Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Thu December 31 2015

Staff Picks: The 12 Biggest Ways Travel Changed in 2015

Features & Advice | Staff Picks | December 31, 2015

Staff Picks: The 12 Biggest Ways Travel Changed in 2015

It was a year filled with so much change in the travel world.

Monster companies like Expedia and Marriott became even bigger, gobbling up their biggest rivals. AirBNB continued to change the way we think about getting away. Airline loyalty plans became less friendly and far less of a perk for the middle-class frequent flyer.

Thankfully, 2015 was the year we realized that despite endless hype to the contrary, millennials do not rule the travel world.

And as the Interwebs got more clogged with travel reviews and doorbuster deals, travel agents continued their “don’t call it a comeback” resurgence thanks to watchdogs like ASTA making it clear that your local travel advisor is the best way to cut through the clutter and get expert advice to book a memory-making vacation.

All top-10-quality stories in any other year, but not this year, None of the above even made our editors’ top picks for the game-changing 2015 story lines in the travel industry.

ROBIN AMSTER, Senior Writer, Travel Agents, Host Agencies and Consortia

Travel agents’ move to specializing in a particular niche or destination is changing the way agents do business, the way agent groups serve their members and the way consumers seek out agents.

The trend is due in part to the online world and the rise of home-based agents. Brick-and-mortar agencies couldn’t survive solely by selling a specialty whether that was a particular destination or type of travel experience. With their local orientation, these agencies had to be able to sell it all.

The internet has made it possible for agents to focus on a specific specialty: To gain in-depth knowledge of a given area or kind of travel, to market themselves as a specialist and to connect with consumers looking for their special expertise.

BRIAN MAJOR, Senior Writer, Caribbean and Latin America

For both the Caribbean and Latin America, the expansion of air service to more major cities was a recurrent – and welcome – new development throughout the year. Two major carriers characterized the expanded access to the two regions.

New York-based, low-cost carrier JetBlue continued its emergence as a dominant Caribbean and Latin American carrier. JetBlue expanded flight service to several new cities in the Caribbean and Latin America in 2015, with company officials promising there’s more to come.

The company also launched new and expanded service to Antigua, Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica in 2015. The airline now serves 27 Caribbean airports.

JetBlue also added Quito, Ecuador to its Latin American itineraries this year; the company also serves Mexico City, Liberia and San Jose, Costa Rica; Bogota, Cartagena and Medellin, Colombia.  One-third of JetBlue’s capacity is now devoted to Caribbean and Latin American cities.

In October, LATAM Airlines Group launched nonstop flights between Washington, D.C. and Lima on LAN Peru, part of continuing expansion of flights to Central and South America from U.S. cities.

This new route marks the fifth U.S. destination from which LAN Peru offers flights to Lima, joining New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Orlando, which the airline added earlier this year. LATAM officials said the company will launch additional international routes to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2016.

LATAM’s LAN Airlines and TAM Airlines comprise South America’s largest airline group and now serve Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Uruguay from U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando.

JANEEN CHRISTOFF, Senior Writer, Western Hemisphere Destinations

This is the first year that we have seen concrete evidence that river cruising is beginning to enjoy a much broader clientele. In year’s past, we have seen lines begin to offer theme cruises and cruises for families. River cruise lines also broadened their reach, moving into Asia. But this was the first year that we have seen companies actively target younger travelers with Disney’s new family product and G Adventures’ new river cruise itineraries. 

JASON LEPPERT, Senior Writer, Cruise Travel

Huzzah! A new day has arrived for high-speed internet at sea. At least starting onboard, Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International is finally a zippy connection. Cruise ships once felt like a return to the 1990s emergence of 56k modems and America Online. Now all web sites, social media and, at times, video can be accessed and uploaded while sailing, and the future promises to be even brighter as the new technology is expanded to more and more ships and improved upon fleet-wide. But can it just be free like it is on Viking Cruises for every line please?

TIM WOOD, Editor-in-Chief

So, it’s impossible for me to pick just one topic here.

The Paris attacks were sadly, in and of themselves, not a new kind of event. The world has been reacting to terrorists for decades now. What I loved here is that when it came to travel, nothing changed. Travelers showed with their wallets and their courage that their wanderlust would not be squelched by extremist groups’ cowardly and irrational protests.

Tech continued to evolve in favor of the traveler, as keyless entry became a norm at hotels and cruise lines continued to evolve their Wi-Fi connectivity, though not far enough for my liking.

Looking back, 2015 may be seen as the year the U.S. started to lose the best cruise ships to China.

But one thing I know for certain. This past year will go down as the year that Cuba became a travel option for the mainstream U.S. traveler, a pipe dream most travelers had written off after a nearly 60-year-long embargo.

In a world becoming smaller everyday thanks to technology, Cuba was one of the last places on Earth that even the most veteran U.S. traveler rarely had access to. That’s likely to change even more in 2016. Heed the warning of just about travel expert: get there before Big Business ruins everything that had made Cuba the forbidden fruit we all longed to taste.


One thing for me that seems to have changed in travel in the past year is the seemingly routineness of airport terminal evacuations or airliner emergency landings due to bomb threats or suspicious luggage. It seems like every week, a terminal is cleared or an airplane lands prematurely and a SWAT team is sent in to investigate with explosive-sniffing dogs. And 99.999 percent of the time, it’s nothing.

JOSH LEW, Senior Writer, Airlines and Air Travel

2015 brought long overdue changes to visa policies in a number of different countries in Asia. The U.S. and Europe might be headed in the other direction because of security fears, but countries in Asia and Africa that rely on tourism (or would like to rely on tourism more) are finally understanding that an easier visa application process and more tourist-friendly policies will increase the number of international arrivals.

There are plenty of examples of this: Australia made it easier for Indonesian travelers to get multiple entry visas, Thailand did the same for Indian tourists and China offered 72-hour visa-free layovers in a number of its largest cities.

BARRY KAUFMAN, Managing Editor

This has probably always been the case, but we were reminded of the message that travel is a form of bravery far too many times this year. In Tunisia, Egypt and Paris we saw people making their travel plans in defiance of fear, as the most potent weapon against terror. The industry came together to keep hope alive at these destinations, no matter what cautionary flags the State Department waved.

This may also be the year we all look back on as the beginning of the great marketing wars among the cruise lines. Think back to when Geico first started flooding the airwaves with ads, forcing every other insurance company to follow suit to the point where ad spend for just insurance companies is around $4 billion a year now. We could be seeing a similar war break out among cruise lines, with MSC and Viking making their case on the tube alongside Carnival, who aired their first Super Bowl commercial this year.

DONALD WOOD, Senior Writer, Breaking News

The car rental industry changed dramatically in 2015 with the mainstream popularization of ride-sharing service providers like Uber and Lyft. Despite taxi companies standing up against them in the court system, the ride-sharing industry has blossomed. For consumers, the rise of companies like Uber and Lyft has provided a legitimate alternative when looking for a quick ride in many of the major cities across the United States.

GABE ZALDIVAR, Senior Writer, Business Travel, Gear and Tech

Apps are not a new innovation. However, their ubiquity and ease meant I used them exponentially more this year than in years past. And I have a sneaking suspicion that you did as well.

Travel starts with the smartphone or tablet and continues from there, which is something I realized in 2015.

Apps like Kayak, Hopper, Airbnb and Priceline help me plan. HopStop, Waze, Uber and myriad map apps help me once I am in town, while Viber and Skype allow me to stay connected with family. I am more engaged and educated about a foreign city now than I ever would or could be just five years ago. Hell, apps have become so seamless that there is a noticeable difference in just these 12 months.

These little boxes on your phone are being tapped far more frequently simply because they are such a joy to use. 

PATRICK CLARKE, Senior Writer, Hotels and Resorts

The continued emergence of ride-hailing service Uber absolutely changed the way I traveled in 2015. My first experience with Uber was a year ago on New Year's Eve. I downloaded the app with the intention of using it once, (to get my friends and I from the hotel to a New Year's party). Let's just say I've used it more than once since then and plan to catch even more rides in the new year. 


You may use your Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook information, including your name, photo & any other personal data you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on Click here to learn more.