With 2012 now well underway, it’s time for Travel-Intel to take a penetrating look into the New Year and see just what changes and events may come to define how North America travels.top ten travel predictions

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

If the Mayan calendar has anything to do with it, we could see a rise in bucket list travel and travelers going to great lengths and expense to truly live life the way they have always wanted – just in case. For others, it could be a new beginning and a reason to check out those ancient Mayan mystics with trips to the Mundo Mayan highway through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

The Year of the Rant

The Wall Street protests could prove to be the tip of the iceberg for key First World cities, including the U.S., that may become the scene of ire and popular expression, such as experienced in London last year.

Air Not Fair

Airfares will continue to rise in the face of declining capacity, rising costs and a shrinking business class market. But a “just say no” consumer backlash to non-compulsory air travel may bring the airlines back into line.

Cruise Blues

Cruise lines will find more ways to include less and charge for more and more things that used to be included in the tariff. We see this already with charges for soft drinks and other necessary ancillaries formerly taken for granted. But the companies will also find ways to make these charges less painful by bundling them in with pre-sold plans or incentives.

Getting Off the Bus

Experiential travel, or specialized trips with a growthful purpose, will be offered and pushed by travel companies and in demand by travelers who formerly simply targeted a destination and went. Agents who can verse themselves in these focused opportunities will be able to sell them with more ease than they expected.

Travels with Charley

Pet travel is on the rise. More and more hotel properties take them (witness the proliferation of pooch packages coming out of resorts in Las Vegas) and more passengers are finding ways to travel with them. Agents that can answer the questions and provide the right information for pet flights and entry for both domestic and international travelers stand to gain a new market segment of business.

Wellness Travel

Spa vacations, medical trips, weight-losing hiking and biking sojourns steal the day in this purpose-driven society. Medical tourism, itself, is a $600 million a year business and growing, especially as baby boomers are reaching critical ages for procedures and cosmetic touch ups. The number of travelers in this industry is expected to reach 1.6 million in 2012, up from 1.3 million in 2011.

Pond Skipping

London may be the hot ticket this year. It’s never a dull day in front of Buckingham Palace in a city that saw historic royal nuptials only last summer. This summer brings the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and a celebration of Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the thrown. Then come the summer Olympics July 27-August 12. It just does not get better than that for planning a summer in Europe.

The Year of the App

Mobile booking, buying, besting, bemoaning, brokering and beachcombing will take over as time-busting pastimes as consumers continue to amp up their iPad and Smartphone collections. This means airlines that offer onboard Wifi will be much appreciated by clients and hotels that do not have Wifi or charge dearly for it will not. Agents who somehow make themselves and their services accessible through apps stand to gain a new and growing segment of business. Associations and consortiums also stand to gain by creating apps that can connect agents to their clients with preferred suppliers.

Off the Grid

Vacation rentals, accessed by consumers through such Internet companies as Air BnB, VBRO and Home Away, will become a rising resource for travel agents who want to customize the hospitality experience for their clients. Whether clients are looking for a wedding destination or a family reunion site or just a romantic getaway, agents will find unusual digs and new revenues in researching vacation rentals and matching to their client needs, often saving clients’ considerable money in the process.