When the battle for space in the overhead locker heats up, there’s nothing I’d like more than to pull a Harry Potter and ‘apparate’ somewhere warm, sunny and crowd-free.
As you casually eye the security queues to see which one is moving faster and push the mystery meat and superglue inflight meal around listlessly with your plastic fork, I’ll know, like me, you’re longing for the Golden Age of travel to return. It was a time when glamourous air hostesses wearing heels would serve equally glamorously dressed passengers martinis and cordon bleu on white crockery.
It may be pertinent to highlight at this stage that the glamour wasn’t quite without its drawbacks – it took several days to get where you were going.
Despite today’s aircraft being littered with donut-pillows, over-sized hoodies and flip-flops, the good news is that it’s never been quicker, easier and more rewarding to travel.
We may have gone through a few decades where travel became highly commoditised, but I fully believe that with digitisation, certain elements of the travel journey are being influenced positively by a return to the values consumers held prior to the 1980s when travel consumption really ‘took off’.
What are those values? Demand for personalised experiences; those that go beyond tick-the-box travel and allow us to connect meaningfully with the people we meet and the places we go.
Today’s traveller wants the journey to be as pleasant as the destination, not simply a means to an end. They see travel as an essential part of their life and wellbeing. They expect a seamless experience – one that pre-empts any pain-points along the way and takes into account their personal needs and wishes.
The list is long and it’s ever-growing. While, as travel suppliers, we may not be under pressure to indulge my desire to ‘apparate’, it’s essential that we seek to understand fully what ’s important to the traveller to remain relevant, from inspiration phase to planning, to organising, to travel and on their return.
The same is true whether you’re a travel agent, a tour operator, an airline, an accommodation provider or even an airport.
An Irish coffee may have been satisfied travellers waiting to cross the Atlantic from Foynes in Ireland in the 1930s, but today’s airports have had to reinvent themselves to become retail and experience meccas, providing travellers with a smorgasbord of facilities like kids’ play areas, in-lounge spas, movie theatres, manicured gardens and even wedding chapels.
No longer content to just have a roof over their head, travellers now want their hotels to have personality.
From underwater resorts to cave hotels, glass igloos to tree-houses in Amazonian rainforests, there’s a move away from mass hotel accommodation to boutique stays; ones that you can boast about, not just a place to hang your hat for the night.
Similarly, travellers are moving away from wanting to see all the sights when they visit a destination. Rather, there’s demand for a fully immersive experience where they spend time with locals enjoying local pursuits and experiences.
A horse and carriage ride through Central Park now becomes a Parkrun with the New Yorkers. A search on Trip Advisor for the best place to eat pizza in Naples becomes a full cooking experience with a local family. You’ll remember these types of unusual and new experiences far longer than making sure you’ve ticked off all the sights. Think about it…
The world has become so connected digitally, I would argue these shifts are largely the result of our craving a more meaningful connection with the world and its people.
And I thank every day that I work in an industry that can deliver on that connection, even without a little Harry Potter magic to brighten one’s travels.
* These are the views of Sue Garrett, Flight Centre Travel Group GM Product and Marketing.