When I look back over my 40-plus years in this industry, I realise there never was a time when we had stability and certainty.
Listed, as I remember them, in no particular order, the events include the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the three-day week, the miners’ strike, the Falklands war, the bombing of Libya by the Americans, the oil crisis, two Gulf wars, the Lebanese civil war, foot and mouth disease, 9/11, the ash cloud, Sars, Ebola, Isis, terrorism and the migration crisis – and these are just the external factors affecting our businesses.
There have also been our industry’s own internal crises to contend with: the collapses of Court Line, Laker, ILG, XL and Lowcost Holidays, among others. Plus, there have been the regulatory and economic impacts: the birth of the Atol system, the Package Travel Directive, VAT on Toms, and more.
On top of this we’ve had the banking crisis, the economic slumps and booms, and now Brexit.
Yet these events, significant though they have been, have only been hiccups in the exponential growth of travel.
It’s the innovations in our industry that bring about a step change in how we work. Following the liberalisation of European airspace earlier this century, the no-frills carriers – aided by massively increased internet use – took the industry by storm, all while nobody was looking.
Suddenly, the public were in control of the booking process and the traditional players were forced on to the back foot. Technology companies now dominate the marketplace, affording the travelling public enormous choice and the tools to self-package.
The aim of this week’s Abta Travel Convention in Abu Dhabi is to prepare and inform us about what may lie ahead so that we can plan.
Yes, some time will be spent on issues that currently occupy our minds. But we will spend far more time looking ahead – looking at trends and questioning how we need to position ourselves to cope with the innovations of the future that will once more throw the industry into turmoil.
It is not a question of if the next innovation will arrive, but when, and how swift the impact will be.
We will all doubtless be buying electric cars in the next five years, and it’s quite clear that space travel is just around the corner – but what will the consumer of the future be like?
What will those aged 80 to 100 want to do on holiday? How will he or she wish to travel? Will the future still belong to the cruise industry? Will people be able to afford to travel or will the virtual world, in which more and more young people seem to live, prove more popular, satisfying and realistic than the ‘real thing’? Will we need aircraft or will we be teleported to our destinations and, if so, what role can the travel agent or tour operator play?
It will indeed be a brave new world, and the path to it will have winners and losers. The Travel Convention in Abu Dhabi may just help give you the competitive edge that makes the difference.