This is an executive perspective from Antonella Vecchio, Sabre's vice president Western Europe and Online EMEA.
Travel is my passion. I’ve spent my entire career in industry, starting at Alitalia and then moving to Sabre where I have been fortunate to take on a number of interesting and highly rewarding responsibilities. When Sabre is looking for new talent, we characterize our work as “Tech obsessed. Travel inspired.” I think this describes me down to a T. I am continuously fascinated by the scale and complexity of this beautiful, messy industry that moves well over a billion travelers every single year. Reducing this complexity and making travel easier, safer and more convenient through technology is an awesome challenge and I count myself very lucky to be part of it.
Aside from professional aspects, there’s the personal dimension. Travel can be exciting, enriching and often just plain fun. Ibn Battuta, a 14th century Moroccan traveler and scholar wrote “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”. I think that sentiment still holds completely true today. Even as we are seeing the emergence of connected intelligence and digital realities, travel provides us with experiences we couldn’t have any other way.
A bit about Simon
Travel touches all of us in a different way and I particularly enjoy meeting other “storytellers” to share ideas and learn from their experiences.
At Sabre’s Online Executive Summit in London I recently had the chance to chat with Simon Reeve, traveler extraordinaire and worthy heir to Ibn Battuta. Simon is a best-selling author and TV presented who has traveled to more than 110 countries while producing popular and critically acclaimed documentary television series for the BBC.
It is fair to say that travel made Simon what he is today. Growing up, he didn’t have the opportunity to see the world (aside from one camping trip to France). He left school with few qualifications, opted not to go to university, instead living on welfare for a time and doing an assortment of odd jobs from stacking shelves to delivering newspapers.
It was when he started traveling that he gained a new perspective of the world, an understanding of global issues, and an appreciation of human nature. For Simon, travel opened a wealth of experiences and shaped the way he’s looking at the world.
He told me that he really appreciates that with the advent of online and budget travel, a much larger number of people today have the opportunity to travel than at any point in history. For much of human history, traveling for leisure was limited to a select few, while today we are seeing the democratization of travel.
For many people traveling is an indispensable part of a good quality of life. In the UK for instance, a recent PwC survey revealed that despite the volatile state of pound, maintaining spending on their main holiday remains a priority for British consumers for the next year. EY expects three billion people, mostly in emerging countries, to enter the middle class by 2030 – this gives millions and millions of people the opportunity to travel and see the world.
We can only hope that more of us decide to travel the way Simon does. He’s never just a visitor but immerses himself into the local scene. He takes risks, goes out of his comfort zone and sometimes exposes the not entirely catalogue-ready underbelly of a destination. He told me that he has acquired memories that will stay with him for the rest of his life from every single place to which he has traveled.
“Nowhere is boring. Take risks. The world is safe, welcoming and incredibly hospitable," says Simon.
Most of us probably wouldn’t take some of the risks Simon takes. For example visiting a gang-run prison on San Pedro Sula, Honduras. But I think that most of us would benefit from pushing ourselves a little further.
And it’s not only to the benefit of the individual.
Simon pointed out to me that traveling can help make the world a better, safer place. Building relationships across societies and nations is critical to avoiding conflict. Tourism breaks down stereotypes and barriers and creates bonds that cannot be broken.
Lessons learned from a globe-trotting storyteller
At the end of our conversation, I asked Simon what he would recommend travel businesses do to make their customers happier and their business more successful. Here’s what he said:
- Push your customers a little. Encourage them to go out of their comfort zone and do to do more than they are initially comfortable with. But be gentle about it – everyone’s comfort zone is different. There is no one-size-fits all approach.
- Talk about experiences rather than products. This is what your customers will remember.
- Make inspiration a focus, your customers will appreciate it. Be wary about asking your customers what they want – in many cases they might not know.
- Give people information beyond hotel facilities and leisure activities. Educate them. People need to know more about where they are going – making people fall in love with a place takes knowledge and information.
- Speak about the social impact and the benefits of travel. Tell your customers how they are contributing to the local communities at their destination – people care about this
- Be honest in your marketing. Accept the light and the dark of a destination and paint a realistic picture. Travelers don’t expect places to be perfect.
- Make it personal. Build connections. Share experiences. Just one example: Feature your staff on your websites and have them curate trips and destinations for customers.
When you are involved in the travel industry, it is easy to get lost in technical details. Talking to someone like Simon reminds us what travel is all about and what it means to people across the world.
Do you want to be part of the conversation? Join me at Sabre’s #TTXLondon where we’ll explore the relationship between trust, technology, and travel at this year’s London Tech Week. Find out more and register for free here.