3 black swans signal that all is not what it seems in travel

Alex Tourski, the founder of izi.TRAVEL a free mobile storytelling platform, looks into the crystal ball and sees a networked world of ecosystems

Everybody talks about innovation, but not everything is as it seems. In the next three to five years, my view is that there may well be some black swans sailing in to further disrupt three much-talked about existing, and still emerging, travel industry trends - the growth in experiences, the rise of voice and the shift towards a platform-based economy. Let’s take a look at each of these more closely.

Trend 1: Experiences

Most people travel to learn, to bring back memories and share amazing stories of what they have encountered far from home. Platforms like GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, Klook and others, have sprung up support this and have boosted the market for human guides, attracting €1-billion in investment along the way. Investors have clearly bought into what many believe is an entrenched business model!

Black swan?Let’s face it, automation has the potential to replace hand-made production in any market. In the case of often costly human guides, a mobile phone can do it for free. My view is that not only will free mobile storytelling platforms eventually phase out human guides and the platforms that support their services, they will draw millions of talented storytellers and public funds into a story-telling ecosystem. At the same time, travel suppliers like hotels, cruise lines and mobile operators will promote the best tours, cities will begin to compete with theatrical quality experiences, and we should prepare to make discoveries, even in our home city!

With stories on every corner, it will change the way we travel. Spontaneity will make a comeback and people will need to plan less – just hop in your self-driving car and head north. Listen to stories en route (with car infotainment), take a off-the-beaten track detour to follow one you like.  

Trend 2. Voice

Most people are not yet taking voice-based assistants (VBA) like Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa seriously; they are still something of a novelty. However, very soon people will talk to their phones that will be equipped by their very own voice based assistant (VBA). Google report that 30% of search requests to mobile phones today are spoken.  A recent EyeforTravel industry survey found that over 70% of companies expect voice to have an impact within the next three years.

Black swan?

Today hotel investors channel millions into new brand development in a bid to win direct bookings and outperform the likes of booking.com and Expedia, often touted as the big bad OTAs.  However, in a future dominated by voice-based assistants, which will know the user’s every wish, desire and move, ‘brand’ will become far less relevant.

Get ready for a time when your Apple Siri VBA, which already understands your taste and preferences, based on past history, and can accurately predict what you want

Get ready for a time when your Apple Siri VBA, which already understands your taste and preferences, based on past history, and can accurately predict what you want. Expect messages along the lines of, ‘Oh, by the way, I booked a nice hotel for your next trip already’ or ‘Don’t worry, I’ve ordered your favourite pizza.  With brands holding much less power, businesses will be on their knees begging Google and Apple to be included in their next shortlist. Apps may even become obsolete: after all, who needs a weather app if Siri reminds you to take an umbrella?

Let me confess, at izi.TRAVEL we are already struggling to become the default storytelling feed for major VBAs and, like many businesses, we’re feeling a little scared. But this is not the fault of Amazon or Google, believe it or not, they might be scared too of what they have created. Forget democracy, in the future the power will rest with just a few ‘VBA dictators’.

Trend 3. Ecosystems

Conventionally, we used to think of innovation as a technical gadget. That’s a mistake.

Ships, trucks and trains are great technologies, but it was the simple rectangular box, the container, which changed the cargo industry forever. In the automotive space, other examples are Ford’s conveyor and Toyota’s ‘just-in-time’ system, which got rid of all storehouse. In other words, AI, AR, 3D, mobile apps and so on are all well and good, but these are not black swans exactly as the real change will come from ‘organisational innovation’.

To illustrate this with an example from the storytelling industry, ‘a museum app’, could be described as a technical innovation. But today this layer is often usurped by platforms like izi.TRAVEL, which offer a free and open marketplace for thousands of mobile guided tours.

These platforms, however, are nothing but a building block for a world full of ecosystems. At izi.TRAVELwe have already seen two emerging examples of the possibilities.

·         Storytelling smart city:When a large number of museums, storytellers, radio producers published guided tours in any city on our platform (+-200 per city), we found that the dense pattern of storytelling experiences attracted local businesses including everything from hotels to restaurants, buses and car rentals firms. Even mobile operators began to promote these free guided tours to attract customers.

An important lesson from this was that neither storytellers nor hotels can complete the business circle (creation + promotion) alone. However, collaboration, when there are mutual benefits, really works. An added bonus, too, and one with worthy social impact, is that guided tours are a perfect way to guide tourists away from overcrowded city centres!

·         Destination marketing: Often destination marketing organisations (DMOs) like the idea of free guided tours, but they want to access the best ones, that tick the boxes for quality. One possible option is to apply the Spotify business model to mobile storytelling. So, a DMO, for argument’s sake, pays a few cents per story to a traveller in their region.This is great for a city, as they pay for tours that actually have taken place, and it’s great for storytellers, which no longer need to apply for grant applications. It also creates a great market for populating all roads, cities, archaeological sites with guided tours. When stories are everywhere, car infotainment systems and VBAs will, no doubt, jump at the opportunity. As a result, travellers get stories for free, and some large organisations – funds, DMOs, corporations etc – pay for the show for their own reasons which could include everything from education to controlling overtourism, free-ing up grant funding and marketing.

In both the above ecosystem-based businesses, different stakeholders are pulled together and can benefit in a sustainable and profitable way. In the case of museum mobile apps, for example, which are often publicly funded and need updating as technology changes, this spend could be redirected into something with more longevity. Stories are around forever! 

Of course, platform-based businesses, like Airbnb, Uber, GetyourGuide and izi.Travel, continue to disrupt the way markets operate, but they are not the end of the road. The future lies in building ecosystems in an increasingly networked world.

So, remember if you see black swans coming, remember they are the opportunities.

Alex Tourski is the founder of izi.TRAVEL a free mobile storytelling platform. His views are his own

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