The phrase "cautious optimism" is becoming something of a cliché in the travel industry, so it was not surprising that it was the buzzword in Berlin this week where tourism chiefs had pitched up en masse for ITB, one of the world's biggest travel trade shows. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) presented its latest annual research into the economic impact of the industry in 2009 and 2010. What is a holiday to you and I generates 9.4 per cent of world GDP and 8.2 per cent of employment.
It confirmed a 4.8 per cent decline in the travel and tourism GDP in 2009 and a two per cent fall in employment - the loss of nearly five million jobs worldwide. It also predicted that 2010 would be a flat year. Jean-Claude Baumgarten, WTTC's president and CEO, said that, with both firms and households examining travel plans carefully, spending in real terms is expected to increase by only one per cent - while business travel spending will decline by nearly two per cent.
Bucking the trend are the emerging economies, with China set to provide a staggering 95 million visitors for other destinations by 2020. But the long term forecast is good - 4.4 per cent growth per annum in real terms between 2010 and 2020, supporting more than 300 million jobs by 2020, that is 9.2 per cent of all jobs and 9.6 per cent of global GDP. What does all that mean for the consumer? Shop around and there will be lots of bargains to be had this year as hotels and tour operators plan for the long haul but need as much business as they can get now.
The staff at the Armani Hotel, located at the base of Dubai's Burj Khalifa, are not the only ones to be nervous about the much-heralded opening due on Thursday. The room rates start at Dh1,700 ($463) for one of the 24 studios. The Italian designer Giorgio Armani told the US-based fashion publication Women's Wear Daily that he is worried. "I've been working on this for five years. I'm finally going to see what I designed, and it's a bit nerve-racking to think that what I liked five years ago might look old now," he said. It is his first hospitality project and was developed in collaboration with Emaar Properties.
America is so worried about its declining popularity - visitor numbers have declined by 10 per cent over the last decade - that it has passed a law to promote the US as a tourist destination. The statute, the first of its kind, was seen to be so historic that Barack Obama, the US president, even had a signing ceremony in the White House. The thinking behind it is that travel should act as an economic stimulant, a job generator and a diplomatic tool. The Travel Promotion Act, as it is called, makes the US government accountable to work alongside the private sector. Included in the remit is visa, security and reversing negative perceptions about travel to the US. Advocates say the new law will attract 1.6 million new international visitors a year.
Meanwhile, Americans will have to pay more to travel elsewhere. Note to US expats living here: if you want to beat the hike in passport charges, get down to the embassy fast - the state department is proposing a renewal fee of $110, up from the current $75 and a fee of $82 (it is currently free) to add more visa pages to your passport. The rise is attributed to increased security and anti-fraud measures.
The strangest thing about listening to the tapes of the young boy who gave out instructions from the control centre of the JFK Airport in New York is how unfazed the pilots were. One wished him a good day and another said "awesome job". No one reported it to management and had it not been for liveatc.net posting it on its website, we would have been none the wiser that "this most egregious violation of federal law" as one senator put it, had taken place. If you haven't heard, click on travel at cnn.com and decide whether you think it was right that the traffic controller who brought his child to work has been suspended. Dave Pascoe, the owner of the website - and a pilot - says not. He does not believe that safety was compromised.
That was not the only odd story to have emerged this week. Among the "you couldn't make it up stories" in Canada, a large rat was spotted by a passenger in the overhead locker on a Boeing 767 as it was waiting to taxi down the runway. All 205 Air Canada passengers had to disembark and the flight was cancelled after the pest-control team failed to catch it. In America, a Pinnacle Airlines flight between New York and Atlanta was cancelled after two female crew members had a verbal spat. And Ryanair claims that a passenger flying from Krakow, in Poland, to East Midlands Airport in Britain ate his winning 10,000 (Dh50,00) scratch card in a temper when cabin crew told him he would have to collect the jackpot directly from the company that runs the competition as they did not have enough cash on board the plane. You can sympathise with the rat, who was presumably only looking for some food or a comfy spot for the trip, but I do not pity the passenger, who (if the story is true and not a publicity stunt) did himself out of a windfall.
Abu Dhabi's hotels may be suffering reduced occupancy levels, but tourism to the city is only just beginning to show its potential. An interim report which is part of a year-long visitor profiling exercise from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority says that some 60 per cent of international visitors to the emirate are making their first ever visit, and an overwhelming 87 per cent would consider a return trip.
Two new GCC routes for flydubai were announced last week. Kuwait City and Muscat will bring flydubai's network to 13 routes, with a twice-daily service operating to both cities. The flights to Muscat will begin on Sunday March 28 and Kuwait on Tuesday March 30. Kuwait's tourism industry is in its infancy but there is an increasing selection of luxury hotels and resorts. And Oman is hoping to host a respectable 12 million tourists by 2020.
Research published by the upmarket British tour operator Kuoni this week showed that more than half (54 per cent) of the 2,100 people questioned in a survey made major changes in their lives as a result of a discussion on holiday. The subject most discussed is how to improve the work/life balance and how to get fitter. Also high on the list is the decision to break up a relationship, with 59 per cent of those discussing divorce or separation acting on it on their return. I will be in Val d'Isere when you read this and I trust that I will still be married by the time I return.