CEO, Association of Serviced Apartment Providers (ASAP)
A decade ago, we bought travel on the high street. Airbnb was still about couch-surfing. We believed our eyes, as we booked our penthouse. How things have changed!
On the first day of this year, we entered a whole new decade.
While the top hotel brands have changed very little over those ten years they perhaps didn’t see the competition coming. These include the giant booking aggregators, with super-impressive websites and easy payment systems, offer great access to the market for the hotel chains – but still with huge commission. And Airbnb, still pretty much about couch-surfing; but maybe already nurturing plans to become the behemoth rental platform, international developer and finance house that emerges today.
Buying travel in 2010
So how did we buy our travel a decade ago?
Pretty much every high street had a travel agent, selling us all-inclusive honeymoons, football tickets, and unfathomable things like travellers’ cheques or niche insurance. But we knew where we were. We talked through our hopes with our uniformed booking agent and walked away with handfuls of brochures or paper tickets in a plastic envelope.
I’ve been turned away because my room is double-booked. And you try arguing with any of that… Book online, through an online travel agency (OTA), and suddenly images are for ‘illustrative purposes’ only…
Now we don’t need to sit face-to-face to book anything at all. We don’t even need to speak to a real person; there’s always a friendly bot right there. ‘Hi there, can I help (you spend money)?’ And we travel via QR codes on our smartphones.
Don’t believe your eyes!
During my many years across roles in hospitality, I used to be a hotel inspector. Pretty sussed, you’d think. But like anyone else, I’ve booked a penthouse online and arrived at a basement. I’ve been turned away because my room is double-booked. And you try arguing with any of that… Book online, through an online travel agency (OTA), and suddenly images are for ‘illustrative purposes’ only…
Imminently, Airbnb will move towards a multi-billion IPO, finally agreeing to check its 7 million listings exist at all, and are actually offering what guests expect. This, partly because it’s been called out over fraudulent listings and deaths in so-called ‘party houses’.
Sadly, Thomas Cook went under last year. We hear all the time about business rates, bricks and mortar, empty retail units and decreasing footfall. The way we shop is changing. More than 60% of consumers worldwide are now millennials, mainly mobile-led. But the travel shop gave confidence and trust to the consumer; they believed they’d get what they expected for their money.
All about trust
The OTAs have been called out by regulators worldwide over pressure selling, financial transparency and honesty. Airbnb is finally seeing the power of maintaining the consumer’s trust. Any traveller is entitled to believe their booking is legitimate, and in some way guaranteed; and that there’s a real person available to help, should they hit any issues along the way.
Whatever happens next, as an industry we need to clean up our act. It’s about so much more than simply providing journeys and rooms. Consumers need to get what they deserve from this transaction – and trust the system – or we risk them acting with their feet.
Here’s to a new decade of travel!