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GoNOMAD's Editor Sizes Up Industry Trends
Max Hartshorne is the editor and owner of GoNOMAD.com as well owner of the GoNOMAD Cafe in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. He was interviewed by David Wilkening of Travel Mole.com
MH: I think we are going to see people reaching for more varied and different experiences… going to places they've never been, and doing new things.
TM: Travelers in recent years have been seeking the cheapest options. Is this going to continue or are travelers using other criteria for their decisions?
MH: EasyJet and Ryanair have shown that in Europe, ultra-cheap is very hip. They are even introducing the Easycruise, super-bargain basement cruises. Somebody will bring a Ryanair/EasyJet type of experience to the US -- it's inevitable. The reverse is that people will keep on flocking to NetJet style fractional jet firms. There are so many more millionaires out there, and people like the pampering and privacy and less security hassle of the charter experience.
TM: Where is luxury travel heading? Any trends?
MH: See my last answer… and Richard Branson's Virgin Space where people will go way, way, way up. I've also heard that people are going for submersible hotels where they can stay under water. People are also gravitating toward getting closer to the 'natives' but still enjoying pricey food and posh accommodations, as in the African bush, with luxury camps in the bush.
TM: What's going to happen to US airlines? Will they limp along in bankruptcy?
MH: United is just now emerging out of bankruptcy and others will follow.
TM: Where's technology taking us in travel?
MH: We are seeing a new revolution in search. Now the big sites like Kayak.com are giving far more choices and more options for packaging hotel and air and car on one site. Google will soon enter the fray; they can provide lots of feeds of different booking engines for free, monetized by those ubiquitous little text ads.
One discount airline even told TravelMole that they might be able to do away with charging fares at all once they get their in-flight gambling programs underway. That is where the money is... gambling, not fares!
TM: Is technology really making travel better than ever or is increasing automation leading to worse service for travel consumers?
MH: It's not technology that people care about. It is being able to find what they want on line. With the (large) number of travel sites, I'd say that this is getting better by the day.
TM: What do you think air travel consumers want these days? Lower prices? More service? More convenience?
MH: Lower prices are almost as important as some other things that travelers want more. These include fewer stopovers (people will pay more to avoid a plane switch); more legroom (AA does this with great success); less crowded flights and more convenient times to fly.
Fliers want in-flight internet surfing (Lufthansa has it but it costs $24 per flight, which is too high); free internet on the plane supported by ads á la Google; and to be able to bring more luggage with them.
They also are willing to pay a little more to get through the screeners faster and this is already happening with the registered travelers program, though only in Orlando so far. People also want better mass transit to avoid high parking costs at the airport and they want an airport bar that doesn't fleece them with ridiculous prices.
TM: Are travel providers generally giving the public what they want or not? And why is that?
MH: They are listening but it is hard to respond when they are engrained in their old ways. Branson listens, as do the chairs of Ryanair and EasyJet.
TM: What companies do you see as innovators in the travel business?
MH: Singapore Airlines is the best airline I've ever flown. Southwest does a great job. Yahoo is ahead of most everyone on the web.
TM: What about the future of travel agents?
MH: Travel agents have been hanging in there but are they now dinosaurs and doomed? When was the last time you used a travel agent? I'm not sure they're relevant any more
TM: A lot of travel companies are getting into the rating business: rating hotels, etc. Is this a positive development?
MH: Yes, rating hotels, for example, is a huge and popular trend. I just booked a hotel in Sonoma and I chose it due to the reader's comments on tripadvisor.com. This is being offered on Expedia too. It's a really good way to make a more informed decision. I believe the travelers who went there more than the PR people or the ad people. Websites that use this type of content (it is called Folksonomie, or reader-generated content) are the biggest growth areas of the web...because every day they add so much more content and you don't have to pay for it.
TM: What might the US do as a country to attract more international visitors?
MH: Lower the visa that penalizes people from Brazil, Chile and other places. Stop making visitors to the US feel like criminals. Realize that we could set up a safe traveler program, get fingerprints and documentation so that innocent tourists can easily come through and we can still stop the fundamentalist Muslims from killing us.
TM: What are your own favorite US destinations and, briefly why?
MH: I love California… always so fun to go out there and eat the food, sip the wines and enjoy the lovely weather. I love both north and south California -- it is the best place to visit in the US. I also really enjoy off-the-beaten track places such as Arkansas (so green, so full of lushness, water and friendly folks); South Carolina; and of course New England, my own backyard that is wonderful for three seasons a year.
TM: In general, what do you see as the future of travel: positive or negative?
MH: Very positive.
TM: If terrorism again becomes an issue in the forefront of traveler's minds, what might be the impact on travel in the US and worldwide?
MH: It would slow us down again but people are determined to travel and it would return with great strength. Afghanistan and Iraq will someday be great tourism destinations.
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