Travel Trends to Expect in 2012

When booking vacations, travelers are proving to be savvier than ever at finding good deals and discounts thanks to the multitude of social networking and review sites. The weak economy of the last few years may have made hunting for bargains a necessity, but it could remain a fact of life even after the economy picks up.

KWE Partners, a travel marketing and public relations agency, has listed the emerging trends for 2012 that the travel industry can expect to see.

1. Renter Economy
The vacation rental industry isn’t new by any means, but there will be some changes to it. What vacationers can expect to see is the industry begin to segment more and more. There is the obvious price segmentation — KWE notes that Airbnb is on the budget end and Quintessentially Villas is pricier.

Beyond price, the vacation rental industry will also see divisions by special interest even. There’s a whole market just for gold vacations or outdoor sports, but KWE is expecting to “see even more differentiation by alternative interests such as paddle boarding, geocaching, quilting, triathlon training, writing/studying [and] species-specific nature watching.”

2. Mini Indulgences
The travel industry is taking a cue from the food industry, specifically “tapas” — those little plates of food that have a lesser price tag than a full plate and allow you to taste and sample and share food.

Consumers will now be able to get a taste of the high life without actually having to go all in. Spas are offering their own “tapas” services by allowing guests to choose abbreviated treatments. At the Munich Airport you can book access to a VIP wing regardless of ticket class.

And have you ever wanted to spend time in a five-star hotel but don’t have the money to drop $500 a night? Well, luxury hotels are offering rates just for the daytime or even hourly — they might change people’s current opinions of the hourly rate hotel room — so people can sample what the hotel offers and fill up otherwise vacant rooms.

3. Marketing
Social media and technology has changed the way every industry interacts with customers, so vacationers can expect to see the travel industry engaging them in different ways. Not only will the travel industry be writing more blogs and posting more videos, it will also be matching demographics, by trying to have people engaging the customers be like those they’re serving. A more personalized service means a happier traveler.

4. Lifestyle Immersion
Vacation is sometimes about betterment and more hotels will be offering the opportunity to not only entertain but also educate those with special interests. For instance, at The Dorcester in London, vacationers interested in wedding planning can participate in the Niemierko Wedding Academy.

Hotels will start to attract those with niche interests. There are those that allow you to sleep in a tree house, in a submarine or in an old airplane. And in the Netherlands there’s a hotel that is the opposite of Las Vegas’ many chapels. The Divorce Hotel offers a quick way to get divorced and provides mediators, notaries, psychologists and other specialists.

5. Gamification
Searching for the best deals doesn’t have to be boring and time consuming — it can be fun for the smart consumer. There will be a trend of gamification as brands look to build brand loyalty.

“Tour operators, hotels, and airlines are successfully offering mystery weekend trips for loyal customers/fans by either a contest, auction or discount to unknown destinations with surprise itineraries,” according to KWE. “The secrecy adds an extra dimension of excitement to the travel experience.”

The travel industry is just the latest to embrace gamification, which is slowly taking over people’s lives.

(And if you're not sure what gamification is, watch this Carnegie Mellon University professor, Jesse Schell, paint a slightly scary picture of the possible future of gamification.)