Can Innovation Tame Travel's Consumer Rollercoaster?

Craig Everett





As we steam toward the 2024 travel season (for much of the globe), it seems a good time to take stock of where the industry has been in the past couple of years, and what we might see in the couple ahead.

Riding the Consumer Rollercoaster

Of course, we all know about the resiliency of the industry coming out of COVID. In Experiences, specifically, 2021 saw a doubling of average consumer spending over 2019 levels as travellers threw caution (and money) to the wind and struck out to enjoy everything they’d missed during lockdowns.

Now, as 2024 picks up steam, the industry is coming off a year that saw that average spend drop back to 2019 levels while simultaneously navigating significant global economic challenges like inflation, geopolitical tensions, ongoing supply-chain and employment constrictions, and more…

However, amidst this turbulence, there lies an opportunity for travel brands to innovate and thrive. Throughout 2023, for many that focus was on what Generative AI might be able to do to streamline travel planning. However, as travellers continue to prioritise exploration and in-destination experiences, allocating their discretionary spending towards meaningful adventures, planning isn’t necessarily where value will be created.

Innovating to Lift the Highs, and the Lows…

With experiences showing more and more to be the driving force of travel, it’s well past time for the travel industry to reward those who venture out and explore the world by making it easier than ever to discover amazing (and often surprising) experiences.  

To date, the only brands working on that problem have been the experience-focused OTAs. The GetYourGuides and Viators of the world. And even they have made more of their bones in the pre-planning and booking portion of the customer journey. Meanwhile, the vast majority (63% in the latest research from Arival) are booking the week before enjoying their experience. Also known as… in destination.

To truly meet travellers where they are and help them experience the most on every trip - it will take the entire industry embracing innovative ways of curating, communicating, and selling experiences. Hotels will have to build on their recent focus on promoting onsite offerings and connecting to existing experience offerings by providing more curated, customisable, and mobile-friendly solutions for their guests as a way to counteract the headwinds generated by inflation.

Airlines - who know they need to move beyond their in-house ancillaries (legroom, baggage check, etc…) to continue their growth trajectories - will need to offer their fliers uniquely crafted sets of experiences right before and during their trips - generating new revenue and greater customer engagement.

And destinations, competing for market share in a world where travellers' budgets simply don’t stretch as far, will need to foreground the unique, authentic experiences that drive travellers to select their region. Then, make it convenient, easy, and memorable to enjoy those regions with customer-friendly product discovery and booking solutions.

It Will Take the Entire Travel Village

Of course with economic headwinds creating uncertainty, it’s hard for any of those organisations to justify the investments needed to do that well. Which is where one of the travel industries greatest strengths - partnerships and collaboration - can come into play.

As I mentioned, travellers' desires to conveniently and easily find and book the perfect things for their trip are unlikely to be solved by one brand alone. It will take a network of brands communicating with them in a hyper-relevant way to deliver on this need. And we are standing by to serve as the foundational backbone of that experience.

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