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Technology: Adopt or perish

If technology has sprung corporate behemoths like Uber and Airbnb and their likes like Ola and OYO closer home, it has also affected the business of traditional operators of hotels and travel and transportation companies all across the globe. SATTE brought up a discussion on “Global Economic Scenario, Tourism Trends in India” at its recently concluded event that not only put emerging trends in travel in spotlight but also impact of technology on these trends and where does India tourism and its stakeholders stand on adopting technology. The session was astutely moderated by Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels with an illustrious panel that included Subhash Goyal, Honorary Secretary, FAITH; Mandeep Lamba, President (South Asia), HVS Anarock and Sudhir Patil, Managing Director, Veena World.

Adopt or Perish

Discussing the emerging trends and technology’s role in it, Anand points that India with all its tourism attractiveness and inheritances is still far from realising its potential in this space, as is the industry in adopting technology and translating that into business for themselves, and as a result, for the country.

“I cringe when I hear that India has everything and I cringe because if India has everything than the only thing that we don’t have is tourist. If we have everything then logically it should reflect into the number of tourists coming to the country which is obviously not happening. The travel trade in India, both inbound and domestic, are way behind in adopting technology for their businesses. On one hand technology is going to impact our lives while on the other hand the trade is not ready at all,” says Anand.

An industry veteran, Goyal stressed the need for the industry to accept and adopt technology sooner than later, warning, “Technology is the future. Travel agents will become obsolete unless he adapts himself to the changing environment. The dinosaurs, one of the most powerful mammals to have ever walked the earth, could not exist because it did not adapt to change, so would travel agents, if they don’t cease the opportunity.”

He also added that there is a need for agents and operators to better understand technology, artificial intelligence, social media, digital marketing. He however also pointed that, albeit slowly, there are companies adopting technology, but warned companies of learning the lesson the hard way by dithering and delaying the inevitable.

Lamba says that it’s a decade that belongs to technology and innovation. “This decade that we have just embarked on (2020-2029) is going to be the most impactful decade on travel and tourism ever. It’s because the way and the speed with which things are changing and it is technology which is driving the change. So, expect to see many-many different things happening, both in the way people travel and in the tourism offerings. Technology will continue to play a greater role and will only strengthen their hold to this market.”

New opportunities

Veena World’s Patil brings to notice new and evolving sectors that brings to the industry new opportunities. “Seniors are getting younger and they have a lot of energy to travel. Events, like exhibitions, based travel and ‘shorter tours’ in place of ‘longer tours’ because a trend is developing where people are taking holidays every six months, or more frequently than before, are areas of opportunity,” Patil says. He also said that there will be growth in country-side travel, concluding that the changing trends will help develop “lot of scope for tourism in this decade.”

Highlighting some of the other emerging trends in travel, Lamba says, “While globally we see trends picking up on things like ‘space travel, DNA travel etc., closer home the standard destination is now becoming passé. Everybody wants to explore new locations new destinations and therefore we are likely to see the advent of travel to smaller lesser known destinations than we have done in the past. This is also going to be helped by the fact that we have more airports now, better road connectivity than we had in the past. Besides, the younger traveler is now looking at experiential travel. For them, it’s all about experiences, no longer about extended stay.”

Goyal says find your niche and intersperse that with technology in order to find your way to success. “There is need to specialise in one field or the other as well as innovate. Those who will specialise and innovate will survive. Agencies need to create unique and immersive experiences around health and wellness tourism, Ayurveda and massages, wildlife and safari, sports, dance form and cultural tourism where tourists can be involved in activities because ultimately man is a social animal. Those who will adapt himself to change will survive. And those who will use technology as an instrument to market, as an instrument to distribute their product and as an instrument to provide and spread information are the ones who will survive,” Goyal says.

Goyal also cautioned against uncertainty and unforeseen events. “Keep trying for the best, but always have a contingency plan and be prepared for the worst,” he warned.

Human touch

Sharing his own learning and experiences at Veena World, Patil says that when the company started operation six years ago it was faced with the question of whether to grow online or offline. “Adopting technology creates more opportunity for various other services, but one of the questions that confronts is how much to spend on technology and when is it required. Our experience is that we need to increase the surrounding infrastructure that helps in accepting technological change effectively and doesn’t interfere with business or guest relation,” Patil said. He pointed that a couple of years ago riding on technology when his company tried to desist clients from coming to office, it led to guest complains and the company learning a lesson on personalized and face to face interaction.

“Ultimately what we learnt is that it is all about marketing and messaging. It is very important for the tour operators is to learn to maintain synergy and balance in their offline and online services. It is very-very important to understand where to stop technology and start personalised interaction,” Patil says.

Safety Concerns, evolving supply, manpower

As technology brings in new changes, determine new trends in travel, the demography that it is affecting is not only influencing guests’ preferences but also suppliers’ offerings. And all of this happening in times and a world where turmoil and epidemic is the new norm. While there is a growing concern on tourists’ safety, there is also prediction of continued growth in the coming years as was in the last decade.

Patil says that the growing concern on safety and security is real and is affecting travel behavior. “My greatest concern is safety and security in the coming decade. And that will bring us, travel agents and tour operators, to give trustworthy and personalized services to the guests. This is key to the growth of tourism per se,” he says laying emphasis on personalized guest services, messaging and responsibility as necessity to attract travelers and to grow. 

Hotels are probably the most important suppliers when it comes to tourism, but, says Lamba, “standard hotels is passe” and no more the new norm. “Hotels will have to change the way they run their businesses. You can see differentiated hotel which are smaller, more boutique, more experiential and even larger hotel companies will find a way of branding these hotels to soft brands. It is already happening globally, and we see some of those trends happening closer home as well,” he said.

Furthermore, grooming and retaining talent is key to any business. Lamba says “Managing workforce is going to change dramatically. The workforce that we have today is much younger than what we had in the past and it is only getting younger. The needs of the younger workforce are very different from the workforce of the era gone by. So, employers, hoteliers, travel agents, tourism bodies will have to look at how to retain good talent. They are going to have to look at managing the workforce.”

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