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The 2018 New York Times Travel Show celebrates its 15th anniversary.

By Stef Schwalb

The traditional gift for a 15th anniversary is crystal and one might say that’s exactly what attendees received (in the form of a crystal ball) at this year’s edition of The New York Times Travel Show. Held the last weekend of January at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, the event provided plenty of insights into the state of the industry today – and there were also a wealth of predictions revealed about the year ahead and beyond. The 2018 iteration reported the highest attendance rate in the show’s history, according to organizers, with more than 32,398 participants made up of 10,268 trade professionals and 22,130 consumers.

As North America’s largest travel industry show, the three-day event always reserves one of its days exclusively for those in the field. This year offered the trade 20 conference panels led by numerous experts covering a range of subjects from products and services to destination information and marketplace trends, and an energetic exhibition space packed with 600 companies representing more than 176 countries. The keynote address/state of the industry featured veteran travel journalist and editor James Shillinglaw, in conversation with Ninan Chacko, CEO, Travel Leaders Group; Jennifer Tombaugh, president, Tauck; Alejandro Zozaya, CEO, Apple Leisure Group; Andrew Stuart, president and CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line; and Guy Young, global brand engagement Officer, The Travel Corporation.

Industry Trends

The panel revealed that 2017 was actually a record year of travel supplier investments – a sign that no matter the state of politics, Mother Nature or threats of terrorism, travel lovers are still pursuing their passion. Tourism to countries such as Spain, New Zealand, Italy and South America are on the rise while the United States and Cuba have taken a slight dive downward. Interestingly, Africa and Israel are two unique destinations that are currently considered hot spots to head to.

Food and wine remain huge motivators for millennial travelers, and oftentimes, this generation will choose a location based on its gastronomic offerings. Countries are getting hip to this trend by expressing deeper interest in culinary tourism – an example of which was seen by viewers during the Super Bowl when Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride starred in a commercial that focused on Australia’s offerings.

Panelists also noted that travelers overall have become much more resilient when it comes to natural disasters and political uprisings. Neither of those occurrences is keeping Americans from heading overseas – as long as destinations respond accordingly. The logic behind this premise is that recovery periods are faster today and news cycles are much shorter. Travelers also continue to demand deeper engagement. They want to hear the “voice” of the destination, a topic that was central in the “Focus on Culinary Tourism” session as well.

Experts in the category addressed emerging destinations for inspirational tours where travelers can indulge in explorations of local culture and cuisine, including South Africa; Portugal; Southern Latin America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay); and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Israel, and Vietnam). The panel, moderated by Doug Duda, director of partnerships, International Association of Culinary Professionals, included Uri Steinberg, Israel tourism commissioner, North America, Israel Ministry of Tourism; Sheree Mitchell, president and founder, Immersa Global; Aashi Vel, co-founder, Traveling Spoon; and Julian Asher, founder & managing director, Timeless Africa.

Immersive Experiences

The group was in consensus that immersion in local experience is a trend that continues to dominate travel, overall. Even on the exhibition floor, there were several apps and services that were being pushed for regional guides that – like AirBnB – are taking the job as host to the next level. Not only are travelers staying in other people’s homes, but they are also going to food markets to shop then prepare dinner together; participating in recreational neighborhood activities; regional-specific cooking courses; family-run winery tours; farm-to-table experiences and more. Travelers want the expertise and insights that they can only attain through in-depth excursions.

New York Times Travel Show MexicoWith the desire for immersion, another trend for travel has emerged: “small is big.” People now want to travel in smaller groups to ensure more personalized and expansive trips. To meet this demand, many travel partners are streamlining services to meet very specific needs. No longer are there itineraries designed for just women. Some have altered into itineraries for women with specific interests – for example, vegetarians and photographers.

The goal is to bring a truly local experience to life, and one that in some way mirrors a traveler’s own, so that people can come together through a common interest and connect. Suppliers are finding this to be an easier way for travelers to find exactly what they seek by providing options that are being tailor made.

One of the most inspiring sessions we attended was “Travelscope” with Joseph Rosendo, moderated by The New York Times’ Shivani Vora. During this hour, Rosendo spoke about his five decades of experiences, showcasing some truly stunning images and uplifting stories to demonstrate the power of transformative travel.

As an Emmy Award-winning travel journalist, broadcaster, television personality, public speaker, and host of the PBS show, “Joseph Rosendo’s Travelscope,” his enthusiasm was infectious and an exceptional example of how his work has been life-changing and world-changing. Noting that while travelers go for the place, “it’s the people and experiences they remember.” His mantra of opening up one’s heart and mind for personal and national growth – abroad and at home – was inspiring for every traveller, and travel lover, in attendance.

Other highlights from the show included the debut of the new LGBTQ Pavilion; the Taste of the World Pavilion; celebrity speakers and influencers, including travel expert Pauline Frommer and fashion designer Zac Posen; and several culinary demonstrations, cultural presentations, and performances.

A born and bred New Yorker, Stef Schwalb's love of everything culinary knows no bounds. She has written about food and beverages for several years, covering everything from how to make goat cheese to pairing oysters and Chablis. Schwalb is the senior content manager at Gregory White PR where she writes about enticing food and wine experiences at restaurants, bars & lounges, wineries and wine regions across the globe.

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