Travel and tourism are big businesses; this can’t be said enough. People love to travel and explore their environments, whether near or far. They are pulled by stories; history, photographs, culture, nature and other people. Most of us are naturally curious and want to know about and/or visit places other than where we’re from and see how others live. So the tourism industry pulls great numbers of people and makes big bucks.
Countries invest a lot in their tourism products in an effort to maximise their numbers – both people and dollars. They hire consultants and experts to advise them; manage, maintain, improve and market their destinations. Airlines, hotels, attractions, tour companies, restaurants; they all make huge profits from tourism. Individuals – the regular man or woman – also make a living from tourism, but the regular guy gets just a meager slice when compared to the big guys. The fact is that Capital is king; you need money to do business and the small guy just doesn’t have enough.
But things are changing. The market is changing; tourists are changing; and opportunities abound now more than ever. The 3S’s model of tourism is no longer the main pull-factor today; tourists want authentic experiences that are not necessarily found in the resorts; a ‘sharing’ economy has emerged, and technology is the driving force behind it. Technology has changed just about everything about society and how people operate within it today.
The way we do business, communicate, teach, learn and travel are now strongly influenced by technology. So, naturally, tourists – who are people just the same – operate under the influences of technology. This is even more so for millennials, like myself. Tourists are usually expected to go through middlemen to book their vacations, book hotels, and organise transportation. Some tourists do continue using middlemen, but now they have more options that allow them to bypass these guys through an online platform. This not only gives them greater options, but saves them money or allows them to maximise every dollar they spend – whether it’s a few dollars or a lot.
This impacts where we choose to vacation, where we choose to stay, how we travel while on vacation, and how we book both accommodations and flights. Feedback is virtually immediate and its impact spreads quickly, which can either make or break a brand. Which brings us to marketing; this can either be done through the middleman, as has always been the case, or directly via social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
The Sharing Economy
People are more connected than ever before through the internet, and smart phones. Peer-to-peer (P2P) accommodation is on the rise. Tech companies make it easy to book almost every aspect of the travel and tourism experience from an app, connecting provider and user seamlessly. Uber, Airbnb, and Booking.com are great facilitators that provide greater options and more convenience to travelers and tourists. And for the transportation and accommodation companies like Uber and Airbnb, ordinary people – other than the usual hotel workers – can get a slice of the travel and tourism pie.
This is particularly impactful for people in rural communities – those off the beaten track – as they get to tap into the income earning opportunities within the sharing economy. A rural family can rent a spare room in their home on a short-term basis with decent returns. The farmer can offer tourists an experience by teaching them farming for a price. Technology brings both parties together to facilitate this exchange – the tourist wanting an authentic experience and the provider offering that experience at a cost – and the only middleman is the online platform that brings them together.
Technological developments; P2P sharing; experiential travelers; all these form part of the disruptive trends of today, which can only grow and change further. They ‘disrupt’, but they force us to grow and change the way we operate. Most of all, they provide opportunities to those who were once excluded, or those limited by their options, connections and finances. The tourist gets greater options, greater value for money, and can give feedback that impacts other tourists’ choices, as well as the service provider’s business. More service or experience providers are emerging and taking a piece of the tourism pie. This is an exciting time to be alive; to watch and experience all that is emerging. Let’s see where technology and the disruption take us next.