How to make tourism better: Insider perspectives from the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit

This is the second article in our series exploring the themes and conversations of the Travel Industry Roundtables from the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit. (You can read our first article, covering the Aviation Track, on Phocuswire here). Next up, Tourism:

Attendees at the Tourism: Sustainability Roundtable at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit.

Attendees at the Tourism: Sustainability Roundtable at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit.

The in-destination segment - worth an estimated global value pegged at over $150 billion - continues to capture its fair share of attention in the broader travel industry. Thanks to both major acquisitions, such as TripAdvisor/Bokun and Booking/FareHarbor, as well as eye-popping funding rounds for Klook ($225 million) and GetYourGuide (a record-breaking $484 million), tours and activities have been one of the hottest topics of the past couple of years.   

These major developments show just how vital the in-destination segment has become to the broader narrative in travel. It’s also indicative of just how fierce the competition is for in-destination dollars. As CEO of tour company Walks told Skift, this doesn’t always lead to a positive outcome for tour businesses on the ground:

“There are too many booking companies competing against each other rather than solving the problem of exposing our inventory to the right consumers at the right time.”

The rising competition among these platforms was one of the top challenges discussed at last month’s Travel Disruption Summit, Voyager HQ’s symposium for travel leaders and innovators. One of the Summit’s biggest goals is to facilitate these types of invigorating conversations that can kickstart change; our roundtable format is key to achieving this objective.

A quick recap for the uninitiated: Each table at the Summit is organized around a specific topic, with a balance of industry professionals, startups, investors and media. Attendees are placed with a group that impacts the same focus area within travel, and a moderator guides the conversation at each table.

To unlock some of the insights from each table, we’ve asked our moderators to summarize their notes and share the most pertinent tidbits from the conversation. Below you’ll find perspectives from some of the roundtable moderators on the Tourism track. We’ll be posting takeaways from the Hospitality track within the coming weeks, and you can read all about Aviation here.

Roundtable: Discovery and Inspiration

Moderator: Kristen Vasan, Partnerships @ Foursquare

Our roundtable kicked off with a discussion on how travel inspiration has changed quite dramatically in recent years. Today, we are easily influenced by what we see in our social media feeds, which explains the growing number of tourists visiting destinations like Iceland and Portugal.

But just because these places photograph well doesn't mean they're right for each of us as individuals. It's for this reason that we expect to see a growing number of consumers opting in to share personal data with travel companies in exchange for more personalized recommendations and experiences. These types of personalized experiences would not be possible without recent advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, combined with the radical shift in transparency we have seen from the industry around data privacy policy regulations.

Don't let fancy terms like 'ML' and 'AI' fool you though. At the end of the day, travelers look to one another as the source of ground truth. This will continue to be core to how we travel and also how we establish trust. Travelers will continue to seek out trustworthy sources of inspiration.

We also discussed the question: What should travel industry professionals be thinking about as they forge ahead? Consumer expectations change constantly. People compare your brand to the last digital experience they had on their mobile device — so it's important that you are powering tech that will surprise and delight consumers.

Also: Be upfront about how you are collecting and storing data, and then put that data to good use. We can't tell you what the next Iceland or Portugal will be, but maybe it's time to invent solutions that will...

Kristen Vasan of  Foursquare .

Kristen Vasan of Foursquare.

Roundtable: Inventory and Distribution

Moderator: Christian Wolters, North America Managing Director @ TourRadar

Technology should not be perceived as a threat, but distribution channels that do not utilize tech will be missing the needs of the modern customer. For example: Virtual Assistants can help travel agents with basic tasks while they negotiate and build excellent travel packages.

There is a general lack of loyalty when it comes to B2C, and companies must provide the best services and best prices to capture a market. In order to truly disrupt the market, the distribution channel needs to be ten times better (Think Uber vs taking a taxi). Convenience and time savings is the true currency of the future; if a distribution channel saves B2C and B2B customers' time it will be successful.

Personalization is also highly important. In order to close the loop, distribution channels will need to fully harness their data and employ AI to provide seamless 1:1 service. Loyalty will continue to be important to the business traveller, as they are less price driven. While Google has the potential to take over the full travel customer journey, the table generally believed that Amazon and Alibaba could pose a greater threat in the future.

ROUNDTABLE: SEARCH/AGGREGATION

Co-Moderator: Joseph McElroy, CEO @ Galileo Tech Media

The search aggregation roundtable was tasked with discussing the solutions for sourcing, optimizing, and packaging all the data needed to generate a conversion from search. The table also discussed the expectations for the future with regard to the search phases of the traveler’s experience. As a result, the focus of our roundtable highlighted the importance of brand experience in search, the customer journey in search, and the evolution of new search opportunities in-destination.

The discussion on brand highlighted the importance of brand signals in establishing the SEO authority of websites. The more the company’s brand is mentioned and discussed in publications online and social media, the greater authority it develops, leading to more search visibility. With regard to brand visibility and search results, it is necessary for brands to also become publishers, with some content being journalistic and independent in nature. Finally, it was discussed that in regard to brand loyalty and travel, it is important that brands build anticipation for - and then execute upon - Memorable Tourism Experiences (MTE). Research has shown that MTEs are more indicative of brand loyalty and revisit intention than customer satisfaction (reviews) are.

There was much discussion of the Customer Journey in search, using the Google concept of micro-moments as a structure. In the I-Want-To-Get-Away moments, travelers are dreaming of traveling and use search like entertainment - it is important not to make search and booking too easy in these moments, as the potential traveler is enjoying the anticipation as a game. During the Time-To-Make-A-Plan Moments, the majority of travelers are researching trips on their mobile phones, so it’s important to consider mobile sites first when being providing searchable and useful content. In the Let’s-Book-It Moments, it is necessary to be in comparison searches as travelers do a double check of prices, schedules, and suitability before pushing the “Book It” button. In the Can’t-Wait-To-Explore Moments when a traveler has booked a trip, in becomes important to consider in-destination search - 85% of travelers don’t know what activities they’ll participate in until they get to their destination.

With In-destination search, there is a huge battle brewing. Online Travel Agencies are trying to grow profits by pushing down into a share of destination services revenue. Destinations are not exactly thrilled by the prospect. This means that travel brands must reach out during the exploring stage of destination search, which includes looking up restaurants, reading about attractions, and finding local events while a traveler is on vacation. A travel company can provide city tours descriptions, festival and fair listings, and other hyperlocal content on its website to connect with travelers during the exploring micro-moments and built trust. A travel brand should also encourage confirmed travelers to download its mobile app, which will ideally be filled with valuable content that can be used to further enhance a trip. Brands should consider Augmented Realty applications as a form of in-destination search to enhance the travel experience and to gather valuable data.

ROUNDTABLE: PAYMENTS

Moderator: Luc LaFontan, CIO - Americas @ Flight Centre Travel Group

The Payments stage of the Customer (traveler) Journey is still a painful one, so there is great opportunity to improve. Payment preferences & requirements vary greatly from market to market (SMS to pay in South Africa , no credit cards in Germany), so we need to appreciate and accommodate preferences.

In general, Travel is behind as an industry in thinking strategically on payment strategy. Cash is still king in many situations, although AMEX travel checks are all but gone, but rise of the credit card is already here. However, we agree there is no future for the physical payment methods we have seen in the past and present – meaning physical cards, physical checks, physical cc terminals and maybe even physical currency (cash). Alternative forms of payments are on the rise – specifically ewallets (Apple Pay, Google, etc) while Crypto/Bitcoin is still evolving.

Travel Savings Plans and Travel Loans (i.e Uplift, Affirm) are also growing in popularly across all customer types. Loyalty as a form of payment continues to make huge advances, but some question of the scalability of the current model.

These new models demonstrate that customers want to be able to pay for travel from anywhere, any time, using any transaction type, any format and using any model – companies that do not meet the customer there are at risk of losing them.

Overall, there are no silver bullets for payments in travel, but a highly qualified and dedicated team are essential for success.

Roundtable: Loyalty

Moderator: Jaakko Timonen, Founder and CEO @ NoNoNo

From a customer loyalty perspective, the most important thing is trust. Transparency from brands creates trust between and brand and the consumer. Not only is transparency important with expectation management, but also with communications. Winning organizations, regardless of vertical, focus on under-promising and over-delivering. They also focus on the quality of their communications. They make sure they respond fast and provide their customers with honest, personalized responses written in a human tone. It’s simple in theory, but quite complex in practice.

Wayfinding to the Tourism roundtables at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit.

Wayfinding to the Tourism roundtables at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit.

Roundtable: Operations

Moderator: Greg Takehara, CEO @ Tourism Cares

We had a very diverse table, including a number of start-ups and sellers, one tour operator buyer, and a destination representative. Our group included very tenured travel industry personnel and persons relatively new to the industry, all highly passionate and engaged.

We learned a lot from one another and everyone actively shared their thoughts.  The startups took the lead, explaining that the future travel experience will be predicated upon simple, time saving digital platforms that aggregate all types of offerings.  We were mindful of issues of sustainability, over-tourism, and environmental change.

When we tried to come up with ways to promulgate change through technology, it begged the question of how startups can survive in this industry while simultaneously trying to thread long-term technology and social trends.

It was difficult in a short timeframe to craft specific solutions, but our collaborative discussion gave us hope that through partnership and consciousness, we can indeed accomplish this goal.

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SAVE THE DATE FOR THE TRAVEL DISRUPTION SUMMIT 2020.

The Travel Disruption Summit is meant to be an antidote to the same-old conference formats, blending the familiar main stage sessions with an intimate small group structure. We’re always amazed at the depth of knowledge, expertise, and passion in the tourism, hospitality, and aviation industries. It’s been an incredible year!
We can’t wait to get started with planning for 2020. To stay in the loop, sign-up here. We’ll send out information as soon as it becomes available.