In the travel industry, disruption has been the name of the game for years now.
The emergence of such companies as Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Skyscanner have significantly altered the landscape over the past decade or more and a constantly evolving crop of upstarts promises to continue to push change in such a dynamic industry.
Paul O’Neill, vice president of creative at Guinness World Records, recently explored this topic at the Texas Travel Summit in Fort Worth and later spoke with TravelPulse to discuss the issue in greater detail.
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One of the most notable takeaways from O’Neill’s commentary was his prediction that Amazon, a company that seemingly wants to be everything to everyone, could very well branch into travel.
“Amazon is already selling theater tickets. That’s the first move in that direction. If they aren’t selling hotel rooms in the future, I’d be surprised,” said O’Neill.
“Knowing how they operate and how they work, they’re obviously very good at what they do, you have to wonder if Amazon will take over the world,” he added.
O’Neill’s comments about Amazon were part of his broader prediction that there’s likely to be a growing number of companies in the future that handle “top-to-bottom” travel arrangements for customers – everything from booking an Uber to pick a customer up from home to reserving flights, hotels, and tours.
“I think there will be some top-to-bottom travel and tour companies that will eat into the market,” said O’Neill. “I see technology allowing for that. You just sign-in once, to one platform and it starts to guide you based on choices you’ve previously made and helps to organize your trip.”
Trial by Social Media and The Growth of Social Media Teams
The emergence of such review sites as Yelp and TripAdvisor have also fundamentally changed the travel industry from the inside out, said O’Neill.
“The industry has woken up to these sites and that’s huge,” said O’Neill. “Now companies have to take note of them. For a while, the industry didn’t take much notice.”
These days, however, travel companies cannot not respond to commentary and criticism lodged via review platforms or other social media channels, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook or somewhere else.
“The growth of social media teams now at resorts has been triggered by this technology,” continued O’Neill. “Technology moves so much faster than 25 years ago. You haven’t got time to send out the CMO or CEO. Someone has to be on the ground responding quickly.”
Environmental Issues: Ignore Them at Your Peril
Environmental stewardship and responsibilities tied to climate change are another emerging disruptor, said O’Neill.
“We know that environmental issues, carbon footprints, and sustainability are going to be more and more important and things like that are going to inform travelers choices,” he said. “The disruptor here is that if you don’t get with the program, you will go out of business.”
Travel companies, O’Neill continued, must be able to very visibly operate with a heart and a conscience and offer customers the opportunity to explore the globe based on those two principles as well.
“Companies ignore those things at their peril,” said O’Neill. “If you do not look at sustainability and important causes with what you’re doing, I suspect you may get left behind. It’s a quiet disruptor, but a creeping one.
The Benefits of Change
As for some of those behemoth disruptors like Airbnb, O’Neill says the impact on the hotel industry has been profound.
Perhaps one of the most notable ways it has impacted the way hotels operate can be seen in terms of how properties interface with guests.
“Airbnb’s big success is the way it interfaces. The interface itself has been interesting and there has a been real move to make that work for hotels,” explained O’Neill. “Now, I can go to my hotel room and I don’t have to see anybody if I don’t want to, I can electronically check-in.”
At the same time, hotels around the globe have also begun offering more distinctly local programming and immersive experiences, whether it’s tour led by a local artist or chef or a wine tasting showcasing the talents of an up and coming local winery. All of which is no coincidence, given the hyper-local opportunities associated with an Airbnb stay and the brand’s foray into local experience offerings.
Airbnb, suggests O’Neill, has changed the hotel industry into the 21st century and beyond.
Ultimately, added O’Neill, disruptors of all forms will continue to bring about change in the industry. And legacy brands will have to learn to navigate the everchanging waters.
“We can’t stop the disruptors, we can’t hold back the tide, but we can surf it,” said O’Neill.“Disruptors are always the whip that makes us change, but for good, I think.”