From tech-generated recommendations to personalised experiences taking a front seat, it’s clear that today’s travellers want greater customisation and deeper immersion from their trips. Travel industry leaders tells why such experiential trends are booming, and what they seek for in their own travels.
Chairman & managing director, Thomas Cook (India)
Major trend observed in 2019: Online access to travel is creating additional demand and is increasing the market size. We have therefore been investing strongly in the digital transformation of the company. Today, over 26 per cent of our overall holiday packages are booked via our online platforms. Some of the new age initiatives that are helping us reach out to India’s millennial and digital natives include our upgraded portal, our holidays and foreign exchange apps, customer self-service app and TeeCee, our recently launched AI-powered chatbot. With deeper penetration of the Internet in India’s tier 2 and tier 3 cities, technological evolution has elevated the convenience factor and the rise of our e-business stands testimony to the same.
My travel bucket list for 2020: I would love to cycle around the picturesque hilltop villages of Tuscany, and walk around the medieval and Renaissance buildings of Siena, accompanied by sumptuous cuisine and the famed Chianti, Brunello and Nobile wines. – Rohit Kaul
CEO, Asia Corporate Travel Management
Major trends observed in 2019: It is a global trend for travellers to seek out authentic experiences over traditional tourist offerings, as more and more people want to interact with locals and explore the local culture. Personalisation is another important trend to engage with customers.
At Corporate Travel Management, we use innovative technologies to gain valuable insights from our customers’ past purchase journey. In turn, we strive for personalisation in our service by offering highly relevant and pro-active offers to our customers.
My travel bucket list for 2020: Sports-themed travel is one of my favourite vacation types. Apart from skiing, I also enjoy experiencing the excitement of international sports events such as The Championships, Wimbledon, the tennis tournament held annually in London. Sports travel has also become a popular product in the global travel industry. – Prudence Lui
CEO, Luxury Escapes
Major trend observed in 2019: The rise of experiential travel continues to grow, particularly for younger generations who are increasingly opting to purchase experiences over things. People want personalised, customised travel and to experience as much of the destination as possible. We launched our own Experiences product in response to our customers telling us that “unique, personally curated experiences” were the number one trend they were excited about in 2019. We’ve seen a very successful launch so far, indicating this trend isn’t likely to disappear in 2020.
My travel bucket list for 2020: As the father of two children, I’d love to take one of our small group tours and take my family to an adventurous destination like Morocco, Egypt or Jordan. Experiencing the best of these destinations handpicked by our travel experts – and without the headache of organising every little detail – would make for an unforgettable family trip. – Adelaine Ng
CEO, Charlotte Travel
Major trend observed in 2019: We are experiencing growing interest in highly personalised experiences for individuals, couples and families. Unusual destinations are becoming particularly alluring, while interest in soft adventures in remote wilderness locations that provide luxury accommodations and fine dining are also increasing. For example, we recently curated a family visit to northern Finland for Christmas. Such experiences are usually once-in-a-lifetime, and nothing can be left to chance. Accordingly, we need to have direct knowledge of the products and suppliers and this can involve a reconnaissance pre-visit to the destination to ensure the client’s expectations will be matched, if not exceeded.
My travel bucket list for 2020: Next year, a temporary igloo hotel will open at the North Pole, consisting of 10 heated domes for guests to sleep under the stars. The North Pole can be reached by helicopter in April and as only around 1,000 people make the journey annually, it’s one of the most exclusive adventures out there. – Prudence Lui
Eric Gnock Fah
CCO & co-founder, Klook
Major trend observed in 2019: We continue to see the trend of travellers becoming increasingly mobile-centric. More than 75 per cent of all Klook bookings in 2019 were made via mobile devices. Same-day bookings have also increased 11-fold from 2016 to 2019.
Local travel operators have also started to adapt to this paradigm shift. We collaborate closely with them, assisting them in the digitisation process and ensuring that they are able to meet the demands of the new-age consumer.
With the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics, there will be unprecedented demand (for tours) in the city. We have collaborated with local Japanese operators to increase the roster of attractions and things to do outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area by 600 per cent (compared to) 2016, helping hyper-local small businesses to tap into the growing demand.
My travel bucket list for 2020: Visiting Jordan comes out top on my bucket list. My trip to Israel last year was eye-opening in culture and experience, and this has inspired me to go across the Dead Sea to Jordan and enjoy its unique architecture and culture. – Pamela Chow
Agustinus Pake Seko
President director, Bayu Buana Travel Services
Major trend observed in 2019: The way people plan and buy their trips have changed in the past few years, so tour operators should personalise their communications. It takes proper customer analysis for travel companies to be able to deliver a deep, authentic and personal connections with travellers. Like many others, I spend many hours online and I believe that the best tools and talents will not guarantee success if travel companies are not playing to the same tune (as their customers); they should orchestrate their technologies to create unique and personalised experiences.
My travel bucket list for 2020: A safari trip to Africa. It is not so much about the destination but the promise of an adventure – and experience – that has always excited and ignited my interest. – Mimi Hudoyo
CEO, Apex Tours and Travels
Major trend observed in 2019: More and more Indian travellers are looking to experience luxury rather than just indulging in luxury products. The term luxury has also become relative, as what’s affordable for one is a luxury for other. So on one hand we have outbound travellers looking to hire a Ferrari, while on the other hand we have tourists that are opting for private villas for their stay. There is a section of luxury travellers interested to learn about the culture of the destination they are visiting. We have come up with customised products and experiences to cater the luxury aspirations of our clients instead of just selling or promoting popular high-end products.
My travel bucket list for 2020: I would like to discover the Antarctic on a polar expedition cruise. This part of the world is surely fascinating and its breathtaking landscapes are high on my bucket list. – Rohit Kaul
Chairman, Serendib Hotels
Major trend observed in 2019: Technology is playing an ever-growing role in influencing the choices of travellers, be it in the choice of destination, accommodation or experiences sought. Technology provides so much transparency that travellers can select exactly what they wish to do and read the ratings of others. In order to respond to this trend, the business model is being aligned to meet the expectations of the informed traveller, ensuring the products and services on offer follow the best practices in sustainability, environment, conservation and limits the impact on the carbon footprint.
My travel bucket list for 2020: Viewing wildlife in its natural habitat, together with an experienced naturalist is top of my bucket list. Also, I would like to travel to the Himalayan region to enjoy the scenery, learn the culture and traditions of the people there. – Feizal Samath
CEO, Open Destinations
Major trend observed in 2019: A major trend is the use of mobile technology to support the consumer once they have booked a holiday. We have noticed a rise in enquires from boutique tour operators, who focus on providing complex itineraries, needing technological solutions.
During the last few years, we have invested heavily in our flagship solution Travel Studio. Using drag-and-drop technology and artificial intelligence, quotes can now be created three to four times faster.
In 2017, Open Destinations also acquired the Tineri App solution, which allows operators to provide their clients with a stylish, engaging and user-friendly mobile app comprising itineraries, updates, help and relevant content. Tour operators can also upsell new activities and products to travellers while they are in-destination.
My travel bucket list for 2020: In May, I did a fantastic cycling trip in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and got a real taste of Central Asia. I would now like to either cycle more of the Silk Road or sail down the North African coast. Recently I read a travel blog of a sailing trip from Spain to Morocco, down the coast to Essaouira and Tenerife. This sounds like a perfect escape from the cold British winter. – Pamela Chow
Chairman, Jetwing Symphony Hotels
Key disruptions in 2019: The biggest disruption in Sri Lanka was the Easter Sunday bombing, which brought all of us in tourism down to our knees. After 10 years of exceptional growth, it was sad to see this happen to my beloved country and the industry I love so much. What we experienced almost immediately after was the love and support we received from the international and Sri Lankan media, tour operators and travellers at large who wanted to come back and support our island nation. I wish no other country in the world will have to undergo such a man-made tragedy ever again.
The second disruption was the collapse of global travel giant Thomas Cook, which confirms that buying cheap from suppliers and offering a small mark-up to sell packages to end users is not the way forward. I hope and pray that the other tour operator giants will learn from this and not fall into the same mess.
My travel bucket list for 2020: Ethiopia and Antarctica. I am looking forward to leading a group of enthusiasts to where Christianity and Islam flourish. – Feizal Samath
Director, Urban Rhythms Tours, Adventures & Travel
Key disruptions in 2019: Malaysia is seeing a proliferation of e-hailing ride services where drivers are also moonlighting and illegally selling tours and travel services to customers. This takes away business from legitimate tour operators, and as a result we have received fewer ad-hoc requests from tourists visiting Kuala Lumpur. Thus, we have stepped up our marketing efforts on social media, particularly Instagram, to reach out directly to millennials who tend to travel on the spur of the moment. We have also rolled out our packages on B2C travel apps such as Klook, and we are also considering putting our packages on Airbnb Experiences.
My travel bucket list for 2020: I’d very much love to visit South America, particularly the ancient cities of Peru and Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, which is the world’s largest natural salt flat and natural mirror. – S Puvaneswary