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2020 Travel Trends: Buckle Up!

Posted December 18, 2019


WEX predicts a year of pushing boundaries to gain greater traveler choice and convenience.  

It’s that time of year again - time to predict travel trends that will continue or emerge in the coming year. WEX Travel Payments Insights has covered an array of diverse trends that influence and drive our industry, but for 2020, we’re focused on three. We see each of these presenting the biggest opportunities for travel:

  1. Sustained, rapid change
  2. Sharing economy expansion
  3. Increased biometrics adoption

1. Change Is the Only Constant

With so much happening quickly in the travel industry, an environment of relentless change is what we’ve come to expect. The speed at which we are adapting to new technology, new competitors, new consumer preferences, and new ways of doing business is astounding.  

The planning horizon has shrunk. Five years ago, how many in the travel industry knew the degree to which Instagram-worthy photos and overtourism would affect travelers’ destination choices? Or how dramatically short-term rentals would disrupt the hotel business? What about the rise of low-cost (and ultra low-cost) airlines and unbundled services?

Looking at travel trends predicted 10 years ago, it’s clear some could foresee the direction we’d be moving. But, new business models and consumer behavior have shifted focus and ramped up the speed. Twitter was expected to be the social media channel to watch (Instagram wasn’t launched until 2010), and the first OTAs were just a few years old.

What’s clear about the quickly changing travel industry is that payment service companies need to remain flexible, agile, and provide customizable solutions - payments that can be adaptable to specialized customer needs.

This culture of sustained rapid change creates an atmosphere that encourages innovation and advances, including the sharing economy expansion and increased biometrics adoption. Both of these 2020 trends have far-reaching implications and present exciting opportunities for travelers and travel companies. 

Let’s explore further.

2. Value of Sharing Amenities Grows

A perennial disruptor in the travel industry, the sharing economy will continue to evolve. The next phase of that evolution takes accommodations to a new level – one that competes even more directly with hotels by offering services and amenities found in traditional hotels. Presenting travelers a more complete experience will include tapping into benefits like hosts’ unused golf or beach club memberships. 

In a survey commissioned by Airbnb last year, 97% of U.S. respondents said that amenities impact their travel experience. In terms of vacation quality, accommodations were the top response with amenities second. Airbnb reports that accommodations rank higher than shopping/dining, location, culture, and family/friends. 

Julie Hoffman, Adobe’s head of industry strategy and marketing, travel & hospitality sees services and experiences as the next step for the sharing economy, particularly those processes that now cause friction for travelers. Ancillary services available for short-term rentals range from baggage storage to dry-cleaning to spa treatments and even screening for last-minute childcare. 

Earlier this year, Guestsy’s COO Vered Schwarz told, “These ‘new’ vacation rental guests are accustomed to hotel services and products, and thus will be demanding more hotel-like services from their rentals, from bathrobes to concierge-like communication.”

For payment service companies, offering the right solutions for new accommodation players and their need to add on services/amenities to remain competitive will be imperative. Since some services/amenities they add will be outsourced, accommodation players will need simplified ways to pay all involved.

The evolution of travelers’ tastes and expectations for the short-term rental market was one of the topics covered during an interesting panel discussion held at the recent Phocuswright Conference. The group stressed that they must offer more choices because different travelers value different amenities. Travel continues to be about experiences, and travelers need options to find their own perfect trip.

3. Faces Will Launch Journeys

The use of biometrics in the travel industry is exploding. Two million passengers in the U.S. were scanned using facial recognition in April and that number grew to 25 million four months later. Digital fingerprint matching, retinal scanning, and facial recognition offer benefits for travelers and travel companies alike. By authenticating travelers in this way, frictionless, seamless, more secure travel is closer to reality. 

For airports, biometrics can speed up check-in and boarding while ensuring safety and security. Over the past couple years, several airlines have introduced an opt-in subscription service provided by U.S. company Clear, which has 3.8 million members and operates at 31 airports.

Delta, Star Alliance, Jetblue, American Airlines, and British Airways have all expanded their use of biometrics this year to include more airports and services, including checking bags and accessing lounges. Delta has been using the technology since late 2018 and has found 72% of surveyed passengers prefer it to regular boarding.

Checking into a hotel that uses facial recognition means a faster experience for the guest and an easy way for the property to ensure frequent guests are acknowledged properly and their preferences accommodated. 

Two Marriott properties in China use facial recognition kiosks, which help guests avoid waiting in line for the next available staff member. They can easily gain access to their room, gym, and other facilities. Next on the horizon for hotels is a unique digital room key created using voice biometrics.   

In October, the World Travel & Tourism Council and the government of Aruba announced “the first air and non-air biometric pilot of its kind," allowing travelers to move through airports, car rental locations, and hotels using only facial recognition. A traveler’s identity will be provided one time and that will be sufficient to satisfy all the companies and government agencies involved. 

Biometrics has a role in secure payments too. MasterCard, which used fingerprints for the first biometric cards in 2017, is now testing systems that use smartphone cameras to confirm identities. Travelers can check out of their hotel, pay for meals, and confirm their participation in loyalty programs—without the risks of a plastic card being lost or duplicated.

Change for the better

Our industry has undergone tremendous change in the past few years. Trips are now becoming “curated” and “frictionless.” We have a sharing economy and technology that allows us to find a very specific type of accommodation anywhere, or open a door with a simple scan of our facial features. But, what remains constant is that travelers want a memorable experience and they want the process to be easy. It’s as simple as that. 

Watch this video to see what members of the WEX Travel Team, myself included, think about these very significant 2020 Travel Trends.

If your company is looking to get a head start on 2020 by streamlining your travel payments process, email, or learn more about our Corporate Travel Card by clicking here.


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