Global Tourism – It’s (not Only) About Technology

  • Global Tourism – It’s (not Only) About Technology   

Global tourism faces unprecedented challenges: climate crisis, skills shortage, digitalization. Yet, at ITB Berlin Convention 2024, the industry showcased confidence and pioneering spirit.

Over 24,000 guests and more than 400 speakers discussed ideas and impulses for travelling in the 21st century. The industry wants to become fit for the future with intensive collaboration, new guiding principles and the use of artificial intelligence.

The tourism industry has a leading role to play in the fight against the climate crisis. At the three-day ITB Berlin Convention as part of the world’s largest tourism trade show ITB Berlin, it became clear that the industry has a wide range of options and ideas for reducing emissions and resource consumption, protecting biodiversity and achieving climate protection goals. The urgency of these tasks was repeatedly emphasised in Berlin not only by company representatives but also by external consultants: Bruno Oberle, President of the World Resources Forum, called on the specialist audience to act quickly and decisively: “Set yourself targets, preferably ambitious targets, and create databases so that you can steer and drive your industry forward. Transform, change and report”.

The range of measures discussed at the convention was broad: projects to protect biodiversity in holiday regions, greater involvement of local initiatives for climate protection, but also more radical ideas such as limiting flight routes and flight capacities made for lively debates. Jeremy Sampson, CEO, Travel Foundation, appealed to the tourism industry to aim for net zero emissions by 2030. He presented a strategy focussing on the regulation of air travel and forty measures to achieve sustainable tourism by 2050.

The customer is at the centre of many of the ideas discussed at the convention: transparency and comparability are seen by the industry as key factors in making it easier for consumers to make climate-friendly decisions. Many speakers were convinced that increasing the visibility of CO2 emissions would influence customers’ decisions in favour of sustainability and increase demand for sustainable products. The willingness to tackle such a change was noticeable in many places at the convention: “We want to make the carbon footprint of travel products visible at the point of sale because we are convinced that this will make sustainable booking decisions much easier and ultimately lead to a more climate-friendly offer,” emphasised Swantje Lehners, CEO, Futouris.

However, the discussions at the convention also showed that increased cooperation within the industry is necessary in order to implement changes. “We all need to work together to display sustainability information that is consistent and contextualised,” emphasised Jessica Matthias, Director of Sustainability, Sabre. Modern data management and artificial intelligence should also help to achieve the desired goals. It has become essential for the industry to use valuable data efficiently to optimise resources and prevent greenwashing.

Artificial intelligence and its potential applications were also a key topic outside of the sustainability debates, dominating many forums and events at the convention. The expectations of the new technology are far-reaching: the industry hopes that the use of AI will provide impetus in terms of optimising operational processes, communication with customers and resource management, for example. Glenn Fogel, CEO of the booking platform Booking, is convinced that AI can also provide customers with crucial support when planning their holidays. However, the industry’s ambitions with regard to AI go much further. The possibility of AI putting together complete service packages for customers no longer seems far away: “We all dream of creating an Amazon-like travel experience. This will soon be possible,” emphasised Gary Wiseman, EVP & Chief Product Officer, Sabre.

However, before this happens, many tourism players must first gain experience with AI and go through a learning curve. “The travel industry needs to familiarise itself with the use of AI,” said travel tech consultant Leila Summa, but also warned against false and exaggerated expectations. The new technology will not replace human labour, but those who use it effectively will have an advantage over others, she explained.

However, the current shortage of skilled labour shows that not every challenge in tourism can be overcome by technology alone. In order to make the industry more attractive to young talent and skilled workers, numerous contributions emphasised the need for new guiding principles and more diversity in many places. The urgency of these tasks is beyond question, as the shortage of skilled labour will continue to preoccupy the industry in the coming years.

The readjustment of training content and requirement profiles appears necessary in order to improve the situation and reverse the trend. “For many people, tourism acts as a gateway to the labour market. The most important question is: How can we make the industry more interesting so that people stay in tourism?” emphasised Corné Dijkmans, Director of the Breda University of Applied Sciences. His institute’s most recent study on the subject showed that digital skills and sustainability competences are becoming increasingly important for working in tourism. Employers should also pay more attention to the personal and cultural skills of their applicants in future: “The biggest skills gaps in tourism are in the social and cultural areas. Skills such as empathy and the ability to learn are becoming increasingly important,” believes Dijkmans. For futurologist Rohit Talwar, diversity and collaboration are the key to combating the labour shortage: “It will be crucial to train our own staff accordingly. We need to train customer-centric employees who are able to deal with problems in real time.”

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