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Where there is Michael O'Leary, there is rarely a shortage of tension and disagreement - as well as entertainment value - one clear area of accord emerged in the keynote panel of The Economist's Future of Travel event: travel over the next decade will be increasingly personalised.
Luis Maroto, CEO of Amadeus, set the tone for the discussion of personalised travel, asserting that providers must take account of an increasingly informed and influential traveller."We need to really understand the traveller and to provide the right service with the right information, delivering the right offer at the right time through the right device, and with a personalised service," he said.
Amadeus CEO Luis Maroto at The Economist's Future of Travel event in Madrid.
Tony Tyler, the chief executive of IATA, agreed, saying that the key to delivering improved and personalised service was cooperation across the industry."There is a need for the entire travel value chain to take more direction from the needs of the customer. Too often the processes for cooperation are not aligned, we aspire to a seamless travel product, but it doesn't happen," he said. "Future travellers will expect seamless mobile throughout the journey. The key is working together to make these happen and keeping governments focused on providing infrastructure necessary."
O'Leary, who at various times during the panel railed against issues including European regulation and rising fares on some airlines, acknowledged that in the past his airline's attitude to passengers may have been somewhat dismissive, but said Ryanair increasingly believed it could offer low cost fares combined with personalised service."We have won on price. In every market we are in we win on price," he said. "Technology allows us to create a better environment, developing packages tailored to individual customers, and there are enormous opportunities for us - having won on price - to provide a more tailored and better service for our customers. We have much to learn from the hotel operators and other service providers. We don't have to sacrifice price leadership to provide a better service."
While there was optimism throughout the panel on the ability of the travel sector to continue to grow - particularly with demand in the emerging markets of Asia, the Middle East and Africa - one major area of concern was the potential inability of infrastructure supply to meet demand, particularly in the area of airports.
Tyler suggested that Europe in particular faced a potential airport crunch. "Everybody wants to travel," he said. "But nobody wants airports."
The airport issue was compared to that of the hotel world where supply was keeping pace with demand. Simon Vincent, President for EMEA at Hilton Worldwide, said the group had 1,300 new hotels in the pipeline, a little under a third of the group's exists portfolio, many in emerging markets."There's a shift in economic power and a huge middle class emerging in the east in general. If you looked at growth 7 years ago only 15 percent of our pipeline was outside the US, now it's over 70 per cent. Lack of great hotels in some of those emerging markets and we are meeting some of that demand."
Like O'Leary, Vincent said technology had a major role to play to ensure that demand met not only supply but the expectations of customers."Technology will be key, it goes to customer choice and control and a lot of work is being done to make sure we are selling to consumers in the way in which they want to buy," he said.
Maroto concurred, saying that technology companies such as Amadeus would work with customers across the industry to deliver on that promise: "The role of tech has been and will be very important, providing better organisation of the travel flow and experience so the right offer can be delivered at the right time."
Have a look at this collection of social media highlights from the event for more insights.