I was bitten by the travel bug in 1997 when I first left Ireland to head to New York. Since then, I haven’t stopped travelling but I have noticed that the way I, and other people travel, is also evolving with the sharing/collaborative economies. Last week, I was invited to speak at the EDEN conference (European destinations of excellence) to discuss what is changing and how they/we should prepare for it.
I don’t need you anymore
15 years ago, I tended to go to traditional travel agencies to get information on possible destinations, flights, logistics etc…. Once I had decided on a destination and booked the flights, I would probably buy a guide book such as Lonely Planet or Le Guide du Routard. Once I was at the destination, I tended to try to combine a little nature, culture and relaxation. In some cases, such as Cuba, I would stay with the locals. In most cases however it was either a hotel or hostel. So much has changed in the interim. I no longer need the travel agency. I can use social media, blogs etc… to find out more sr less anything I need to know about destinations I’m thinking of. In most cases, one of my friends has already been there. I can book my flights directly with the airlines and there is a pretty good chance I can use some form of P2P accommodation such as Airbnb, Camp dans mon jardin or others to provide me with alternatives to hotels and hostels. All of this can be done from my smartphone, I don’t even need to sit behind my desk.
That raises the question of what is the future for intermediaries in the tourist industry? Whether or not they have a future will depend on their ability to look into the crystal ball and understand what is changing so that can position themselves to add value there. This is difficult for them to do. If they help people find Airbnb rentals, the hotels will not be happy with them. This was one of the questions I was asked. How do we adapt to the changes when it seems we need to choose between old and new?
I think that the hotels should spend more time thinking about why me, and other tourists, would rather stay with locals than with them (I’m not saying that this is always the case, but is clearly a growing trend). Tourist info offices also need to look at the needs of the tourists and help the hotels to adapt, rather than closing their eyes to what is emerging so that they don’t upset the hotels.
From holidays to experiences
One of the attendees at the conference was from the “Azores islands” which is about halfway between Europe and America. On the one hand, it must be one of the most isolated places in Europe. On the other hand, it has always been a communication and connectivity hub between those tow continents. Clearly, attracting tourists to such an isolated and difficult to get to location isn’t easy. They have understood that there is a growing trend of tourists who are looking for travel experiences, not just holidays, hotels, swimming pools and scenery. They have started organising races around their small islands which is attracting a lot of sport adventurers who will happily travel long distances to have a different experience. It seems to be working well for them. There were lots of other cases yesterday at the conference where isolated, relatively unknown locations in Europe are trying to engage tourists in local activities.
This trend, like many others I’ve referred to in previous blogs is also an illustration of the fact that the collaborative economy is not about Airbnb, Uber or other platforms. It is about the changing needs of us as people. We want to support local economies and engage with the local people we used to pass on the road but can now stay with or eat with. The tourist industry, like many others, are way behind in looking at what is emerging and building their future based on that, and not just incrementally improving on what they have been doing for the last 50 years.
Travel in 2025
Of course, I don’t know what it will be any more than you do but I can see where it is likely to lead. We are still not where Star Wars may have thought we would be. If anything, the trend is to travel more locally rather than flying into outer space. We are realising that there is still a lot more to discover here on planet earth if we start to develop it and access it differently. One example is the growth of urban agriculture tours as a different way of exploring the cities or the use of treasure hunts to take people to places they wouldn’t ordinarily go. See this example in Brussels of the future farm experience http://littlefood.org/new/
I think there will continue to be an increase in this “experience” based travel but that increasingly, these experiences will be designed to solve some social or environmental issues in the areas where you go. This is already the case today, but marginal in terms of numbers relative to the value of global travel. People will become increasingly aware of the carbon footprint but not because hotels, travel agencies etc… tell them but because they want to know. In other words, don’t market “sustainable” tourism to try to get people to change habits. Those habits are changing anyway so find ways to engage them in fun activities which contributes towards these goals rather than selling it as a major differentiator.
Ther are people who can now crowdfund their travel or make money through travel by blogging, transporting goods etc… Things are changing fast. In the interim, coach tours, all-in hotels etc.. are not going to disappear but the trends are certainly moving away from this.