Today (December 28, 2015): top 10: the most important travel stories of 2015.
As we wind down 2015, it’s time to start planning that dream vacation. I am excited to share with you in my 2016 blogposts some great upcoming trips such as flying Etihad’s Airbus A380 First Class, a holiday at the Maldives’ most luxurious resort, a tour in Japan, a hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, and a stay at Bora Bora’s Four Seasons and St Regis resorts (but more on that next week). Now, it’s time to look back at 2015. Last week, I already published my most memorable travel experiences of 2015, and today, I reflect on the 10 biggest stories that dominated the travel industry in the past year.
There is more information below the slideshow. If you think I forgot one, you can always share your opinion in the comments section below, or take my poll below!
10. OIL PRICES DROPPED, BUT NOT THE AIRFARES
Today the price of a barrel of oil is averaging about $38 while it was more than $60 last summer. This drop in oil prices, the most significant one in 20 years, is a direct consequence of larger oil supplies (thanks to US soil oil and Libyan oil returning to the market) and reduced demand (because of a slowdown in the Chinese and EU economies). But although the price of oil has slumped almost 50% since last summer, this did not translate in cheaper airfares in 2015 as most airlines did not cut their fuel surcharges and instead used their savings on fuel costs to consolidate their businesses. It is predicted though that this will result in increased competition in the skies, eventually leading to a drop in flight ticket prices in 2016 to a level that fully reflects the scale of the oil price fall.
9. THE GERMANWINGS CRASH SHOCKED THE AVIATION INDUSTRY
Flying is, and always has been, the safest way of travel. Yet, a terrible crash in the French Alps gave a whole new dimension to our great collective primal fear of dying in a plane crash, since it shattered our belief that we can always trust the cockpit crew with our lives each time we get in a plane. On 24 March 2015, a Germanwings Airbus A320, operating Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Düsseldorf was intentionally crashed by the First Officer, killing all 150 souls all on board. While pilots have committed suicide by crashing their planes before, it was the first time that such an event got worldwide media coverage. Following the crash, most airlines have adopted a new flightdeck-occupancy procedure requiring the presence of two authorised persons on the flightdeck at all times during flight.
8. THE BAHA MAR PROJECT IN THE BAHAMAS TURNED INTO A FIASCO
The $3.5 billion casino resort Baha Mar in the Bahamas, the largest hospitality project ever in the Caribbean, was supposed to revivify the economy of the island nation, and to include the 1,000-room Baha Mar Casino & Hotel, the 707-room Grand Hyatt at Baha Mar, the 300-room SLS Lux at Baha Mar and the 200-room Rosewood at Baha Mar. Instead, Baha Mar missed all of its scheduled opening dates and is now embroiled in a bankruptcy battle because of a standoff between the resort and its construction company. As a consequence, many travel plans have been interrupted. For example, a bride and groom who were scheduled to have their wedding at Baha Mar in June were unable to get a refund for their 100 guests, who had booked hotel rooms and flights to the Bahamas.
7. AIRLINE LOYALTY PROGRAMS DEVALUATED
Airline loyalty programs took a turn for the worse in 2015, at least from a frequent flyer’s perspective. In April, British Airways Executive Club underwent a substantial devaluation, with a new award chart that has off-peak and peak travel dates. In the States, Delta and United Airlines moved from a system of points for miles flown to a system of points for dollars spent. And unfortunately, in an uninspiring move, American Airlines announced that by the end of 2016, it will introduce copycat changes to its AAdvantage loyalty program, which I considered to be best frequent flyer program in the world so far. While all these changes are made to please the biggest spenders (which are business travelers), it is now significantly more difficult for leisure travelers to cash in points for free flights or upgrades.
6. GIANT HOTEL CHAINS MERGED
While 2015 was marked by devaluation of airline loyalty programs, there is a good chance that 2016 will be the year of hotel loyalty program devaluations. That is because some big hotel mergers occurred in 2015. In November, Marriott acquired Starwood, creating the world’s largest hotel company that operates or franchise more than 5,500 hotels with 1.1 million rooms worldwide. And this was followed by the announcement that the French-based hotel chain AccorHotels acquired FRHI Holdings Ltd, the parent company of three of the most prestigious global luxury hotel brands: Raffles, Fairmontand Swissôtel. While this may be a good thing to broaden Marriott’s and AccorHotels’s geographic footprint in the luxury segment, it will probably result in the devaluation of hotel points.
5. THE AIRBUS A350 TOOK TO THE SKIES
This year, the extra wide body Airbus A350, which offers better air quality, roomier rows, and extra-large windows, entered commercial service. Qatar Airways was the A350 launch customer, but since then, the plane has also joined the fleet of Finnair and Vietnam Airlines. The A350 is the first Airbus with both fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon fibers. Its variants seat 280 to 366 passengers in typical three-class seating layouts. The A350 is positioned to succeed the A330 and 340, and compete with the Boeing 777 and 787. As of today, Airbus had received orders for 775 aircraft from 41 customers worldwide. Sinagpore Airlines ordered the Ultra-Long Range A350, a variant that will be able to perform flights of up to 19 hours! You can watch a clip of my trip aboard the A350 below:
4. LOS CABOS MADE AN EPIC COMEBACK AFTER DISASTROUS HURRICANE
In September 2014, a category 3 hurricane slammed into Los Cabos, a resort town located on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and favored by Hollywood celebrities. Many famous, ultra-luxurious resorts, including Resort at Pedregal, One&Only Las Palmillas and Rosewood Las Ventanas, sustained major damage from the high winds and rain, and had to close their doors for remainder of the 2015 season. But in the first months of 2016, Cabo San Lucas bounced back from the disastrous hurricane – rebuilding almost from scratch – and the future of the shining jewel looks brighter than ever. All resort properties are back in business, with new looks and added amenities, and some new properties like the JW Marriott Los Cabos and Thompson’s The Cape opened their doors.
3. TERRORISM IMPACTED THE TRAVEL MARKET
2015 will be remembered as a year of horrible terror attacks that prompted people to rethink their travel plans. Tunesia’s tourism collapsed after a mass shooting attack on Sousse beach killed 38 tourists, only 3 months after 22 people were killed in the Bardo National Museum in the Tunesian capital. Airlines no longer operate flights to/from Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, after a Metrojet airliner exploded midair, presumably because of an explosive device, killing all 224 people on board. Bombs rocked the capitals of Thailand and Lebanon. And the unthinkable unfolded in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo attack, which was followed by a terrorist rampage 10 months later that left 130 dead. Unfortunately, tragedies like these have a major economic impact on the travel industry. But despite all of this, travel prevailed, and is set to be even bigger in 2016.
2. TONS OF EXCITING HOTELS OPENED THEIR DOORS
If you are like me, than you love trying out new luxury hotels. Of course, hundreds of luxury hotels open every year all over the world, but I narrowed down the list to my pick of the 40 hottest luxury hotels that opened their doors in 2015 and that you should put on your bucket list since they are transforming their destinations. There are new luxury boutique hotels, beach resorts, safari lodges and hotels perfect for a city-break. Some of these hotel are managed by world’s most exclusive hotel brands. In order to set them apart from the competition, hotel chains are also adding new amenities to their brand new properties, such as mobile key cards (hovering your smartphone over the lock opens the door) or Instagram based hotel bookings.
1. CUBA AND IRAN EMERGED AS NEW EXOTIC TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Discovering untouched, unique places will be this year’s chief travel motivator for many. The warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba opens up the Caribbean island nation to travelers in a big way since U.S. airlines are permitted to fly as many as 110 direct passenger flights between both countries in the near future. Some fear though this may mean the end to Cuba’s authentic feel. The lifting of UN sanctions against and easing of diplomatic relations with Iran, has made this Persian nation more accessible, with key areas of interest now deemed safe to travel. With nineteen UNESCO World Heritage sites, exquisite desert landscapes, spice cuisine, and lively markets, the tourism industry is Iran is predicted to boom, with 20 million tourists by 2025.