Bulletin 9 November 2018. “Transform or die?” is a red herring

Oh what a circus, oh what a show. My mind is cluttered by watching the travel and hospitality industry go to town, filling the whole of Excel as it did. This was my first time seeing such a big event come together from behind the scenes — I have never seen so many chop saws, as stands as big as I have seen were built literally from scratch. 

My role within World Travel Market, as it is known, was to run a technology-for-travel conference programme, which (like all the best shows) somehow, magically, all came together. Phew. It is equally fascinating to watch an industry in its element: there’s more progress than you might think, but less than the players might like. 

Travel has its digital bogeymen, the AirBnBs and Booking.coms that everyone detests even as they try to emulate them. Detests, really? Fair enough, that’s probably too strong a word. Cloud-first companies are like the cool kids that join school in the third year, coming from nowhere and somehow capturing the adolescent flag. It’s not so much hate, as confused envy. 

At the same time (and despite the best efforts of consulting firms to imply everyone is at the start of the journey unless they’re already at the end), most organisations are already taking a punt. Most have apps, most buy in to the notion of customer experience, most are dabbling in various forms of agile development or are looking to get on top of the analytics capabilities they invested in years ago. 

The point is, it is plain silly to suggest that they need to ‘understand’, or ‘get it’, or have any other form of epiphany. I’ve read endless papers that suggest our organisations need top-down buy-in, or stakeholder engagement, or whatever. In the real world, the chances are this already exists, at some level; yet still, it is not enough to go up against those upstarts who are digital by default. 

And it is precisely this which is being played, a screw to be turned, a feeling of inadequacy that remains a constant, however much effort is being put in. It’s coming from a hard reality that digital change can’t take place while physical resources also need to be managed. And it’s a lie. 

We’re on the cusp of something different. Amazon is opening physical, if highly automated stores. Uber and others are investing in vehicles. Why? Two reasons. First, once the algorithms commoditise, software-fist organisations need to look beyond that to differentiate. And second, because humans like working and being with humans. 

And travel will be at the forefront of this. Is it always necessary to have a person working through the options for a particular trip? No, but many are prepared to accept a premium for doing so. And as for the feeling of welcome… to extrapolate, I’m reminded of a recent “Game of Thrones” tour in Dubrovnik. Of course it could have taken place with an iPad or an AR headset, but, yeah, a guy in a suit of armour was a lot more fun. 

Traditional organisations already know they are on to a good thing, even as the rug is being pulled out by startups that don’t have to worry about the physical — yet. But they will. For many, it’s a case of hanging in there, building the future at the same time as not losing the assets created deep in the past (which is akin to not selling off school playing fields for housing). 

The future will be physical, and it belongs to those with the staying power to keep hold of the past at the same time as delivering on the potential of what technology brings.

No articles this week, but a couple of 5-questions are being queued up as we speak!

All the best, 

Jon

Bulletin 9 November 2018. “Transform or die?” is a red herring

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