Author: Sarah Beecroft
Perhaps no industry felt the pandemic’s blow quite so profoundly as travel. Almost four years on and the comeback story is quite remarkable with global travel predicted to surpass pre-pandemic levels for the first time in 2024.
Despite persistent challenges, including the biting cost of living crisis, people are still giving holidays top priority when it comes to spending. The deep-rooted human desire to explore and connect remains unshaken…. It’s been coined ‘Revenge Travel’.
The future appears promising, a 10-year forecast by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), predicts the sector will grow faster than the global average, at a rate of 5.8% each year.
Thanks to digital platforms, the way we plan, and book has been revolutionised, from flights and hotels to car rentals and personalised tours. The emergence of online travel agencies (OTAs) is a clear example of how the digital revolution has changed industries and society in the last 25 years. The travel industry has made more than just strides on its path to recovery, it has leapt triumphantly into the digital age.
A key trend is consolidation. Major players in the industry are strategically expanding their portfolios to create all-encompassing travel ecosystems. It’s an exciting shift I’ve closely followed. Take, for instance, Booking Holdings, which owns a collection of brands, including Booking.com, Priceline, Agoda and FareHarbor. Similarly, Expedia Group boasts various platforms, such as trivago, Vrbo, Travelocity and Hotels.com.
Even Airbnb, primarily known for its home-sharing platform, ventured into the hotel sector through the acquisition of HotelTonight (pre-pandemic purchase reported to have been worth more than $400m).
In my experience in Executive Seach, I’ve seen how the right leadership can be the difference between going forwards or indeed going back. There is no one-size-fits-all. We’re seeing a trend towards bringing people from other world class progressive internet environments, the widening gap between winners and losers driven by the ability to capitalise on opportunities. It’s our job to find, and to bring these people on board, renowned leaders who can help organisations accelerate away, from tech-savvy CTOs to market-savvy CEOs.
There are niche markets, emerging trends, and diverse customer preferences to consider. Expert leaders need to dissect these complexities, identify opportunities, and tailor strategies to suit various segments of the market to stay ahead of the curve. Collaboration often trumps competition. Organisations that can form strategic partnerships with airlines, hotels, and other service providers can create more comprehensive offerings and stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Effective leaders need to be well-versed in ever-progressing technology to tackle these innovations and get the competitive edge, whether through AI-driven chatbots for customer service or data analytics for personalised recommendations (exploring the impact of AI in travel is an article all by itself, watch this space!). Economic shifts, geopolitical changes, and as previously mentioned, unforeseen events like the COVID-19 pandemic can significantly impact the travel industry. Good leadership is about not just about planning for the expected but being ready to respond effectively to the unexpected.
With growing awareness of environmental concerns, travel companies cannot ignore the quest for sustainability. The climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our time, travel being a major contributor to air pollution. Leaders who can integrate eco-friendly practices into their business models contribute to a more sustainable future, whilst appealing to the environmentally conscious traveller. Cue a good CMO to drive awareness and set your organisation apart.
And then there’s data, by collecting and analysing data, travel companies gain valuable insights into consumer behaviours, preferences, and market trends, enabling them to tailor services and optimise operations. But even with vast reservoirs of information to play with, the true potential lies in having the right human skills on board to maximise data’s impact.
For all the above reasons, and like so many other industries, the travel sector will never look the same again. For someone who loves travel, I for one am excited to be a part of the journey. I look forward to seeing what 2024 brings to a space that feels as exciting as quick commerce did when the travel industry was on its knees. Pandemic? What Pandemic? …… Welcome back!