How will people research and book holidays in the future? One suspects that the answer to this question will be in principle much the same as they already do. People will look at travel “brochures”; listen to the opinions of others they trust (social networks and blogs, but also travel agents ‘super-recommenders’ in social networks). They will also consult, the opinions of specialist travel writers, especially those writing in physical or digital newspapers, magazines and specialist travel publications.
But the way in which we will do all of this will change. The demise of the physical travel agent has been foretold for some time. 52 per cent of UK consumers, for example, claim that holidays are better value for money when booked online, while 40 per cent like being able to personalise their own holiday on the internet. A staggering 14% even say that they’ll book with someone they’ve never heard of online if it’s cheap enough.
However, while many people prefer the cost and convenience of booking things themselves, for others it is monumentally stressful and time consuming. Furthermore, for holidaymakers suffering from Too Much Information and Too Much Choice, for people that don’t know what they want or for those looking for expert and specialist travel knowledge, the travel agent will still have a significant role to play.
The market will almost certainly split between travel superstores in the manner or Nike or apple and small, niche specialists.
In 2030 we’ll see fully interactive “try before you fly” experience superstores, where customers will be able to vicariously experiment with a complete virtual holiday. So we’ll be able to walk round the resort, have a 360 degree tour of the different room types, remotely test the bed softness, talk to the reps on 3-D Skype and go into a simulator booth that will demonstrate what the temperature and humidity of Vietnam in high summer feels like or experience the effects of reduced oxygen when walking up to Machu Picchu. Smaller satellite locations would have a similar offer on a more concentrated scale.
At the other end of the spectrum, online and physical specialists will address emergent geographies, and individual audiences such as older travellers, adventure holidays, niche cultural interests.
On the subject of holiday brochures it is perhaps worth noting that they shouldn’t still exist. Surely we should all be going on line or browsing hotels on an iPad?
The reason this isn’t happening is possibly the same reason that magazines are still flourishing despite the well-known woes of the newspaper industry. Holiday brochures, like magazines, do not tend to deal with hard news. Both tend to deal with lifestyles and dreams and these have a much longer shelf life
Even if we still want the in hand experience of the brochure, virtually all 2030 bookings will be done online. Just as with Ebay now, people will be able to bid for holidays – competing with other travellers, leaving it to the last minute to swoop for a followed favourite.
As for whether bookings are made well in advance or at the last minute (see previous point about resorts becoming full due to the rapid growth in numbers) both will be true and will be heavily influenced by such mundane factors as school holidays (whether or not they are changed to allow more flexibility), the economy (whether people have enough money to travel) and work (whether or not an increasingly project-based and freelance workforce has the ability to plan ahead).
With both though, it would appear that planning will become more continuous, with customers using the web and social media to constantly adjust plans and iterineries. As such supply chains will need to become more responsible to such flexibility – a point that travel operators could leverage by being as helpful as possible, possibly providing ‘nurturing’ customer service to smooth out any last minute difficulties and changes of both heart and mind.
One thing that does appear somewhat strange is that while airlines and hotels have operated various loyalty schemes, the idea seems relatively new among travel operators and many customers are not aware of such schemes. In the future micro-personalisation means that such ideas will expand further, possibly allowing holidaymakers to stock their hotel mini-bar in advance, choose the toiletries for their bathroom or order their meals in advance.
Another warmly received development might be holidays that you can barter online. Given enough warning, most holiday companies will grant customers a full refund if for some reason (work, health etc.) they can no longer go away. However, it is the nature of emergencies that they happen without warning, so perhaps a holiday company could set up a website where customers that are no longer able to go away can auction their holiday online or exchange it for another. Other missing bits of the jigsaw might be ‘try before you buy stores’ (referred to earlier) where customers could try out the airline seats and even the food, music and movies. Replicating the travel experience isn’t easy, but even if all an agent does is serve a selection of national dishes from top destinations or organise 2030 Skype equivalent calls with hotel managers it would surely help.
We can also predict a future where peer-to-peer contact and recommendations are increasingly important – before, during and after holidays. Members of forums on anything from football to crocheting are already seeking the advice of what they see as like minded people on destinations and what to do there, as more reliable and unbiased opinions than those found on specialist travel sites. Services such as couchsurfing, airbnb and wimdu tap into the desire of people, especially younger travellers, to not only save money, but also get a more authentic experience locally.
In some respects it’s the “paying guest” model with a digital overlay. But as these younger travellers get older, we can expect to see this type of behaviour normalised for older holidaymakers and families, who may currently see this as too risky. And where there’s a market there’s always a potential segmentation, so expect to see different lifestyles, interest groups served at a micro level as this type of service matures.
Car hire companies – already lagging in customer satisfaction behind estate agents and politicians will have to brace themselves for the further expansion of peer-to-peer travel. Whether it’s hitching a ride, car sharing or renting someone else’s, the alternatives to traditional hire companies are growing with services such as Relayrides and Flightcar, which rents out your car from the airport cars while you are travelling or Lyft, an on-demand car sharing service. Many of these services are aimed at commuters and single destinations, but the automotive version of the Boris Bike at holiday venues can’t be far away.
Travellers to emerging destinations will have to become used to being mobbed by random people selling their expertise as local guides. Often taking in important sites such as the guide’s brother’s carpet shop en route. So we can expect to see an increase in digitally sourced personal guides. Locals who are in the know, who have expertise in specific interest areas who can give you a unique insight into your destination, and who will be assessed by their peer-to-peer ratings.
The only thing older than yesterday’s newspapers is yesterday’s guidebooks (sales down 46% in the UK between 2006 and 2012). The disappointed shock at finding that little tavern you remember from 20 years ago now trading as a karaoke bar is one that many of us have experienced.
Rather than online aggregated reviews which date quickly, we can expect in the future to find daily ratings of places, so we can be sure not only that they’re still there, but that they didn’t poison anyone this week. People will post pictures of their meals with comments as a matter of course – so you will know when today’s special looks uncannily like yesterday’s.
What these trends deliver is immediacy and personalisation. A recent Nielsen survey of mobile travel searchers showed that a third wanted to complete the transaction that day. And as digital immediacy grows, our attention spans become shorter and the “Just in time” quality of our lifestyles increases, we can only anticipate this becoming accentuated by 2030.
But being connected at a personal level is also a growing trend. No matter how cocooned our lives become, there is always a desire to see behind closed doors or outside the compound, depending on how you view it. People want to come back from holidays with memories, but also stories. And getting up close and personal with the environment and the people who live there is a need that is unlikely to go away.
To be continued…