2024’s Top Travel Trends: What Every ITC Needs to Know

By Chantal Gouws, General Manager of Flight Centre Independent Brands

As an ITC, no two days or clients are the same – that adaptability is one of the upsides of the role. But the travel landscape doesn’t stay the same either. As an independent travel consultant, you’re well-positioned to adapt to ongoing changes in client needs. You’re already skilled at tailoring your services with experience serving diverse clients, from corporate to leisure travellers. 2024 promises to be a big one, so I’m sharing some key work and travel trends that may impact what your clients want and how you can meet their changing needs this year.

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1. Flexible work weeks change client availability

The return to office is gaining momentum, with most South African CEOs planning to transition back to in-person work, according to a KPMG report. But it’s not back to business as usual – the office may be making a comeback, but those returning want more flexibility from the traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

What does this mean for ITCs? You’ll need to accommodate clients who now do business travel planning outside of the typical workday hours. Operating according to an ITC model likely means you already appreciate having control over your own schedule. Leverage that experience to align with clients’ newly fluid timetables and shifting work-life preferences.

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3. Embrace the AI travel revolution – with your human touch

AI is undeniably transforming the travel planning process through intelligent assistants providing custom trip recommendations, dynamic price tracking, and predictions around delays. This technology is here to stay, and for ITCs, it brings exciting opportunities rather than threats.

Expect that clients may have used AI for initial travel research before booking with you. Consider the AI suggestions as the starting point for a conversation to uncover what truly resonates for each unique client. Then, leverage your human creativity, emotional intelligence, and niche expertise to deliver a tailored travel experience that meets their needs.

Focus on developing specialisations around specific holidays, destinations, or traveller types. The future is one where AI and human collaboration in travel planning will thrive. Embrace AI for efficiency, but always lead with your human strengths.

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4. Make sustainability part of every travel conversation

Eco-consciousness is defining this year’s travel trends, with nearly 70% of people actively seeking sustainable options when booking trips now. Furthermore, ‘sustainable travel’ searches have skyrocketed over 225% in five years, signalling a shift toward responsible tourism. People want to be greener when they travel but don’t know how to go about it.

As trusted advisors, ITCs have immense influence in mainstreaming sustainable travel. Put eco-friendly hotels, transport, and activity options front and centre for all clients – whether they ask for it or not. Guide clients toward reducing their carbon footprint across all trip types and budgets. Flying direct, rather than multi-stop, for example.

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2. Health & wellness considerations become non-negotiable

Today’s travellers are keen to continue their regular health and wellness routines when on the road. The global wellness tourism sector is booming, boasting over 7% annual growth, and health-focused offerings have infiltrated every type of travel experience.

As a travel consultant, clients look to you to help them maintain wellness while travelling. Look beyond superficial spa recommendations. Proactively curate slower-paced itineraries, allowing deeper immersion into fewer destinations. Suggest hotels with wellness facilities beyond massages – hiking, sleep health amenities like pillow menus, and nutritious dining options catering to special diets. Become a go-to resource for integrating wellness into any trip.

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5. Put tour-based tourism on your agenda

The 2023 Rugby World Cup saw plenty of Bokke fans cash in on the event by planning a business or leisure trip to coincide with critical games. And this year, the 2024 Paris Olympics will be calling them back. Experts are highlighting tours and significant events as drivers for blended business and leisure travel demand. For example, there’s been a lot of buzz about how music icons, like Taylor Swift, also spur destination interest wherever they tour.

Though lodging and flights often climb in price when demand surges, travellers who book early can unlock savings. This is a message you can share. As a travel consultant, you can also provide value by exploring overflow options in transit-connected cities and opening up affordable alternatives to sold-out cities. Offer flexible solutions to clients by considering the entire region around sports or music events.

As an ITC, you can build a diverse portfolio capitalising on these 2024 travel trends. The adaptability of the independent model positions you perfectly to provide genuinely bespoke guidance as 2024 brings new shifts and opportunities to travel.