Drumroll, Please: Annual Predictions

We are asked almost daily about our best guesses for travel costs in 2009. Certainly for the first half of 2009 there will be no upward pressure on any travel costs. (Unless fuel costs increase rapidly.) In fact, I think you can safely predict that all travel costs will decrease in the first half of 2009.

In what is a truly self-serving prediction, we think the time to get out and meet with your customers and prospects around the globe is better than any time since 2001. Travel costs will be very low. Your competitors have gone into the bunker and will not emerge until the "all clear" sign has been given. While your competitors are waiting for signs from on high, now is the time for you to win new customers. No matter how you slice it, face-to-face meetings are much more effective and profitable than conference calls.

We all know that you/we cannot save your/our way to prosperity. Our 2009 plan is to be more aggressive than ever in our sales effort. There is still plenty of business to be won, and it might as well be won by you/us. 

We cannot help but believe some airlines will start to think the same way. It is very hard for me to believe the airlines can be happy with shrinking for another whole year. Some airlines will start to look for gaps left by competitors and think this is a good year to win market share. 

More and more different fare and fee schedules will be introduced by the airlines. Some will stick, but most will be old news not long after the excitement of the announcement. 

Financial people will continue to run the airlines. Marketing people will only be allowed to talk about the new fare/fee schemes.

We do believe travel will be less difficult for the premier level frequent flyers in 2009. Everyone else will continue to be asked for every nickel and dime when headed to the airport. 

British Air and American will win approval to do more code sharing. United and Continental will move closer to the altar during 2009, and we could see a full merger sometime in 2010.

We think Southwest will start flying to Canada and Mexico--as Southwest and without a code share partner.

Southwest will begin service to Minneapolis and LaGuardia in 2009, and the rumor is they will add a third major city in 2009. If the rumor is true, we think this third new city will be Atlanta. This is the busiest airport in the world and the largest market in the U.S. that Southwest does not serve. 

All of the airlines need business travelers. They cannot survive without the higher-paying passengers that business travelers represent. Therefore, the airlines will have more promotions and programs to entice road warriors in 2009 than ever before. Do not get us wrong, there will be plenty of leisure fare sales, but more energy and creative programs will be aimed at the most frequent travelers that pay the highest fares. 

We do not expect cell phone usage to be allowed on airplanes in 2009, but several carriers will allow Internet connectivity. 

The days of corporate jets are not over, but fewer and fewer companies will be using them in 2009. Corporate jets have a great use if you are making several stops in out-of-the-way places over a short period of time. In our humble opinion, corporate jets make no sense if you are flying from Denver to Chicago. 

We expect to see Congress introduce The Passenger Bill of Rights. The attempt will be to protect passengers from the airlines. If passed in the form that was introduced two years ago, it will do the opposite and will be a big pain for both airlines and passengers. 

Those are [among] my best guesses for 2009. If you have other ideas about where the always-exciting travel industry is headed, please let us hear them.

Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group in Denver. These insights are excerpted from Robert's weekly newsletter, From the Desk of Robert A. Polk.