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Despite the economic issues that the world has been facing in recent years, it seems that the tourism industry remains one of the growth sectors in the global economy. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has just authored a report which shows that world travel remained extremely healthy thus far in 2014.

The UNWTO is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. The organisation generally promotes tourism as a means for nations to achieve and sustain economic growth. The burden of achieving positive economic growth has been felt quite strongly in recent years, as governments all over the planet struggle to cope with the rising burden of debt.

Half a billion travellers

In accordance with the growing trend of tourism, UNWTO reported that over half a billion international tourists travelled to destinations in the first half of 2014. Worldwide destinations in fact received 517 million international tourists, which represented an increase of 4.6 percent on the same figure from the previous calendar year.

This growth was reflected on a pretty panoramic basis across the planet. The Americas achieved the highest level of growth, with tourists growing in number by around 6 percent in this region. This was closely followed by the Asia-Pacific region and Europe, which collectively grew by approximately 5 percent.

Although recent years have been a period of geopolitical and economic challenge, the number of international tourists has in fact grown by an annual average of 5 percent since 2010. Other factors have also played a part in the ascending number of international tourists; a good example being the football World Cup in Brazil. This huge international tournament ensured that international tourism in the South American nation grew by 10 percent in the first seven months of the year, with a rarefied 60 percent increase during the month of June and July when the World Cup took place.

Furthermore, UNWTO also indicated that demand in advanced economies with regard to travel abroad has consolidated significantly. Established economic powerhouses performed well during the surveyed period, with expenditure emanating from Italy and Australia up by 8 percent and 7 percent respectively. The US market also showed a significant increase of 5 percent.

While the report paints a rosy picture of the current international tourist market, it is also worth bearing in mind that current events could have a somewhat negative influence over the travel outlook for the rest of 2014. The current Ebola virus outbreak may to some extent affect tourism, particularly in the western African region where the disease originated.

Planning for the future

Nonetheless, even though travel is generally continuing to head in an upward direction, there will always be pressure on tourism-related businesses, destinations and travel marketers to foresee the future of the industry and plan accordingly. Already many travel businesses are attempting to identify future trends, and two companies have recently released reports about the future of tourism as they see it.

SkyScanner24 provides travellers with an interactive view of how they expect travel to unfold in the coming decades. The website predicts a very heavily technology-oriented experience, in which holidaymakers are able to access virtual reality representations of destinations in order to help them with the booking process. The Digital Tourism Think Tank has previously reported on the usage of augmented reality in the travel industry.

The company predicts that within five years gadgets such as Google Glass will radically change the way we both research and book holidays. SkyScanner24 also emphasises the social and community-based nature of this future decision-making process, focusing on the ‘wisdom of crowds’ and displaying via their website how this might affect our travel plans in the future.

Another organisation currently involved in identifying forthcoming travel trends is Lonely Planet. The infamous publisher of travel guides recently took time out from its core activity to publish an article on its ten predicted travel trends for the future. These were extremely diverse in nature, and it is worthwhile for any tourism-related business to check out the full article. But there were two particularly interesting trends that Lonely Planet picked up on to which all digital marketers and travel industry businesses should pay heed.

Lonely Planet projects that the trend for smart, sustainable travel will accelerate in the coming years. This is likely to be motivated by worldwide policy changes as governments address the pollution of fossil fuels and the contribution that they have made to climate change and the degradation of the environment. Lonely Planet points out that 70 percent of existing travellers already expect companies to demonstrate commitment to preserving the natural environment, and this will become an increasingly important facet of travel and related marketing in the near future.

Exploiting mobile

Additionally, Lonely Planet predicts that mobile will become a very significant platform for the travel industry from hereon in. Booking all manner of tourism-related services via mobile will become the norm, and Lonely Planet also hints at a future in which augmented reality is of commercial significance.

The travel industry has performed superbly well to continue to grow in times of general economic malaise. But in the fast-paced modern world, it is a necessity for tourism marketers to continue to evolve their branding and consumer experience to stay ahead of the behavioural curve of travellers.

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