Were travel experts right with their 2023 predictions?

China’s travelers coming back in their volumes, the use of robots in hospitality and the rise of rail were just three predictions made at the beginning of 2023.

But were our industry executives and sector pundits right with their crystal ball gazing? PhocusWire takes a look back at some of the trends that played out and others that were perhaps a little ahead of their time.

It’s hard to think that a year ago COVID restrictions were still in place in China, especially as the recovery of many other geographies was well underway. However, once restrictions eased in early January, the expected rush to get back to the skies from China’s travelers did not really happen.

Lack of air capacity and visa challenges were contributors, while various surveys suggest safety concerns and expensive flights also limited the number of travelers from the country heading out internationally.

Many countries relying on travelers from China now forecast 2024 will be the year of recovery with Trip.com Group optimistic for a resumption of regular travel by the middle of next year. There are even predictions that outbound tourism from China could hit 180 million in 2024, representing a 20% increase on pre-pandemic levels.

Soaring demand

While travelers from China did not come back in their droves, demand from travelers across the west and other parts of the world soared. The predicted slowdown in traveler volumes with consumers staying closer to home and downgrading accommodation choices failed to materialize. This has meant record prices for consumers and high profits for hotel groups and airlines. Most suppliers – across hotels, airlines and online travel agencies – maintain there are no signs of demand abating.

Digital developments

Soaring demand led to greater recognition of the need to use technology to improve the experience, drive efficiency and fill gaps created by labor shortages in the industry. Some airlines and airports have made improvements in the quest for a seamless passenger journey, while hotels are using their mobile apps for an increasing number of services.

Predictions around the use of digital identify verification in hotels continues to hold promise with a number of initiatives underway, but perhaps this is a trend likely to play out in aviation before it takes hold in the accommodation segment. A further prediction around the rise of robots has also failed to materialize.

Further digital tech forecasts around the maturing of blockchain applications of travel have somewhat come true with Blockskye’s work with Kayak and PwC used as the main development to support this trend. Meanwhile, hotels and airlines continue to find interesting ways to use non-fungible tokens, but metaverse, a buzzword in 2022, got barely a mention this year.

The adoption of digital payments by both consumers and in the business-to-business world is, as predicted, on the rise. Developments around payments from both startups and established companies designed to remove friction for all parties continue to boost efficiency and bring down costs.

Rise of rail

Rail travel, both leisure and business, especially in Europe, was predicted to gain in popularity in 2023, and various initiatives have contributed to the trend. At the beginning of 2023, the European Union gave the go-ahead to various pilots linking different countries. These included night trains from Amsterdam to Barcelona and services between Paris, Milan and Venice. Meanwhile, collaborations between rail operators in Sweden, Germany and Denmark have seen the introduction of routes between the countries. 

Rail as an option will continue to gain traction with new partnerships for startups including Byway Travel, which offers flight-free options. Rail for the corporate market will be boosted by flight bans, such as that introduced in France, for journeys that take less than 2.5 hours by rail. In addition, the spotlight on sustainable travel will only increase in intensity, and the industry will be forced by regulators and consumer pressure to take action.

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