Choice's 2016 outlook examines barriers to guest travel

A new survey from Choice Hotels International is providing insights into traveler trends for 2016. The survey was conducted by Newlio among a nationally representative sample of 1,071 U.S. adults, and looks into myriad different factors that could affect hotels in the coming months.

First, the survey found that 40 percent of travelers decided against traveling in 2015 due to high airfare. U.S. News reported that, despite low fuel costs, airlines are being stingy with the number of flights taking off per day, thereby increasing airfare in search of higher revenue. Airlines have also reduced the bonuses travelers can receive from frequent flier programs, with American Airlines shifting its AAdvantage program to a fare-based model that will require even more points for travelers to reap benefits in 2016.

However, at Expedia's recent 2015 partner conference, the online travel agency delved into its data cache to investigate 8 billion searches across 300,000 unique airline routes between October 2014 and 2015. According to Road Warrior Voices, hard data show that prices for economy seats declined 8 percent this year over 2014, with July and August seeing drops of 13 and 10 percent, respectively. This shows that traveler perceptions may have a greater effect on travel than actual prices do; the stigma of air travel being expensive may be putting off people from planning trips in the first place.

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Choice's survey they looked into travel to Cuba, finding that 52 percent of Americans wish to travel to Cuba if the travel embargo was lifted. Hotel Management acknowledged a list of challenges associated with admitting free travel between the U.S. and Cuba, and according to the Wall Street Journal the march toward normalization is indeed slow. Though visits by U.S. citizens have increased by 50 percent since last year, much of that is related to cultural or educational travel as opposed to tourism. Even so, the U.S. and Cuba have recently reached a deal on resuming direct flights, meaning it could pick up soon.

As for guest loyalty, 33 percent of travelers told Choice they are not members of a loyalty program. Despite this, 42 percent of them check for special promotions attached to loyalty programs when booking stays. Next year will see a larger push than ever by the industry to increase both direct bookings and loyalty memberships, bolstered by increases in guest data-gathering tools and ways to personalize their stay.

Of the travelers surveyed, 31 percent said they plan on booking a "bleisure" trip in 2016, adding a leisure excursion to the beginning or end of their business travel next year. This is good news for hotels, as group bookings are surging for the end of this year, and more are expected to come in 2016.

Other findings in the report show that men are 112 percent more likely to want their room equipped with an iron and ironing board than women; free Wi-Fi (60 percent), followed by cable TV (52 percent) and complimentary toiletries (28 percent) were the three amenities most important to Americans; and 8 percent of Americans say they wouldn't last a day without technology, though 38 percent desire a tech-free vacation. Furthermore, 36 percent of Americans do not use all their paid vacation time, and 65 percent would prefer an end-of-year bonus instead of additional paid vacation time. Lastly, free roomnights are highly desired by guests, with travelers willing to give up "anything" for a free stay.

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