead

1. A350 spreads its wings

A direct competitor to Boeing’s B787 Dreamliner, the A350 XWB (extra wide body) is a new family of aircraft from Airbus that comes in three versions, the A350-800, -900 and -1000. Quieter and more fuel-efficient, there are 775 of them on order. Airbus delivered 15 last year and aims to double that in 2016.

Launch customer Qatar Airways now flies the aircraft to Frankfurt, Munich, Philadelphia and Singapore, with Boston, New York and Adelaide coming later this year.

Vietnam Airlines operates the A350 from Hanoi to Paris and Seoul, while Finnair plies it from Helsinki to Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok, with Hong Kong and Singapore scheduled for February and May.

TAM has started A350 flights from Sao Paulo to Manaus; next up is Miami in March and Madrid in April. Singapore Airlines has 67 on order, seven of which are of the ultra long-haul variety (see trend 2), and will launch A350 services to Amsterdam and Dusseldorf this year.

2. Ultra long-haul flights

Airlines will be vying to fly the world’s longest and furthest flights over the next couple of years. On March 31, Emirates starts a nonstop 17-hour, 35-minute service from Dubai to Panama City, a distance of 13,821km. Operated by a B777-200LR, it will be the world’s longest passenger flight.

Next year, Qantas will be hoping to top that by flying nonstop between Perth and London (14,469km) using the new B787-9s it has on order.

In 2018, Airbus will introduce an ultra long-range version of the A350-900 – the A350-900ULR, capable of flying more than 16,000km – with launch customer Singapore Airlines placing the aircraft on its New York route.

Boeing’s B777X, which will come in two versions, the B777-8 (with a range of up to 16,112km) and B777-9 (up to 14,075km), will be introduced by Emirates in 2020. The Gulf carrier could use the B777-8 from Dubai to Mexico City, Santiago or Peru.

3. Streaming IFE

As many travellers have their own personal screens in the form of tablets and laptops, airlines will one day be able to do away with heavy, expensive in-flight entertainment systems built into seat-backs.

Enabling the transition, Virgin Australia set the trend by introducing streaming technology in 2012. Since then, early adopters have included Israel’s El Al, which allows passengers to stream more than 50 movies to their devices via its DreamStream app on select B737s and B767s.

Low-cost Singaporean airline Scoot relaunched its streaming service for the new B787 in February last year, with access for US$11 (free in business class). In September, Virgin America equipped ten A320s with high-speed wifi for streaming content from Netflix (free until March 2016).

By the end of the year, JetBlue will have free high-speed wifi across its fleet so customers can watch live sports on seat-backs and Amazon Prime content on their own devices. On wifi-enabled domestic flights with Delta Air Lines, passengers can stream movies and HBO shows at no extra charge. Delta will roll out wifi on long-haul routes by mid-2016.

4. Free in-flight wifi

Wifi (for a price) has been available on planes for about five years, but getting online at 35,000ft is going to get easier – and cheaper.

Along with Jet Blue, airlines taking the lead in rolling it out for free include Finnair, which is now installing it across its fleet with completion due for 2018. The first aircraft to feature it, the new A350 XWB, began flying last autumn. It’s free in business class and either e5 an hour, or e15 for the flight, in economy.

Emirates offers the first 10MB of data free, and is rapidly extending the service to its whole fleet. Norwegian provides complimentary wifi to “most flights in Europe and flights between the US and the Caribbean”. In December, Qatar Airways announced it would give passengers wifi at no extra charge for the first 15 minutes. By 2020, free wifi in the sky will likely be the norm.

5. A la carte economy

Some airlines are giving passengers the option to pay for a meal upgrade in economy class. Air France not only grants premium economy and economy flyers the ability to guarantee their meal choice for no charge from the standard in-flight menu, but also to pay for better meals from an à la carte menu, with four options ranging from e12 to e18.

British Airways passengers can also purchase “enhanced” meals online for outbound flights from London Heathrow to most long-haul destinations. It plans to extend this to flights from Gatwick and various inbound flights this year. There are six to choose from, priced £15-£18 – see businesstraveller.com/tags/british+airways for a review.

6. Highly personalised search

A new Google Flights feature for 2016 enables you to add or subtract carriers showing in search results, and indicates when the service is a codeshare.

This is good to know as many loyalty schemes (such as Delta Skymiles) are now revenue-based, but if you’re savvy, you can book a codeshare partner (such as KLM) that awards you miles according to distance flown instead of the amount paid.

In the autumn, search engine Tripstreak unveiled a website that saves your frequent flyer scheme logins, and tailors your searches according to lowest cost, fewest connections, favourite airlines – and maximum miles.

Ticket-booking app Quicket is set to launch a version for the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch – voice activated, it will respond to commands such as: “I want to fly on Friday from London to Frankfurt.” It will also tell you when to check in and your gate.

7. PAYG airport lounges

As airlines make it tougher to qualify for lounge access, demand for pay-as-you-go facilities is increasing. (This is also due to the rise of the “economy class VIP” – see trend 8.) Aspire launched Heathrow T5’s first non-BA lounge in August. Open to both Priority Pass and Executive Lounges members, the public can also gain access for £35. It features rest pods, free wifi and a Bliss spa.

No 1 Lounges (formerly No 1 Traveller) now operates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Edinburgh, with entry fees from £22.50 to £30. This year, it plans to double capacity at both its Gatwick locations in the North Terminal.

Hong Kong-based Plaza Premium Lounge opened the first independent facility in Heathrow T4 last year – for £35 you get food, alcohol, wifi and showers. It has also launched a Singapore Changi facility with cooking stations and a massage area, and a co-branded lounge with China Eastern at Shanghai Pudong International’s T2.

A lounge in Phnom Penh came in January, with Taiwan Taoyuan and Rio de Janeiro Galeao International to open by the summer.

8. Economy class VIPs

Fast-track security and immigration have long been perks for premium travellers, but airports are realising a good way to earn money is to let economy passengers pay to skip the queues, too.

In October, Gatwick introduced Premium Passport Control, whereby you can pay £12.50 to use the fast-track lane at UK Border Force. There is no refund if the standard channels are not congested, so it’s a gamble. Gatwick also offers Premium Security, as does Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Newcastle, Bristol and Edinburgh (all for £3-£5).

At the end of last year, the US Global Entry scheme for faster airport processing was extended to UK travellers in all cabin classes – you need to apply via the Home Office, pay £42 for a background check, then pass an interview with US immigration and pay an £65 admin fee for five years’ membership. The programme applies to 46 US airports.

9. Luggage-free airport commutes

London-based tech company Portr is taking the heavy lifting out of carrying luggage with its AirPortr service, now at Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. Instead of dragging your bags around meetings or on public transport, have them delivered to Departures ready for check-in; on your return, leave your case at Arrivals and the company will deliver it to your home.

All luggage is X-rayed, tagged, sealed and GPS tracked. Similar services are offered at Hong Kong, Singapore Changi and, in Japan, through airline ANA.

10. Rise of Chinese airlines

China’s aviation market is booming. In terms of passengers flown, China Southern is the third-most popular airline globally, moving just over 100 million people in 2014 (only Delta and Southwest trumped it). China Eastern carried 66 million in 2014, while Air China expected to have topped 88.5 million in 2015.

Only 5 per cent of Chinese people have passports, but 97 million outbound journeys were made in 2013. By 2020 this latter figure is expected to have doubled. The volumes come not just from international flights but its huge domestic market, which is served by 20 or so dedicated carriers.

In 2014 there were four new arrivals – Air China Inner Mongolia, Qingdao Airlines, Ruili Airlines, Urumqi Air, and in 2015 another three – 9 Air, GX Airlines and Colorful Guizhou Airlines. This year we can expect Air Guilin, Jiangxi Air and Yunnan Hongtu Airlines to begin operations.

Aircraft manufacturers anticipate the delivery of more than 300 new planes a year to Chinese airlines over the next 20 years. And, by 2020, China expects to have 60 new airports (it has about 200 at the moment). Hubs such as Xiamen and Chongqing are being expanded, while secondary airports are being built in cities such as Dalian and Chengdu.

11. Private jets take off

According to the Global Business Jet Market report for 2015-19, the private jet market is projected to grow to US$33.8 billion (from US$20.9 billion in 2013) by the end of 2020.

While Europe and North America are recovering from the effects of the financial crisis, India and China are leaping ahead – private business aviation in the former is expected to triple in the next five years, while more than 125 jets a year are predicted to be delivered to the latter.

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation, says: “2016 will see more airports operating close to maximum capacity and a crowded global airspace. This is going to increase the average time spent travelling with a scheduled airline, not to mention stress for travellers. We predict this will encourage more companies to consider private air travel and view it as a critical time-saving tool.”

12. Hacks and malware attacks

Cybercrime is rising – experts predict that 2016 will see Apple, in particular, being targeted. (Security company Symantec said malware attacks on Apple’s iOS operating systems more than doubled in 2015.) Travel companies are already affected, with Hyatt and Hilton experiencing breaches to systems in 2015.

Following the Hilton attack, Ryan Wilk, a director at NuData Security, was reported on computer.co.uk as saying: “This credit card breach is one of a spate of similar hacks that have occurred over the last year or so targeting hotels.

"While we can’t know for sure what hackers’ long-term plans are, it seems credible that they are targeting specific industries that likely have the same exploits in order to maximise their efforts before moving on to the next industry.”

American Airlines was hacked last summer, as was United and travel tech company Sabre. Battling this, the cyber-security market is expected to grow from US$75 billion in 2015 to US$170 billion by 2020.

13. Co-working hubs

A new breed of co-working spaces and members’ clubs are creating alternatives to hotel club floors and serviced offices for frequent flyers needing temporary facilities. In November, US company We Work opened one of the world’s largest co-working sites in London’s Moorgate, with eight floors of meeting rooms, trendy lounges, break-out areas with hammocks, showers, hot desks, and even free beer (membership costs £425 per month).

Founded in 2010, the company now has more than 50 venues across 19 cities in the US, UK, Netherlands and Israel, and is worth US$10 billion.

Other co-working brands in London include Central Working and Warner Yard, while members’ clubs catering to the business traveller include the Clubhouse, which now has two locations in Mayfair, and 12 Hay Hill (also in Mayfair), which opened in September and has 25 serviced offices and a restaurant overseen by a Michelin-starred chef. (See “By invitation only” in our December-January issue.)

14. Hotel group mergers

Hotel chains are joining forces. Last year it was announced that Marriott International would acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts for US$12.2 billion, a deal that will make it the biggest hotel company on the planet when finalised in the summer, with 30 brands and 5,500 properties.

In September, France’s Accorhotels acquired FHRI (Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel), which has 155 hotels around the world. As other chains seek to compete, the pressure to merge will increase, and consolidation of the hotel industry will echo airline behaviour over the past decade.

15. The end of the independent

That’s not all the big hotel groups are doing to increase their presence. Hospitality research group MKG Global reported last year that out of 19.5 million hotel rooms in the world, only 7.85 million were part of a chain. As a consequence, almost every large group – from Starwood to Hilton – is working to extend their reach by incorporating independents into their branded collections.

As we wrote in our November 2015 feature “United by difference”, this means travellers can “enjoy unique experiences, loyalty points, a level of certainty about the quality of their stay, and the possibility of corporate bookings via global distribution systems”.

Marriott set the trend with its Autograph Collection in 2010 – it now has more than 90 properties. This was followed by Curio by Hilton in 2014; Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio, launched last April; Carlson Rezidor’s Quorvus Collection; and Loews Hotels and Resorts’ forthcoming OE Collection.

16. Message the concierge

Hotel companies are making it possible for customers to communicate with them instantly and privately, via dedicated apps and SMS systems. Launched last year, Marriott International’s Mobile Requests can be used by the company’s 54 million Reward members and allows for two-way conversations between guests and staff at select JW Marriott, Renaissance, Autograph Collection and Marriott Hotels properties.

Starwood’s Aloft is rolling out the ability for guests to order room service with emojis. Hungover? Text the water droplet, pill and banana emoji to receive two bottles of Vitamin Water, some painkillers and two bananas (US$10). So far it is available at the brand’s Manhattan Downtown Financial District, London Excel and Liverpool hotels.

17. The connected car

In-car technology is moving beyond the basics of apps and satnavs, into a “connected” data-driven model where cars come with built-in internet access, tracking devices and monitors to measure fatigue.

Both Toyota and Ford announced in January that they would be integrating smartphone interfaces called SmartDeviceLink into vehicles, to rival Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. Honda, Mazda and Subaru may follow their lead.

Other innovations may include warning signals for dangers ahead, video screens for passengers and traffic data transmitters.

Nina Bell, managing director of Avis Budget Group, northern region, says: “The car is viewed as the next digital platform – in fact, it is the third-fastest growing digital device after tablets and smartphones. Data will sit at the heart of many of these exciting developments, and I’d expect to see a range of statistics relating to the driver’s location, behaviour and performance come to fruition.”

18. Safety first

According to travel management company Carlson Wagonlit’s report Travel Trends, Programme Priorities: A Traveller-Centric 2016, security is a top priority this year, with 80 per cent of travel managers expecting it to have a “high or very high” impact on their programmes. Despite increased global security risks, business travel has to go on, however. (Visit riskmap.controlrisks.com for in-depth analysis.)

Research company Collinson Group found that in the first half of 2015, there was a 52 per cent increase in the number of trips UK business travellers made to “high-risk” destinations that had experienced the likes of terrorist attacks or attempted coups.

Tunisia saw the biggest increase, with 362 per cent more visitors compared with the first half of 2014, Egypt saw a 60 per cent rise in business travel and Israel a 41 per cent growth.

19. Social currency exchange

A new app called We Swap heralds the dawn of “social foreign exchange”, where travellers can swap currency between them, digitally. This peer-to-peer platform is supported by Mastercard, so it’s secure, and fees are between 1 per cent and 1.4 per cent, depending how quickly you do the transaction. You can store up to 16 currencies, and money is withdrawn via a prepaid card that is posted to you.

London-based SwaappEX offers a similar middleman-free service, with geolocation software built in so you can easily meet up with the person you are swapping your leftover Thai baht with.

20. Saving the planet

Following the recent Paris Climate Conference, there will be renewed pressure on travel companies to take responsibility for their environmental practices. Hilton Worldwide has become the first global hotel company to serve MSC-certified sustainable cod in Europe, and this spring launches its new “responsible” hotel brand, Canopy, in Reykjavik.

December saw an agreement between the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme (promoting carbon neutrality) and the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). So far, 137 airports are accredited as part of the programme, representing 31 per cent of global air passenger traffic.

Last month it was announced that new green tech developed by NASA over the past six years would help commercial airlines to save US$250 billion – as well as reduce pollution by 75 per cent.

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