Many have fallen since 2018. Over the space of just a few months, seven airlines went bankrupt, the most well-known being Germania, Aigle Azur and XL Airways. With their business models based mainly on the low cost tourist transport segment, they have been joined by struggling tour operators, such as Thomas Cook UK, whose failure recently made the headlines… Not to mention the many travel agents that are inevitably suffering.
The digital transformation of the tourism ecosystem was probably the first of its kind. The term 'e-tourism' has been in use for some fifteen years now and there have been many success stories. Very early on, and in response to the emergence of giants such as Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor, tourism players both big and small have made the transition to digital. Commensurate with resources invested, the results of this adaptation to a fast-changing customer relationship have determined the survival of most players.
However, there are no longer any companies that are "too big to fail" in this sector. There are many factors involved in this series of collapses: management failures, senior executives who look the other way to make a good impression with shareholders, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, volatile currency markets, a return of rising fuel prices and, quite simply, a lack of customers. Long-haul journeys and air travel are becoming decreasingly popular due to their impact on the environment. As for travel agents, they are in the front line when an airline goes bankrupt.
The fragility of struggling players is also directly related to the satisfaction of their customers. Customers who are "abandoned" hundreds of miles away from home will not be inclined to sing the praises of the companies that sold them the service or trip, whose reputations therefore suffer as a consequence.
We are all familiar with the controversy surrounding cruise ships, which leave local communities no other choice than to apply quotas, deny access or simply flee.
Because of their huge impact on the environment and local populations, tourists are beginning to change their habits. Whatever their destination or the distance travelled, tourists today take environmental responsibility into consideration. In the same way as people are going local for their food, they are thinking local for their holidays, with new approaches including slow tourism, air transport alternatives, the sharing economy and more frequent but less distant travel, to explore regional destinations and local attractions.
82% of people in France prefer planning their trip personally to meet their specific needs and desires. Each household has its own expectations. It is essential to personalise the customer relationship: understanding customers makes it possible to meet their needs more closely. Given the degree of tourists' expectations, a virtuous circle must be created that makes service quality a core concern.
Innovation and digital investments are decisive in order to be in phase with new uses, which now extend to all population and age segments. Technological and digital innovation are an effective way to address the frustration felt in the face of tourist hot spots that have become inaccessible due to the number of visitors.
The first area of action: the many imaginative apps provided by tourism players, as well as startups, which are growing in number every year, offering a vast array of digital innovations in order to create a fresh tourism experience. This is the case of the startup Muse du Voyage, with its solution built using Open Data sources that automatically identifies cultural links between tourist attractions in order to offer an alternative to "standardised holidays". France is a major driving force in Europe, with initiatives such as France Tourisme Lab, which brings together e-tourism incubators from various French regions and helps innovative startups revitalize the tourism sector.
We will off course never stop hardened globe trotters from taking long-haul flights to seek unique experiences on the other side of the world, but, once again, when they arrive, these travellers are adopting new uses and looking to consume more responsibly. In the realm of User Experience, travellers remain omnipotent kings in search of authenticity and humanity. It is uses that create innovations; not the other way round... And the aircraft industry has never been in better shape.
Alix Howard, Change Management Consultant