The second of our new columnists will soon celebrate 50 years in the travel industry. John McEwan looks back at how the industry has changed and his optimism for the future.
“Tony Blair at the WTTC conference this week remarked that not only was travel a huge economic driver worldwide but that it also created a ‘feel good’ factor.
That is certainly true in the UK.
The British have always been at the forefront of travel and tourism over the centuries. Thomas Cook was the man who created travel for ‘working’ people by organising excursions to great events. His first excursion was for a temperance rally in 1841. Not something you would normally find in the travel industry today!
Cook became more adventurous operating worldwide tours, which were spectacular and adventurous in nature. The foundations for tourism in many countries were introduced as a result of Cook’s excursions. Initially these trips though could only be afforded by those that were well off.
We have to fast forward to the 1950s for mass tourism to be created, with entrepreneurs launching companies that would take people on low-cost packages to Spain and beyond. These proved to be very popular and remain so today. The advent of the low-cost carriers some 15 years ago opened up the market further, allowing many people who had not travelled abroad to dip their toe in the water with weekend breaks. So-called independent travel is now larger than the package holiday sector and continuing to grow.
In recent times, and despite the global financial crisis and the negative impact on the economy, travel has remained at the top of the discretionary spend list. So much so that you could argue that it is no longer discretionary, so important is it to our lives and well-being.
As a result, the travel market remains resilient and people continued to travel, albeit with tighter budgets in some cases.
This mirrors the more positive outlook that we all have; 2013 is proving to very positive. Continued innovation by travel providers will offer consumers more choice, more experiences and easy access to these travel arrangements with whichever channel they feel it easy to purchase through.
The latter point is important.
There has been much speculation about the demise of the high-street travel agent. This is simply not true. Whilst online bookings has grown significantly over the 10 years, fuelled not only by the internet but the introduction of product such as no-frills carriers and accommodation providers, the high street travel agent still has an important role to play. Good quality agents have focused on expertise, in store experiences and the optimisation of technology and will continue to play an important role in the distribution mix. Distribution is not about a single channel, it’s about being multi-channel.
I think we are in for a positive future.
Traditional tour operators have responded to their competitors in the independent sector by focusing on differentiation and flexibility. The independent sector will continue to grow as more product is made available and more destinations introduced.
What is certain is that consumers are much more discerning and will be seeking experiential holidays whilst still demanding value for money.
We are the second largest outbound travel market in the world and I can only see growth from here onwards.
Whilst not wishing to be overly optimistic, I believe the future will be sunny!”