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TRAVEL: The Road Ahead for 2015

First of two parts

Golicz London

Travel that emphasizes spontaneity, spanning generations and genuine local flavor is what’s trending these days among Americans. Also, economic headaches on the other side of the Atlantic are making Europe a lot more affordable.

You might not recognize the name John Golicz, but if you’ve been to one of the seven Travel & Adventure shows held this winter around the United States, you know his work.

Golicz is the CEO of Unicomm LLC, the company that annually puts on the annual Travel & Adventure Show series across the continental United States, the largest travel trade shows in the country. He makes his living checking the pulse of the American travel industry.

And he took a few minutes this week with IBIT to talk about what’s trending these days with American travelers. Our chat may have been brief, but it was wide-ranging.

One of the biggest trends these days is a passion a genuine experience. Travelers are moving away from the “canned,” pre-packaged trips and looking to “keep it real.”

JG: “Right now, a lot of travelers are looking for experience more than luxury. Baby boomers are very much into cultural mixing right now. It’s all about authenticity, being engaged with the culture of the region more than just staying in a great hotel.

“People like the idea of getting into a new destination and meeting people, eating with the locals. They’re finding pop-ups in people’s home where the serve meals to visitors. You sit down with their families. It’s not free; you’re paying for it, of course. But you’re meeting real people and getting a taste of real life in that place.

“It’s a dynamite experience.”

Something that might be contributing at least indirectly to that quest for true local “flavor” is a willingness to be more spontaneous in their travels than in years past, Golicz says.

Where their elders were more likely carefully pre-plan their travel itineraries well in advance and down to the last detail, millennials armed with smartphones and the hottest in travel and social media apps are turning impulse, last-minute travel in something close to its own niche in the industry.

JG: “The millennials are certainly traveling more at their age than their predecessors did. a lot of their travel is more on-demand. They’re perfectly comfortable just showing up in a train or a plane, open up an app like Hotel tonight to find a room, then booking a ride from Uber to take them there, all without a lot of advanced planning, or any advanced planning at all.”

I’m from that older generation of traveler that likes to have all the trip details nailed down well ahead of time. Even so, I can imagine a certain exhilaration, a certain feeling of urban adventure, in just throwing a few clothes in the backpack duffel, punching in a few codes on a few smartphone apps and seeing where the impulse takes me.

Actually, a lot of us aging Baby Boomers are taking the suitcases out of storage and dusting off those passports. No surprise there. What has been something of a surprise to the travel industry is how many of us are taking our kids and grandkids with us.

It’s happening so often, Golicz says, that it’s now become it own category: multi-generational travel. It’s not just bringing families together around potentially life-changing travel experiences, but it’s also saving them a lot of money.

JG: “It’s really growing fast right — from grandma and grandpa to all the kids and grandkids, rounding everybody up and going somewhere together. Very often, they’re renting homes and villas where everybody can stay together under one room, and it’s very often cheaper than hotel rooms.”

Millennials, boomers, seemingly everybody in between — they’re all traveling. But where are all these going?

Golicz thinks he knows where they should be going. And oddly enough, it’s a destination you might think had grown overly familiar by now: Europe.

The reason is cost. The Old World, he says, is a lot cheaper these days.

JG: “There’s no better time to go to Europe. The value of the euro is almost on a par with the dollar for the first time in nearly a generation. A 4- or 5-star hotel in a European capital is almost than the same level of hotel here in the US, and that’s pretty exciting news.

“Trans-Atlantic airfares are down almost 10 percent. There are more seats flying there than fliers. Also, the fuel savings (due to lower crude oil prices worldwide) are finally hitting the consumers’ tickets. On top of all that, a lot of European economies are going too great, so Europe is a great value right now.”

For first-time visitors to Europe, he also had a suggestion to get the most out of that first visit — a river cruise.

River cruising has been a staple of European travel for decades, but in the last five years, it’s gone ballistic as a half-dozen river cruise lines try to outdo one another in building new ships and adding new itineraries.

Where an ocean cruise line like Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or NCL might make a huge deal out of launching a single giant new cruise vessel, companies like Viking, AMA Waterways or Uniworld might launch a half-dozen new river cruisers on the same day.

And while those same lines are taking new river cruisers to South America and Asia, and are even starting to cast covetous eyes on the Mississippi River here at home, there are still plenty of vessels with that new cruise ship smell, plying the rivers of Europe.

And that’s the first-timers’ advantage, Golicz says, since there’s a shore excursion almost every day.

JG:”Don’t be afraid to try a European river cruise, especially along the Danube. You can cover a lot of Old World Europe in one week. Cities like Prague and Budapest have a lot of charm, and you can take notes along your route on the places you want to come back to and spend more time.”

Okay, that’s great for Europe. But does Golicz have any thoughts on the rest of the world? Yes, he does.

And that’s next.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency.

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