This article is about the future of all of us involved in the Tours and Activities industry. Change is happening at warp speed and I will attempt to leap past all the current developments and discussion in the industry media and focus on the huge opportunities and disruption that technology will enable within our sector.
Before I ramble on about technology trends and likely impacts remember we are a people industry. Our guests and those that serve them at the coal face are the future for all involved. Those that focus on the guest's experience pre, during, and post-experience both digitally and face to face will thrive. Those that ignore any part of the guest experience and relationship will be challenged and constantly be disrupted.
To set the scene I am making the assumption that 80% plus of operators will be using technology to a much better standard than they are now and that the current digital land grab by the large travel technology companies has played out and the industry has caught up to be digitally mature as we are currently just rowdy teenagers. Today Digital is important, but I want to jump forward to when being digitally mature is simply the minimum standard to be able to be in business not a competitive advantage as it is just now.
To see the future I am a firm believer in looking outwards to other industries and sectors and the following ramblings have been influenced by manufacturing, logistics and the entertainment industries to name just a few. If you are asking yourself what the hell have they got to do with Tours and Activities you need to learn to understand how customers, employees and organisations are changing. Everything is becoming digital. Study not what people say but what people do. Watch how they work, learn, communicate with each other, make decisions and yes purchase goods and services. Even the political landscape is being transformed not by what people say but what they do. Try getting elected without being digitally astute!
Those in the industry that will thrive in the future will stop responding to the market as virtually all of us do now. They will thrive by changing how the market works. They will make the competition look like dinosaurs by changing the market from one market to millions of markets on-demand providing personalization at scale.
Technology To Pay Attention To
The future I am forecasting will use all of today's current technology but it will be as mature as email is today. The growth and innovation will be driven by very clever people using artificial intelligence, distributed ledgers and extended reality.
Artificial Intelligence. Everyone will have heard of AI by now, all of us are using it without knowing we are and the most technology astute companies are using it to great effect. AI improves decision making and optimizes processes and supercharges people by combining them with intelligent technologies to make better and more accurate decisions. AI will probably be the technology that makes the fastest inroads into Tours and Activities.
Distributed Ledger Technology. Most folks think of this as Blockchain which is indeed the most well known. It is not so much the name but what this technology does that is important. By using cryptography and distributed messaging protocols shared ledgers are created which allows multiple partners to access the data more or less at the same time. This comes with a level of transparency and security that dwarfs today's standards. This technology is developing much faster in other industries than in travel. Financial services, logistics are the leading lights. The guiding light for this technology is to remove unnecessary intermediaries. Since trade began the best place to be in the business chain was the middle that may be about to change!
Extended Reality. This is where the entertainment industry and focused and where we can learn a lot about the development of future products and delivery of experiences for our guests. This stack of technologies includes augmented reality and virtual reality. Also, immersive technologies are coming rapidly. These enable humans to interact naturally with technology, connecting and engaging customers at deeper, more meaningful levels. Think about the ability to create entirely new ways for people to experience and augment the physical world around them. Many T&A operators are correctly hugely passionate about their services and products and less interested in the business environment around them. This technology will impact on your products and services and enable you to give guests experiences that will out of this World!
Each of the above technologies is hugely powerful and will disrupt on its own but it is when they converge driven by data flows that they will truly erupt a wave of disruption across the Tours and Activities industry that will change the operating environment for all of us involved in the sector. Once mature they will allow operators to expand upon their digital ability to build intelligent and highly customized, real-time experiences. At this point, I must point out operators have the potential to do this. Retailers will find it more difficult unless they control the operations as well. This opens the question will retailers stay as retailers? My answer is no chance.
An example of the future from my own activity operation that is bouncing around my head.
After we have taken a group out on a Scottish River and given them the best time ever. That is what happens in Scotland by default! At the after river BBQ and whisky tasting, we introduce them to a river trip on the Zambezi River and instead of me rambling on with tales of lost youth the group will live inside the story fully immersed in a fictional Zambezi River World through virtual reality. AI characters who will probably be more human-like, than myself and my team of guides, will respond, anticipate, and react to each group member’s questions and demands. They will be so impressed and motivated that they will be pre-sold on an expedition to a remote area of the World which when they book and pay for it will happen seamlessly by distributed ledger technology.
Far fetched nonsense from too many bangs to my head? You decide.
Individually the above technologies allow all sectors within the T&A industry to differentiate their products and services, however, collectively they can open a road of opportunity to the future that has never been experienced before.
When talking about the future any discussion should always raise more questions than answers.
Here are some questions for you to think about
- What happens when all operators are digitally enabled to the standard that the very best are today?
- What happens when technology is not just part of the fabric of everyone's lives as it is today but the majority of the fabric and the glue that holds it together?
- What will you do when the guest's reality is not just to have a personalised experience but to have every minute of the experience personalised in real-time?
- If guests reality becomes more digital and it will, operators will have the opportunity to influence that reality constantly but that does not mean you should. The skill will be in the timing. What will be more important to drive customer delight personal data or environmental data ie weather, traffic, etc?
- Demand will become instant and gratification is expected immediately and both are constantly changing creating a never-ending vortex of opportunity, how will you respond?
The near future of Tours and Activities is about getting more operators online with technology and linking up all the different parts of the industry and the normal battles for digital dominance and ownership of customer relationships. However, that will be out of date before you can say XYZ got $500m of investment. The real future is already being shaped not by us the industry but by the people, we serve the customers and their expectations and how their demands are already being served by other industries and sectors which shapes their expectations of us when they come in contact with this industry.
Industry lines internal and external are no longer a boundary to growth. The disruption that current technology delivered is just the starting pistol being fired. Any operator can compete with any other or carve out a new market segment altogether if they focus on their customers and how to serve them in digital reality World.
As always if you have got this far, many thanks for reading my ramblings. I really appreciate it. Please engage and leave your thoughts we all have a lot to learn from each other in order to thrive in the best part of the travel industry and keep serving our guests in a manner they expect.