What to expect when you travel this year

If you like crowds, personalized travel experiences or talking to machines, then you’re going to love traveling in 2019. That’s because “overtourism,” personalization and artificial intelligence rank among the top travel trends of the new year, experts say. And, as in years past, you’ll also pay more to get where you’re going.

The roads, skies and railways will be filled to the point of gridlock, warns Mahmood Khan, a professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Higher demand promises to make 2019 one of the busiest travel years on record.

“Domestic travel is bound to increase sharply,” Khan predicts.

Prices are also expected to rise. Hotels rates will jump 3.7 percent, and airfares will increase 2.6 percent in 2019, driven by a growing global economy and rising oil prices, according to Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s 2019 travel forecast. Most of the other forecasts also call for moderate price increases across the board.

Overtourism

“Aside from higher prices, the spotlight is on overtourism,” says Jason Moskal, vice president of lifestyle brands at InterContinental Hotels Group. “Not only are destination locals becoming increasingly frustrated with an overflow of tourism, but it is causing harm to ecosystems and economies around the globe.”

Moskal says that in India, the Taj Mahal’s marble has yellowed and that the nearby Yamuna River is now severely polluted. And in Santorini, Greece, the volume of tourists is taxing local resources, forcing authorities to cap the number of cruise ships dropping off visitors.

Overtourism will require visitors to do two critical things in 2019. First, they’ll need to research their trips a little more carefully, in case a closure or a daily visitor quota affects an intended destination. But, perhaps more important, smart travelers will rethink plans to visit some popular destinations and choose some less-traveled ones.

Artificial intelligence

Another emerging trend: AI. I covered the ups and downs of early AI last year. But this year will be different, insiders say.

“In years past, artificial intelligence was only being used within companies’ back-end systems to improve efficiency and cut costs,” says Arvin Hsu, a senior director of data science and machine learning at GoodData, a software company based in San Francisco. “But in 2019 and beyond, AI will revolutionize the way consumers plan travel.”

How so?

At the moment, most travelers make their reservations online through a travel site or a travel agent. AI can’t do much more than search for flights or identify available hotels. But machine learning will allow new systems to make more sophisticated suggestions — and then help you act on them.

“In the year ahead, AI systems will learn consumers’ personal travel habits, help travelers find the cheapest flights or the most exciting stopover destinations, manage their itineraries, and even plan travel that earns maximum rewards points or miles,” Hsu says.

Best of all, these systems will be able to take spoken instructions and better understand your needs. This would mark a dramatic departure from the version 1.0 artificial intelligence that travel companies use today. And — who knows? — they might make booking travel a little easier than it is now.

Be open to technology

How do you get an edge? Be open to the technology, experts say. If a hotel offers you a new way to book a room, take a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised by what AI can do for you in 2019.

With technology, the ultimate outcome is to offer a fully personalized experience. The chatbot recognizes you, predicts what you want and then creates a trip that’s perfect for you. That, too, is on the horizon this year, according to industry watchers.

“A traditional trip, involving a flight, a few days at a hotel, then a flight home, is becoming a thing of the past,” says Priceline chief executive Brett Keller. “Personalized travel will be the new normal.”

But what does that mean?

Today’s trips are relatively linear, which is to say, you make a reservation with a preferred airline, book a room with a preferred hotel and then fill in the itinerary with activities. With personalization, an AI system or a person who knows you well, can spot additional opportunities, Keller says.

“Modern dynamic-package engines can mix and match airlines to better fit your schedule,” he says. “You can bounce between hotels, private apartments and even treehouses within a single vacation if you so choose.”

Build vacations you never thought possible

This year, you’ll be able to build vacations you never thought possible.

“In 2019, the traveler’s imagination will be the driving force,” Keller says.

Ninan Chacko, the chief executive of Travel Leaders Group, a collection of premium travel agencies, agrees that this year, travel will become “highly personalized and more granular in focus.”

“A vacation is not just taking a break from work. It’s a way to make connections, share experiences and evoke emotions,” Chacko says.

Go where no one else is going, be open to new ideas, and be creative — these sound more like New Year’s resolutions than travel trends. Maybe that’s the point.

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