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  • 10.11.10

Follow the Buffalo

In the global economic downturn that everyone seems to be saying is “over” (who am I to judge?) the travel sector was hit pretty hard.

Lately I’ve been reading about
a few interesting innovations in travel–which probably shouldn’t come as a
surprise, since that’s what I write about. In fact, I spend most of my time
looking for innovative stuff from the business and corporate travel side of the
industry. From everything I can tell, however, the true innovations in travel
are coming from the leisure side. Putting aside my disappointment, I feel a bit
left out–like I’m rooting for the wrong side. Still, it’s not like watching
the Yankees win (I’m from Beantown). Frankly, this development is great for all
of us and only natural.

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See, in the global
economic downturn that everyone seems to be saying is “over” (who am
I to judge?) the travel sector was
hit pretty hard. This is consistent with market trends; travel indices are
always closely linked to GDP/GNP changes. This time around, though, we noticed
something in the numbers which was quite interesting–leisure travel didn’t
experience the downturn that corporate travel did. Indeed, it wasn’t even
close.

The reason this is a
letdown is because in my particular field I’ve soaked up a lot of well-meaning
kvetching about the lack of innovation in business travel. Of course, I’m part
of the chorus, but let’s be honest here–the bread and butter for the next
five to 10 years for the travel sector is going to be the leisure traveler: the
people who work hard and save up for a special travel experience and are highly
unlikely to cancel it in the event of a bad fiscal quarter. Furthermore, they’re
more likely to invest and participate in innovative travel experiences, thus
reinforcing these things.

What things? Well, of late
there’s a lot of talk about the Total Experience. Airports are, let’s face it,
uncomfortable and sometimes downright nasty places. Airlines are correct in
their assumption that some people will pay a premium to be escorted through a
Premium Security Line and directed to a Fancy Schmancy Lounge prior to their
flight. A couple in their late sixties going on a long-dreamt-of trip to Africa
are highly likely to pony up for the airport limousine transfer, rather than
get dumped in a strange, remote airport where they will be approached (with all
their luggage, mind you) by cab drivers who may or may not be in the
increasingly lucrative kidnapping business.

(I’ll guess that “kidnapper”
is a dated term, like “janitor” or “nanny.” Sorry, I just
haven’t kept up with the latest and greatest politically correct nomenclature. Euphemism
is a tough gig these days.)

Here are a couple of good
indicators for this stuff: one is the report that I
mentioned a few weeks ago, which mentions several impacts of changes in tastes,
buyer profiles, and the results of emerging middle classes in some nations
driving new traveler behavior. Another is the growing influence of groups like
the Adventure Travel Trade Association, or ATTA, which is hosting their Adventure Travel World Summit this
week. Check it out–these people are promoting and advocating one of the
fastest-growing and most successful travel sectors, one that serves people who
are demanding a bit more from their hard-earned time off.

This business of wanting
to be cared for is what sets apart the live, professional travel
agent
. I’ve gone into this before, but now I have way more backup. Only the
pros can give you the real end-to-end service and see through the details that
create a great experience. When it comes to that trip you’ve been waiting so
long for, you don’t gamble just to avoid a small-price, high-value booking fee.

At this point I should
probably say something about “Social Networking Web Sites” or “The
Internet: 2.0.” But I’m not quite sure what to take away from most of
those articles I’ve read or presenters I’ve seen, so I guess I won’t go into
it.

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Anyway, this is a good
thing! For a long time spending on biz travel has outpaced that for leisure
travel. Biz travel spending inevitably will come back, but the industry has
learned where the juicy fruit is, not just the low-hanging variety. All of us
can probably rejoice in the fact that we’ll see more offbeat and fun hotels, as
pointed out by fellow Fast Company-er
Suzanne Labarre in one
cool blog post
. Or that we may be seeing more routes, competition, and thus
fare decreases in markets like Brazil, with a quickly growing base of outbound
travelers.

There’s
a good counter-argument that the metaphorical “buffalo” will return
to the plains of the guys who go to D.C. every single week or have to do
PowerPoints in different cities three times a month. But based on the current
data, I’m looking forward to the next few years of innovations and improvements
that the above-described traveler profile will demand. I think catering to them
will be a healthy, challenging exercise for the rest of us in the business.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com

About the author

I travel a lot, like many of us. And I work for Amadeus, the largest transaction processing and IT company in the world serving the travel industry.

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