The need for leaders to stand up and be counted as individuals was a clear message from WTTC’s Global Summit in Bangkok. But going further than this, the need for the Travel & Tourism sector itself to recognise and relate to individuals was also a recurring theme.
Travel & Tourism is at its heart a ‘people business’, be that providing an experience to a consumer, creating jobs, or working with host communities. Amidst all the opportunities of automation and technological developments, the sector must be careful not to lose its ‘human touch’.
Rob Rosenstein, CEO of Agoda, predicts that the sector has only just seen the beginning of the digital disruption that is still to come. Yet that change is also dependent on building enough trust with consumers for them to be willing to give up the data and personal information that will fuel it.
At the same time, many industry actors see a growing need for personal attention. Talking about business travel, for example, Douglas Anderson, CEO at American Express Global Business Travel, observed that while ten years ago business travel was all about booking the transaction, these days the comfort and satisfaction of each individual traveller is paramount.
Luxury travel often reflects an ideal of travel to consumers, and here also recognising individual needs and expectations remains fundamental. As Clement Kwok, Managing Director & CEO at Hong Kong & Shanghai Hotels, summarised, the idea of people wanting to be pampered won’t change, although how they want to be pampered might. Chadatip Chutrakul, CEO of Siam Piwat Group in Thailand, also indicated that this need for emotional connection may in fact be increasing.
If emotional connection is important to a successful retail tourism experience, then it is certainly imperative when anything goes wrong. Speakers throughout the conference emphasised how, when business as usual gets disrupted, focusing on people as individuals is key to facing the challenge and overcoming a crisis.
Robert A Jensen, CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services, referred to his extensive experience with disaster situations to exhort leaders to think about people — not processes — if caught up in such an event. This includes not just being prepared and responding quickly, but also telling the truth to provide reassurance. Honesty and a genuine ‘sorry’ from an executive are very powerful.
Several CEOs spoke about their own experiences with emotional crises, and confirmed the importance a focus on the individuals and telling the truth. Tony Fernandes, Group Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia, described his experience in the aftermath of the loss of an AirAsia aircraft in 2014 and how he found that transparency, openness, and humility — through his interactions with the families — was the best approach in the situation. Peter Fankhauser, Group CEO of the Thomas Cook Group, revealed that his decision to talk to, rather than about, the families involved in the tragic death of two children led to an important step of progress on the case. Rakesh Sarna, Managing Director & CEO at the Indian Hotels Company Ltd, had his own experience with a tragic crisis with the terror attack at The The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in 2008. Echoing Jensen, he concluded that beyond raising awareness, the most important element in the response was not to shy away from emotional connection, to help start the healing process.
While much of tourism is clearly focused on the guests and consumers, people are just as important on the other side, as it’s the employees and hosts who define the experience a traveller can have. In this context, speakers looked both at the current status and future prospects for the reality of work. Early in the Summit, Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development at the University of Oxford, provided some context, showing that national statistics can belie the fact that for many individuals economic progress has not brought benefits — what is good for the individual is not necessarily the same as what is good for the common.
It is not just about how much people benefit from their work, it is also about how they work. April Rinne, Global Authority on the Gig Economy and Future of Work, described a future of work that is characterised by freelancing and automation replacing lifetime employment and traditional 9–5 routines. To keep a motivated workforce — on which Travel & Tourism depends, it is important for companies to develop strategies and policies to address issues such as recruitment, safety, insurance, and benefits.
Mark Hoplamazian, CEO of Hyatt Hotels, emphasised the importance of knowing about the needs of employees and building strategies around that understanding, rather than taking a generic, top down approach. Kike Sarasola, CEO of Room Mate Hotels, highlighted the need to encourage young people to engage with careers in tourism.
Tomoko Nishimoto, Assistant Director-General and Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific for the International Labour Organisation (ILO) confirmed that standard forms of employment have decreased worldwide, but suggested that this is also an opportunity for Travel & Tourism. As a people-oriented sector that is working on integrating nonstandard forms of employment into its industries, could Travel & Tourism not become a leader in devising tools for addressing some of the key work related issues of our century — including wages and gender as well as new forms of employment?
There are organisations which have already recognised the potential of Travel & Tourism’s contribution to future employment. Several leading examples of such efforts were recognised by the WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. Desert & Delta Safaris in Botswana, Streets International in Vietnam, and The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation’s China Hospitality Education Initiative (CHEI) all demonstrated how new approaches to training and integration into Travel & Tourism can create opportunities and thoroughly change lives of individuals.
And while catering to individual needs is going to be increasingly important in the future of Travel & Tourism, the need for those individuals to be connected with each other will also be paramount. As explained by Mark Hoplamazian, Travel & Tourism is built on a sense of common purpose.
The challenge now is to harness that common purpose in a way which puts individuals — customers, employees, or local hosts — at its heart.
For a general summary of the Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, read this: Is It Too Much To Ask? Five Things Travel & Tourism Needs to Do to Secure Its Future