Remember when planning travel meant heading to the high street to seek advice from a bronze-skinned consultant armed with a library of glossy brochures? You probably recall it all in a sepia hue, blurred around the edges like a scene from a Bryan Singer movie. It was a simpler time, at least for travel agents.
Of course the exponential growth of technology has, as it so often does, sought to make life easier on the consumer, providing them with the instantaneous, intuitive experience that they have come to expect from other media and services, and this is a major contributing factor to future trends in travel and tourism.
Joakim Everstin, Head of Innovation EMEA at Sabre Travel Network, discussed the future of travel and the ways that the industry will look to meet the expectations of the next generation of consumers in his Tomorrowland talk at this year’s Travel Technology Europe (TTE) show.
With reference to the acceleration of tech over the past four decades, Everstin painted a rather poignant picture of the modern consumer, post-smartphone, whose attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to a measly 8 seconds – “less than a goldfish.”
Smartwatches and devices like Google Glass (though the latter in its current form has suffered a much lower adoption rate) seek to gratify the need for immediacy, or “glanceable-technology” as Everstin refers to it, and the creative use of data and algorithms continues to move closer to providing a personalised experience for travellers – whether it’s recommendations based on previous online activity or the storing of room preferences in the hospitality sector.
While technology has brought about many exciting opportunities for travel companies, many of which have long adopted the digital mindset, it can also be seen as overwhelming, with some arguing that many in the industry are struggling to keep up.
Marco Ryan, former Chief Digital Officer for Thomas Cook Group, was also at TTE to discuss the perils that face travel brands that treat digital as an afterthought. He believes that many in the industry are in a state of “denial” when it comes to the technological disruptors, and are relying too much on their established status – a dire mistake.
Ryan advised travel companies to bring in digital talent at all levels and invest properly in data management to better meet consumer needs, or risk disappearing altogether. A reactive approach is not enough to fend off the threat that the disruptors pose to their margins.
Rife with millennial-minded startups, the industry has been hit with an influx of competitors that many didn’t see coming, challenging traditional models by embracing sharing economy values and pushing the boundaries of personalisation.
Continuing to cement itself as more than just the latest industry buzzword, Personalisation was the common theme running throughout this year’s TTE event. Big data personalization engine pioneers bd4travel took the prize in The Disrupt Awards, which recognizes the “most innovative, creative and disruptive technologies in 2016.”
Founder Andy Owen-Jones spoke of the platform as bringing control back to travel companies, who thus far have had to rely on Google technologies. The company wins free consultancy, PR support and a stand at TTE 2017.
Many of the startup finalists used personalisation as a key selling point, and another algorithm-based platform built by Olset won the People’s Choice Award after scoring high in the online votes.
But despite a heavy focus on the need for digitisation and the onslaught of disruptors who choose to operate solely online, many speakers at this year’s TTE claimed that a high street presence is still relevant in the modern travel industry.
Julia Lo-Bue Said, Managing Director at Advantage Travel Partnership, argues that having a high street outlet alongside digital channels is a valuable selling point as it provides reassurance to consumers, who can sometimes find online booking to be risky or confusing.
Graham Cook, Head of Digital Operations at Thomas Cook, agrees that there is still a role for retail outlets and that customers will always enjoy the personal touch it can offer. With an omni-channel approach with consistent pricing across the board, the in-store experience can be enhanced by digital rather than overtaken.
So it’s not time to resign high street travel outlets to a mere hazy memory in the industry’s backstory just yet it seems, but as online experiences continue to evolve and consumers grow more and more impatient, it’s undeniable that established travel brands need to adapt to digital trends – and quick!
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