As travelers go, we’re hermits. However, we are out today, on a typically raw New York winter day, at the New York Times Travel Show. The show is the culmination of a whirlwind week of meetings and events, most centered around a little thing we just published called the “State of Travel Insurance 2017.” (Don’t have your own copy to show your friends? Be the first kid on the block. Download it here.)
It’s been an instructional week in New York as well, as they usually are. We’ve hung out with a lot of smart people and learned a lot of things, which tends to happen when you’re around smart people and pay attention. Among the most important things we’ve learned are:
Travel is booming – especially expensive trips. Call it a Trump Bump or a Dump Trump Bump; whatever side of the political chasm you’re on, the truth is that the first month of the year has been a record-breaker for travel. Travel searches are up dramatically in Google, and – hooray for us – travel-insurance searches are up dramatically as well. And according to the people who are the beneficiaries of these searches, travelers are taking more expensive trips to ever more distant destinations. Maybe they need to get so far away that The Facebook and The Twitter can’t find them; who knows? But in January at least, Americans are getting the heck out of America.
Adventure travel is taking off. Among the most insured destinations in January: South Africa and New Zealand. There’s one really obvious reason for that – it’s summer there and it ain’t here – but there’s also a less-obvious reason. According to the aforementioned “State of Travel Insurance,” South Africa and New Zealand are two of the top 10 destinations for adventure travel. According to our research, adventure travel is taking off, especially with young travelers, especially to destinations like Peru and Iceland – and South Africa and New Zealand. If that’s your kind of vacation, congratulations; you’re officially part of the mainstream.
If you like what low airfares did for European travel, just wait ‘til you see what they’ll do for Asia. We spent the better part of a day with Chris McGinnis, longtime face of travel on CNN and creator of the invaluable TravelSkills blog and Twitter chat, and he turned us on to a recent post on his blog about Air Asia X, and what it’s doing to try to bring ultra-low airfares from Asia to the United States. The airline is in the filing phase, and no routes or fares have been announced, but it looks like the airline is going to be using Kuala Lumpur as a major hub, with service all across South Asia. Fares to Asia from highly regarded carriers like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air have already dropped to never-before-seen levels across the classes; even lower fares could cause an unprecedented boom in Asian travel.
The Caribbean is hotter than ever. With Zika beginning to fade as a travel concern and a cold, wet winter driving interest in somewhere warm and sunny, travelers are looking toward the Caribbean in record numbers. The “State of Travel Insurance” projects a 12% increase in travel to the Caribbean (driving a 10% increase in travel-insurance sales, if you’re interested). Some of the greatest growth is coming from all-inclusive destinations, which are growing rapidly in number and diversity. “From a budget standpoint, when you pay a fixed price up front, and then all you have to do is show up with your passport, it’s a terrific experience,” said Steve Dumaine, CEO of CheapCaribbean.com. In addition, Dumaine said, “the number of options have really exploded, so now you can really get kind of experience you’re looking for, and not a more generic experience.”
Are there signs of trouble on the horizon? Maybe. Assuming nothing goes wrong, 2017 will be the best year ever for travel … assuming nothing goes wrong. However, there has never been a year in the last two decades where nothing has gone wrong. Clayton Reid, president and CEO of MMGY Global and the driving force behind MMGY’s excellent report, “Global Portrait of American Travelers,” predicted that in 2017 there will be at least one major terrorist event and/or disease epidemic that will have a major impact on travel. Will it be in Europe? Africa? The Middle East? There’s no way of knowing. But you have to expect trouble and prepare – and travel insurance is an excellent way to prepare without getting too paranoid. Also, the dissolution of some international treaties could lead to an increase in the “Ugly American” stereotypes of the ’50s and ’60s, making international travel less pleasant and rewarding. And finally, global warming has led to more storms, more intense storms, and longer storm seasons throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific.
A combination of terrorism, disease, politics, and disaster could take the bloom off 2017’s rose. But for right now, live from chilly New York, travel is blooming.