One in 10 jobs across the globe is tourism-related, technology will never replace the value/service provided by travel agents, and hot travel trends this year include a digital transformation and multicultural travel.
Those were among the key points made by Brett Tollman, CEO, The Travel Corporation, during his opening keynote address delivered to 500 independent agents of the Avoya Travel Network.
The agents were attending Avoya's annual conference at Hotel Maya in Long Beach, CA, on Wednesday. Here's a look at the many trends Tollman outlined for the agent group.
“Digital transformation is quite mind boggling,” said Tollman. “I see it in my children and I’m sure you see it in your children and grandchildren. And obviously what that means for your next generation of customers is quite something.”
Today, digital transformation means companies must leverage emerging technologies and innovate. “We all need to challenge ourselves as to how we make more of technology – its benefits and its positives as opposed to negatives,” Tollman said.
For example, The Travel Corporation -- which has 30 global brands, nine of those sold within the United States -- is looking at more ways to utilize technology and investing millions in new telephone technology. The latter will allow travel agents to communicate with the brands via texting or voice recordings and also help facilitate quality control.
But Tollman was adamant that “technology will not replace great service. We’ll never do anything to take costs out of the business at the sacrifice of service and I think you know that about our brands.”
He described Avoya as "an incredible leader in innovation” -- citing its lead generation technology -- and his company has spoken to the Andersons (owners of Avoya) about what the companies can do to leverage Avoya’s complex data base of past guests for cross selling across brands.
That said, he also stressed to the agent audience: “I don’t think technology will ever replace people like yourselves. I hope you believe that.” That statement generated raucous applause from the agents.
Another top trend for 2018? Tollman cited the growing diversity of customers that agents deal with on a daily basis: “You can see it here [the audience] and even more so in the consumers that are out there."
During his presentation he gave examples of diversity -- the Latin market, African-American market, the Indian market and the LGBTQ market, as well as (from a generational perspective) Millennials.
"It is wonderful to see some of the IAs [independent agents] in the room that are of that younger generation," he noted.
Believing that multicultural customers are more informed and connected than ever before, Tollman asked, “What do we do to empower them to better engage with us from a marketing standpoint?"
One key he said is getting more information from all these diverse market segments, so that the agent knows not only where the clients want to go on this trip but also on the next trip as well.
In terms of destinations, Tollman said he wanted the agents “to see the vibrancy in the market, somewhat supported by the stock market [strength].”
“Italy is still number one market for us on the land side,” said Tollman. Other new hot spots are Sri Lanka and Colombia.
Rwanda, too, has become an emerging destination with good consumer interest. But with Ebola back in the Congo, it’s important that be contained, he said, noting that otherwise Africa could be a problem in terms of travel.
Right now, though, “Egypt is back very strong,” he stressed, recommending that agents highlight that for their customers. In addition, he said: “Canada is up. France is back fantastically.”
“Scandinavia is down as a result of people putting up their prices too much, especially in Iceland," Tollman acknowledged. "We saw prices go up 40 percent this year, and as a result, obviously, demand was down significantly.”
Giving Back, Social Responsibility
Tollman sees a growing awareness and demand for companies who care and give back. He told the agents that more travelers are looking to make their purchase decisions with those companies that do more from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.
Earlier this year, The Travel Corporation's Red Carnations Hotels eliminated all plastic straws from its operations, and the company's goal is to extend that this year to all corporate offices and brand locations. The company is also working to reduce the use of plastics on its trips.
A decade or so ago, the company founded the nonprofit TreadRight Foundation, which Tollman said is designed to help protect the planet and communities around the world. For example, it supports the Aspen Institute, which helps initiatives such as the Iraq Al-Amir Women’s Cooperative.
TreadRight also works to protect wildlife. He mentioned a project in which fearless Anatolian Shepherds are used to protect livestock in South Africa from the rare Cape Leopard, which is often killed by farmers to protect their herds. Now, with the dogs on the job, both the flocks and the leopards are better protected.
World Tourism Summit
Tollman praised the industry’s “one voice” through the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). He and other top industry leaders recently participated in that group’s global summit in Argentina.
What’s the purpose? “It allows us to speak with one voice to governments so they can better understand the power of the remarkable industry we’re a part of,” he said, noting that the heads of industry in all travel sectors, such as hospitality, cruising and destinations, participate.
He put up a slide showing the value of tourism – representing 10.4 percent of global GDP and one in 10 jobs worldwide. Last year, 1.2 billion travelers crossed international borders.
He said the council has three key industry priorities, which are these: 78 percent of members cited security and travel facilitation, everything from visas to taxation; 72 percent cited crisis preparedness and response, such as handling SARS or terrorism; and 67 focused on sustainable travel growth.
Working together is critical, he said, noting that 10 airports are now testing facial recognition to identify passengers. Soon, travelers may speed through airports without showing passports. “It will be more efficient to move people through,” he said.
The Value of Travel Advisors
“Great travel advisors and independent agents are as important as ever,” said Tollman, noting that even Skift, which he characterized as a “disruptive publication” with a strong digital focus, posts editorial content focusing on the value of travel agents.
Avoya Travel Network is a preferred partner with all nine brands of The Travel Corporation sold within the United States. In closing, Tollman told the Avoya-affiliated agents: "I’d like to thank you, for your engagement with our brands, with our teams, with our marketing support..a sincere and very meaningful thank you for your support."