The Road Less Travelled
I feel the future traveller will be more inclined to go on more personalised tours instead of group travel. They will want to try out different modes of transportation and be more tech-savvy but also want to have more face-to-face time.
Guests are looking for experiences and activities that cater to their interests. Even if they are travelling as a family, each member is looking at experiences that cater to their individual needs and interests.
The segment we cater to is generally over the age of 40 years, affluent, and tech-savvy. They are interested in something that is authentic and uncommon. They want to discover nooks and corners where locals dine instead of going to famous restaurants frequented by mass tourists.
My family and I spent 11 weeks in South America recently. Because we wanted to stay as a family, we mostly opted to stay at Airbnb homes, sometimes with hosts and sometimes without. At one particular accommodation, we got the chance to spend time with a host family, to exchange and share our stories and experiences with them. Money can’t buy that experience.
I feel more families are going to take time off from work and school and go on sabbatical holidays, just so that they can have a better understanding about life and the world in general. I think this is especially important for children because travel bridges cultures and gives them the opportunity to understand the differences and similarities of these cultures. No school can teach you like travel does. It shapes you as a person and teaches you very important life skills.
“Travel has taken a different shift in the last few years, especially long-haul travel. The online segment, which amounted to around 10 percent 2 -3 years ago, has now grown up to 20 – 30 percent, this is counting OTA bookings as well as online bookings hotels receive directly. With more millennials booking online, I think everyone, especially the travel agencies, are looking at ways they can be involved in this paradigm shift.
Some people say that there will be a time when travel agencies will have to close shop but I don’t think that’s true. Even big players such as Thomas Cooke and Kuoni are looking at ways to embrace this shift and get involved in this change. As a traditional company and destination management company that is focused on B2B sales, we have also invested in a new online platform that will help us cater to the B2B needs in the online segment.
Travellers are no longer bothered about star-rated accommodations. Instead they are focused on authentic experiences such as boutique hotels or homestays. This is starting to become a threat to the star-rated hotels, particularly during the off season, because smaller properties have lower rates which tends to attract more guests. In Sri Lanka, there are new destinations such as the north, Mannar, Batticaloa that are opening up. When the road networks for these are completed and when places like Kandy, Kurunegala and Hambantota are more accessible with highways, we can expect significant changes like the way Galle changed as a destination as soon as the highway was built.
“Some people say that there will be a time when travel agencies will have to close shop but I don’t think that’s true.”
High-end and High Value-add
Sanka Wijeyakulasuriya – General Manager of Hummingbird Travel
The concept of travel has evolved greatly since everything is now freely available online. People don’t necessarily depend on the advice of travel agents and with booking engines offering far more flexibility when it comes to cancellations, the price-sensitive traveller has far more options to choose from. Because everything is transparent, the traveller has a lot of bargaining power. They are looking at saving a few dollars here and there so that they could use that to get an upgrade at an accommodation.
If a company wants to sell a package to a group of price-sensitive travellers, they will offer competitive prices by cutting down on any value addition that is perhaps essential for the trip in order to close the deal. The profit in these types of sales is very small because the idea is to be competitive. Being part of a small company, I’m able to avoid the price-sensitive market altogether. It is not an easy decision but it is a decision I can make because I don’t have a large number of staff.
We focus on the high-end clients – the millionaires and billionaires, who do not have the time to go online and cross check prices but who is looking at someone they can trust and rely on. That’s where we come in. These clients have a high spending capacity and spend money on value additions whether it’s an experience or food and beverage.
I feel this is the way forward for the local travel agents. Companies that are well-established have good networks and that is what these clients ultimately want – someone they can trust and someone who can make their trip worthwhile.