Leadership Matters

Perspectives on the key issues impacting senior leaders and their organizations
April 12, 2019

Travel Leaders: Are You Ready to Be Changemakers?

The theme for this year’s World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Seville gave an apt description of what leaders in the industry will need to be in order to succeed in an era of ongoing disruption: Changemakers. While we discussed a host of forces affecting the industry at the conference, here are three key trends that will require travel and tourism leaders to adapt — or be left behind.
1. The people side of technology advancements
Technology and its role in every travel business model and ecosystem remained a consistent theme at the conference. While artificial intelligence (AI) has gained significant momentum in other consumer sectors — consider your own in-home “assistant,” smart appliances and perfectly curated Netflix feeds — we’re just starting to see its presence in hospitality in areas such as guest purchasing and customization of the customer experience. Industry leaders will need to help ensure these enhancements are enriching, not intrusive. 

These technologies also have implications for how work gets done. With robotics on the horizon, some aspects of travel roles will eventually be replaced, or at least changed, by AI. The question then becomes: How do you lead people and create an organizational culture in which people successfully work with more advanced technology? Part of this will likely require placing a greater emphasis on learning and change leadership, as this is uncharted territory for many. Additionally, travel leaders should explore ways to leverage AI to improve the employee experience and help improve diversity on their teams. (You can read more about this here.) Technology developments will continue to have significant implications for the organizational cultures of travel companies, as well as where they look for leaders.  

2. Increasing demand for a seamless traveler journey
There is a trend toward using biometrics to consistently identify travelers through every stage of their journey with the aim of making it seamless. Right now, the tracking starts with airports, but in time, will extend to hotels, cruises and car rentals. Not only would this capability help make the traveler experience more pleasant, there is a significant operational upside: It would reduce bottlenecks, increase capacity without requiring investment in additional space, as well as enhance security. 

There are currently pockets of various technologies and approaches being introduced, each of which will only simplify a portion of the journey. WTTC is leading an initiative across all industry sectors and governments to establish one standard system. A uniquely high level of collaboration from travel company and other industry CEOs and leaders will be required to achieve this ambitious goal. 

3. Greater emphasis on sustainability in tourism 
Previously secluded and untouched destinations are now being exposed to unprecedented amounts of travelers, amplifying struggles with environmental damage and waste. In response, we’ve seen increasing government regulation to protect these sites. Leaders in the industry need to be able to balance these complexities that are in many ways competing with growth and may require significant re-tooling of assets and business methods. 

At the same time, a growing number of consumers consider social responsibility a key factor when making purchasing decisions. CEOs are under immense pressure to institute business practices that incorporate a socially aware mindset, and to encourage company-wide interest in the issues that affect society in general. For societal impact initiatives to be successful, travel CEOs must strive to create a culture where they are pursued throughout the organization. As leaders, they must both model and reward good behaviors that support sustainability efforts.

The WTTC Global Summit underscored what we’ve found in our conversations and work with industry leaders: Flexibility, agility and collaboration will be critical. Travel organizations will also have to take a hard look at their current capabilities and organizational cultures to ensure they are prepared for the journey ahead.