I always thought technology drives most change and the travel industry is no different to any other business in this respect. I assumed that the reason for travel evolution being so painful was that new technology had been so scarce for so long that now it has arrived people are overdosing on it. However unlike the pharmaceutical business nobody has tested products, understood the correct dosage or learned how to deal with adverse reactions.
Already you can look back over the recent past and see all sorts of corporate travel wonder solutions that have not actually delivered in accordance with their hype. Many were unsuitable, unrealistic or simply did not work but they all looked damn good on paper. Apart from any basic flaw there seems to be something in the way of success and I think I know what it may be.
The plain truth of it is that whatever new initiatives come along they will only be embraced if the various key players in the supply chain want to make it happen. Like the old saying that you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink the same goes for managed travel programmes and compliance. You still cannot get somebody to change their mindset unless you force them or justify your actions and I see precious little of either going on.
You see there are many people, either through tradition or personal experience, who still view travel as a service experience rather than a commodity. And whilst there are different suppliers of varying quality, frequent flyer programmes and individual timescales and demands there will always be service choices needed. When you think of it most corporations are insisting their employees undertake personal risks and comfort challenges with very little research into safety and standards. How do you know the airlines you have chosen are safe and comfortable? Cheap yes…but. A question that could soon be asked by lawyers in regard to ‘duty of care’.
It is not just the traveller who still has a perception that service is important. You can often see this ‘malaise’ in some suppliers and a large number of TMCs. I suspect they are getting so frustrated that service is not being given a value by typical procurement that they will continue to reduce it to a minimum like the low cost carriers. Why bother creating a value and service differentiator if nobody is interested in paying for it.
For so long the travel industry has been built around giving good service and being rewarded for doing so. Travellers too want to know they will be safe, comfortable and that somebody will be there for them if something goes wrong. Those buyers who focus mainly on unbundling, constant cost reduction and commoditisation need to take note.
My answer to my own question is yes, technology is key to the future but only as an enabler not as a solution. Pick your target end solution that matches your company ethos and then look for the enabling technology. I have seen so many people commit to unproven technology to try and solve an issue they did not really have. What is more important is service and solutions and if you embrace the need for the former to deliver the latter then all you need to do is choose the technology to enable it to happen.