Abta chairman Noel Josephides says as the industry becomes more technological it becomes boring and commoditised making the personal touch all the more vital

I have a 29-year-old daughter who is a doctor. Like all her generation, she is computer literate and has that ability of typing on her mobile with both thumbs. I’m afraid I am still a ‘single finger’ man, and slow at that.

I always feel let down when my children book their holidays on the web and not through my company. According to them it’s cheaper, more convenient and smarter – why would they ever look to their old dad to help them with something so simple?

Yet to my surprise, my daughter recently consulted me as to where she should go for a short break with her boyfriend. In the end she opted – and paid for – a two-centre Rome and Amalfi trip and even allowed Sunvil to arrange it.

She was ecstatic at how everything was done for them so they could enjoy their holiday without worrying whether the flights, accommodation, transfers, car hire and train reservations would all come together.

She admitted that she felt less anxious and safer. So here was a ‘Generation Y-er’ taking full advantage of good old-fashioned personal advice and experience.

Tech v personal touch

Are the machines coming? Will they take over our jobs? Tablets, smartphones, apps, laptops and all aspects of future technology were the buzz words at Abta’s Travel Convention in Dubrovnik.

Would our clients be booking holidays on their phones? Would computers be able to answer our questions and satisfy our every whim and desire? The atmosphere was thick with tweets criss-crossing the convention centre. We were being challenged by speaker after speaker, caught up in a maelstrom of technospeak.

The quote of the convention for me was when jeans-clad John Straw, chairman of Thomas Cook’s digital advisory board, expressed surprise that Nigel Huddleston, industry head of travel at Google, was not similarly clad (he wore a suit on stage). Do you have to wear jeans to understand computers?

And then we had the fightback from the traditionalists. Customer service expert Andrew McMillan spoke about how John Lewis and Virgin deliver a quality customer experience which has nothing to do with technology. And Baroness Susan Greenfield said the human brain was by far the best computer the world would ever see.

Ideas and service

The more technology enters the world of travel the more commoditised and boring our offerings will be. Technology is there to help us create, not do us out of the job of fashioning dreams. As my daughter will now testify, personal contact still counts.

There will always be room in the travel industry for those of us at both ends of the spectrum, providing we’re able to provide a mix of great holiday ideas and superlative service.

What the conference very cleverly did was to throw it all into the melting pot and force us to stand back and think.