Tour operators

Guest Post: Five ways the travel industry will evolve in 2020

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Guest Post: Five ways the travel industry will evolve in 2020

Wander director and founder Ricky Wilkes  identifies undercurrents that will drive change in the proposition offered to consumers and expectations of the incoming generation of talent

Next year will be a big one. A new UK government (of sorts) and – unless the unexpected happens between now and the end of January – the long-debated and long-awaited exit from the EU. What’s expected to be a vicious US Presidential Election will play out, the Olympics and European Championships will bring their usual mix of dream fulfilment and disappointment, NASA will launch a mission to study the habitability of Mars and no doubt we will see further evidence of the climate crisis.

Closer to home, the UK travel industry will continue to adjust to the post-Thomas Cook landscape, AirBnB will list, the cruise industry will experience some much-needed disruption with the arrival of Virgin Voyages, non-stop flights from London to Sydney will begin and we may even see the beginning of paid space flight thanks to Virgin Galactic – among much else.

With all of that in mind, Wander has gazed in to our crystal ball and identified what we think will be the undercurrents that will drive much-needed change in our industry in 2020 and beyond – both in terms of the proposition that is offered to consumers, and the expectations of the incoming generation of talent who will shape it.

1. Voice

There are plenty of naysayers who doubt the potential of voice to completely change travel. It is just too complex, too nuanced for technology to do the job of a human.

The fact is that speech is a more natural, and easier, mode of communication – not to say a faster one – than typing. That convenience is increasingly making voice the search and engagement mode of choice for the next generation of consumers – 25% of 16-24 year olds use voice search on their mobiles already. Tapping a screen to open an app, before labouriously typing out a series of search instructions, will soon seem hopelessly quaint. Voice meets the need for instant, frictionless service – from food to transport, we expect to get what we want, right now.

We agree with the forecasts predicting that by the end of next year, half of all searches will be conducted by voice. Transacting – vcommerce – may be some way off, but by integrating with social media, Outlook and other trackable metadata the potential that voice brings to the inspiration and discovery phases of the customer journey is massive.

How do you get ready for this tidal shift? Start finding people who understand voice search, and who can review your SEO strategy and optimise your websites to follow the conversational tone that voice searches are typically characterised by. It is critical brands get on the front foot with this by resourcing and upskilling accordingly, because the dominance of the big technology firms in the voice space means they’re creating a monopoly that travel businesses will struggle to break.

2. Relevence

For several years now, we’ve been told that a brand must be clear on its purpose if it wants to win favour with consumers. And to know its purpose, and for that to be sincere, a brand’s marketing must be ‘authentic’ – knowing its own voice, not trying to be something it isn’t. Being truthful.

All marketing is about behaviour change – you’re trying to persuade someone to do something you want them to do. Whether that is clicking ‘buy’, signing your petition, coming to your shop, donating to your charity or whatever. It’s all designed to have a result. In recent years, this has been dressed up a story telling, or a craft that sincerely wants to help people. So far, so touchy feely.

The trouble is, increasingly, consumers haven’t the time or bandwidth to follow a painstakingly established brand narrative these days. We are more time poor than ever – having hours in the day is the new luxury. We believe that in 2020, authenticity will have to increasingly sit within a framework of relevance. Make it personal to me, who I am, what I believe in, the context of my life – and do it fast, because my attention span is shortening and you’re competing with a lot of distractions, worries, commitments and obligations.

3. Artificial intelligence and alternative technology

The debate that rages around the threat that AI represents to the traditional agency model is reminiscent of the debate that raged around the threat of the internet when it first became a factor in the industry 25 years ago.

And to be honest, the doubters are right – to an extent. It will be some time before technology can handle the nuances of a complex, multi-stop, multi-modal travel itinerary requiring the coordination of multiple reservation systems and booking and payment technologies. But given the number of complaints and faulty bookings there are, there shouldn’t be any doubt that the current friction-heavy model needs improving.

The fact is that AI is already modernising travel by taking it from a complicated, drawn-out experience to one that is more enhanced and customer-focused, with dynamic pricing and operational technologies making life easier for customer and vendors alike. We believe that in 2020, the introduction and adoption of AI-fuelled tools will continue to accelerate as travel brands pivot towards them as not only a cost-saving and friction-removing tool for certain simple bookings, but also as an acquisition medium.

4. Diversity and inclusion

This is one of the great elephants in the room for the travel industry. It should be cause for embarrassment that at conference after conference, campaign after campaign, we’re still talking about ‘needing to be better’ at representing minority groups across race, gender, sexual orientation or physical ability. There needs to be action, not just platitudes about how much the industry cares – uttered after we’re called out on it.

There’s a huge disparity between the number of BAME individuals in society (1 in 8), and in the travel industry in general (only 1 in 33 BAME individuals are leaders in the industry) – a lack of diversity in the people leading and working for travel brands which is then reflected in how it sells travel itself.

In 2020, we believe there will be more positive movement by the industry to close that gap and to integrate inclusion in a way that is natural and not tokenistic. At the moment, only around 40% of travel businesses have a defined Diversity & Inclusion strategy. We expect that to grow to 60% at least next year. As well as the moral imperative (brands should be doing this because it is right to do so), it also makes excellent business sense with proven increases in creativity, productivity and innovation. In addition, there is established and growing spending power in minority communities that at the moment is being deterred from spending money with brands which don’t – on the basis of their marketing – seem to be a home for them.

5. Flexible working

Events of 2019 show that this industry has to change to survive. No company is too big to fail.

That change starts with convincing the people we hope to be working in the travel industry in the future, that it is structured in a way that works for them.

A recent study by Timewise found that jobs advertised with flexible working options – especially in the higher salary bracket – have risen to 16% in the last 12 months, up from 5% in just 2016. By any measure, that’s a big jump, and a clear reflection of employers beginning to respond to a societal need. We forecast that in 2020, that will double to at least a third.

Why? Because for the next generation entering the workforce, flexibility is not going to be a ‘nice to have’ – it’ll be an expectation. With nearly 90% of adults wanting to work flexibly, employers will have no choice than to accommodate the ‘squeezed middle’ of workers who are neither given it as a privilege after earning their stripes or forced in to it by circumstance. Imagine how the travel industry could benefit by unlocking the potential of making flexible working a cultural norm – becoming a magnet for the fresh, dynamic talent joining the workforce in the next decade. For those workers, unstructured employment will simply be a natural extension of their digital nativism, and an approach to life which is plugged-in, de-centralised and more fluid than previous generations’.

The difficulties travel industry leaders have in attracting talent is a well-worn trope. In 2020, they need to think about what they’re doing to make themselves attractive to that talent.

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