It’s been a huge year for travel, dominated by advances in technology, the rise of home sharing, a booming cruise sector and fresh ideas about hotel design. In our roundup, we bring you a selection of stories that made the news in 2018.

The people, places and products that made the news in 2018

Photo Credit: GettyImages
“Asia is only halfway to reaching its potential as a cruise hub. There is a growing middle-class population in Asia who can afford to travel and have not experienced cruising.”
– Bob Guy, managing director, Destination Asia

Hello LEO, meet KATE
The year kicked off much as it went on…with new technology influencing all aspects of travel. At the Future of Travel Experience Asia exhibition, SITA introduced visitors to baggage robot LEO’s newest bot companion - KATE.  
But unlike LEO, KATE isn’t an automated porter who prints bag tags and takes your bags. Instead, she is an intelligent mobile check-in kiosk that can move to congested areas to alleviate check-in queues. 
Making use of geo-location technology to navigate freely through the airport, KATE uses Wi-Fi to connect to various airline and airport systems, has the ability to avoid obstructions in her path and can automatically dock at her station when low on juice.

“I recognised that there are things people just don’t need or want anymore at a hotel... services and amenities that are pointless and no longer matter. We live in a modern world. The services should reflect our modern way of living.”
-Ian Schrager, hotelier

Tech on board
Further proof of the impact of technology was provided in an outlook report from Cruise Lines International Association. The study found cruise lines were introducing wearable technology for cruise passengers that provide a “personalised, seamless and fuss-free experience while onboard”. 
Ranging from keychains to bracelets to necklaces, wearable technology on cruises interacts with sensors on the ship in order to do everything from turning the lights on as cruisers approach their cabin to acting as a security agent.

“To help general travel agents see a better career path, we have to show them how they can grow. With the training partnership (with education institution East Asia Institute of Strategic Management), we can curate the curriculum – from destination training, selling to designing itineraries – which will help them go from mere consultants to designers of experience.”
- Steven Ler, NATAS president

Is that a hedgehog under your coat, madam?
Airlines in the US cracked down on “emotional support” animals that passengers are allowed to carry on-board. A list of banned animals includes hedgehogs, ferrets, insects, rodents, snakes, spiders, reptiles and “non-household birds”. 
United Airlines said requests for “emotional support” animals carried by anxious passengers rose by 75% to 76,000 in a year. It turned down one passenger’s request to travel with a peacock. 

“We believe our industry can be a terrific contributor to helping youths get a start in life. We have an enormous variety of opportunities within our business that can support taking youths off the unemployment lines.” 
- Brendan Toomey, vice president, human resources, Asia Pacific, Hilton 

Show your face, not your passport
Amadeus develops facial-recognition technology in partnership with Lufthansa that is being used for boarding at Los Angeles International Airport. 
Lufthansa reports that during an initial trial, it was able to board 350 passengers onto an A380 plane in about 20 minutes. 
The system uses cameras that capture a photo of the passenger’s face as he or she approaches the gate. The image is instantly and securely sent to the US Customs and Border Protection database for real-time matching and verification. 
Once the match is made, the system counts the passenger as “boarded” – without the need to show a boarding pass or passport. 

“I feel it is critically important to encourage and incorporate the female voice, especially by fellow women leaders who can help to provide guidance and become aspiring role models.”
- Jane Jie Sun, Ctrip CEO 

Ascott shares co-living plans
Co-living space is one of the trends identified in 2018 and serviced apartment operator Ascott is to the fore with new developments.
With millennials forming a quarter of Ascott’s customers, the company introduces a new brand, lyf. 
Ascott has secured five properties in China, Singapore and the Philippines, and is gearing up for the launch of its inaugural lyf property, lyf Wu Tong Island Shenzhen, in late 2018. 

“Millennials don’t mind paying. If you show them good value they pay up. They are quite status-oriented.” 
– Steve Odell, NCL senior vice president and managing director Asia Pacific

An icon for the new Macau
Macau takes the wraps off its latest – and most extravagant – hotel, Morpheus. 
Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s new flagship hotel is designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid, the first woman to be awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize. 
Lawrence Ho, chairman and CEO of Melco Resorts and Entertainment, called Morpheus “an unprecedented masterpiece of quality, taste, and vision”. 

“There is now less difference in shopping behaviour between our Asian and European guests. Essentially, everyone wants to find the brand and item that makes them feel special.” 
- Isabelle Ratinaud, director of marketing operations, McArthurGlen. 

Fairest fares in the air
Rome2rio reveals 24 of 2018’s top 30 international airlines that provided the best value (based on passenger cost per kilometre flown) for travellers are based in Asia or the Middle East, with AirAsia X and Indonesia AirAsia trailing just behind the global winner, Tigerair Australia. 
Tigerair Australia passengers, on average, paid US$0.06 per kilometre; AirAsia X’s paid US$0.07 per kilometre and Indonesia AirAsia US$0.08 per kilometre. 

“In Mexico, there’s the populist issue: Why should a bunch of rich people get special access? 
But if I can bring 100 clients a day to a site like Chichen Itza, and they pay US$1,000 each to do a sunrise or a sunset thing when there are no crowds there, what is the impact of that?” 
- Matthew Upchurch, chief executive, Virtuoso

The good cruise news from Asia 
Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) 2018 Asia Cruise Trends report reveals there were more Asian passengers in 2017, with four million taking an ocean cruise (up 20.6%). There was also more variety in Asian waters in 2018, with 38 cruise brands deployed and more ships in Asian waters.
And Asian travellers are found to prefer shorter cruises within Asia, with 91% going for shorter sailings of four to six nights on average.

“First-timers are not concerned about the type of cabins. Instead, price, more than anything else, is the deciding factor when it comes to cruise bookings. This presents savvy agents with opportunities to use their product knowledge to upsell.” 
- Mario Zanetti, president, Costa Group Asia 

Baby boomers are redefining ageing
A Euromonitor report, ‘Old is the New Young’, finds that the boundaries of old age continue to shift as we live longer and take better care of our wellbeing. 
“Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1955) are less conservative than their predecessors and are influenced by media images of active and wrinkle- free models and celebrities. 
“They are generally unwilling to take a passive attitude towards ageing, and are attempting to remain youthful, healthy and energetic for as long as they can.”

“I turn on the music and I dance!” 
— Maud Bailly, chief digital officer, AccorHotels, explaining how she alleviates stress.

More to explore with Genting 
Genting Cruise Lines announces the latest addition to the Dream Cruises family: Explorer Dream. 
Formerly the SuperStar Virgo of sister brand Star Cruises, Explorer Dream is slated to undergo a US$30 million makeover in March 2019. When completed, the ship will house The Palace, Dream Cruises’ signature, luxury private enclave that features 50 suites and butler services. 

STB names new chief 
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) appoints Keith Tan Kean Loong as its new chief executive, replacing Lionel Yeo, who stepped down as STB chief after 22 years of public service. 
Tan moved from the Ministry of Defence and took up his new role on October 29. 

“People are no longer looking for conventional holidays. What they want is quality time and new experiences.” 
- Michael Goh, senior vice president – international sales, Genting Cruise Lines

CruiseWorld Asia floats fresh ideas
The second edition of CruiseWorld Asia offers plenty of thought-provoking views from panellists.
“Take the time to know your customers. Put them to the right products. Position yourself as the expert and help them create the dream vacation,” said Angie Stephen, associate vice president and managing director, Asia Pacific, Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Pauline Suharno, secretary general, ASTINDO National Board, agreed. “Travel agents have to identify the personality of their customers. It is the agent’s job to put the right personality to the right ship. People don’t want to book through OTAs as it is more complicated,” she said.

Worldwide Hotels under one umbrella 
Worldwide Hotels becomes Singapore’s largest home-grown tourist class hotel group following the consolidation of Hotel 81, Value Hotel, Venue Hotel, V Hotel, Hotel Boss and Hotel Mi under one umbrella. 
In Singapore, Worldwide Hotels owns and manages all of its 38 properties and more than 6,500 rooms across the six brands. 
Carolyn Choo, managing director of Worldwide Hotels Group says, “This sets our intention to expand worldwide.” 

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