How do you do relevance in travel?

To be relevant is to blend human expertise and technology so harmoniously, like a musical maestro playing a beloved instrument, that you resonate with the traveller, perfectly in tune with their needs. As travel professionals, being the best at our craft should top our 2019 bucket list, with technology and the human element sharing the limelight. That’s being relevant in travel this year: getting it right by working smarter and making happy people out of travellers.

Put the person back in personalise

The one constant that many experts agree remains relevant amid shifting trends, is the human factor. The number 1 challenge for you this year is to maximise human interaction between the travelling community and your brand, and to put the personal back in personalise.

Travellers want you and they’ll respond far more favourably to the brand that knows them best.

It’s the alpha and omega of good service and your clients will willingly pay more for it.

Service with a face, a voice and a personality – these will become the great differentiator for your travel brand amid the cacophony of travel brands vying for attention.

What’s going to give you time and space to optimise that human interaction?

Tech, baby. (Imagine tech bringing in that bass note that holds the melody together.) Technology that gets your content working for you, even while you’re not; tech that shares your expertise with colleagues when you’re not there to help (and vice versa); tech that helps you organise better, communicate more efficiently and quote faster; tech that represents your brand everywhere, all the time, without your lifting a finger. With so much more of your day-to-day donkey work automated and taken off your load, you can focus the bulk of your energy and time where it matters: on your client. That’s the start of luxury service for the luxury travel market.

..focus on value things that can’t be done in an automated fashion…So our conversations are about their lifestyle on a holistic level & we’re there to advise them on how to plan their life through travel…our job is to specialize in our clients & to know the world.

Jack Ezon

They want to pay you to do it all for them because they don’t have the time to DIY, they don’t have your expertise, and well, they’re spoilt and as travel is an extension of their lifestyle, they want someone to ensure the creature comforts they’re accustomed to are catered for.

Time consulting on these and other travel essentials – what to do, what’s going to interest them, where not to bother going despite all the Instagram pics clamouring for their attention – that is time that can easily be converted in greater value.Literally, it could mean you sell more ancillary products; or more broadly speaking, the ROI of the time you spend providing excellent service is loyalty, best quantified by the promise of repeat and referral business.

Making travel easier for the traveller

Relevance is indulging the whims, fancies and expectations of the modern traveller – that sophisticated and mostly educated, but at the very least, tech savvy consumer who often won’t start a relationship on the basis of brand reputation.. If not experienced at travel, then they’re at least tuned into social communities with experience where recommendations and critique are liberally shared with prejudice and preference. You’ll be as hard pressed as ever to make an excellent first impression on that traveller – catch the eye, retain the attention and follow up with awe-inspiring content the likes of which has them imagining themselves in the experiences they want.

That’s another reason you’ll be selling less of those one-size-fits all tours in 2019 but more personalised itineraries.

You’ll give them what they want, not what any/everyone else seems to be doing, precisely because their whims are unique to them. Take an existing shell of a tour, tweak the hell out of it – this shouldn’t take you hours and it can take you minutes – and present it as if it were designed exclusively for them.

The lasting impression comes with what you do once you’ve hooked them with that prelude: sing them a reassuring lullaby with consistent messaging and regular communication, in a format and language convenient for them. ¿Se habla español? If they do, the itinerary you give them should too. At least. Al menos. Make it easier for them to find your products, to access you, to buy your tours, make it easier for them to travel, and in the final analysis, for you to sell travel.

Connect first, so they can disconnect and then re-connect

They’re on their phones, tablets or whatever mobile devices, online as a rule, for work, play and everywhere in between. Some of them, just as we are, are so plugged in, they don’t know where cyberspace ends and real life starts. Some will love it all the same, others will crave a disconnect for a holiday (and they’re growing in number).

But first: connect with them where they live on their devices with your content, made relevant because it’s easy for them to consume and interact with. Let them ask their questions, respond fast enough so they don’t have a chance (or need) to get a second opinion – always connected, accessible and available. Let’s face it: they own you for this time but that’s your passion; so you don’t mind. If you give them any other impression, like you’re only there to do the minimum, to crunch numbers, make a sale, and act the intermediary, you’ll lose them. Connect digitally to then connect on a human level.

Once you understand that your client has a desire to unplug, then the trend this year to visit far-flung, isolated, off-beaten track, less crowded, alternative destinations will make perfect sense. The more unique, the better. Those 2nd cities, next-in-line in the popular places pageant, the off-peak season autumn/fall spots, these are the places your traveller will be aching for in 2019. And lucky for our industry, those spots can be found just about everywhere. Just as well, because the anti-overtourism movement is gaining momentum.

Wherever you can identify these and other trendy spots, keep in mind that travellers will want to go there to disconnect from the Internet (best have your offline travel info nicely packaged on their phones so they can access it in the middle of nowhere). Disconnect from the world to connect with the self. I’m sorry, the moon was once a giant roll of cheese..

Watch out for the growth in conscious travel that will have travellers looking to brands that support their desire to minimise or mitigate the negative impact of their presence in favour of sustainable tourism; even zero waste. Re-connecting with the self is as much about engaging with the locals in-destination (empowering them and preserving their habitat), as it is about communing with nature, bonding with loved ones and having time alone.

We’re approaching a period of greater compassion in tourism and travel brands will have to get savvier about incorporating those values into their offering too. The UNWTO is promoting tourism as a driver for realising sustainable development goals worldwide, which puts us all on the same wholesome trajectory.

Respect the niche, service the niche

After a great deal of reading and research, I’ve come to the conclusion that travel has never been a more interesting subject than it is now. So much of it is unpredictable – as far as traveller tendencies go anyway – that the ‘mainstream’ has been left mostly diluted in favour of niche tourism and personalised experiences. It’s exciting to explore the widening world of interests prompting travel, making trendy destinations of all sorts of places, never previously or long since considered. And the instrumental role you play as the person trusted to realise the traveller’s bucket list dreams, means your job becomes as varied and interesting as the next big tourism draw card or trend.

Whatever it is that your traveller has identified as meaningful and enriching to them, that’s the niche you want to explore.

Being relevant means you respect the special interest and you service it as best as you can.

In 2019, factor in bite-size microtrips for clients short on time; skills-based holidays that enable learning and growth; volunteering holidays that enable learning and giving back; heritage trips to mark anniversaries – it’s 150 years since the birth of Gandhi and Panama City is 500 years old, for example; adventure trips for couples; philanthropic trips to locations recovering from natural disaster or conflict; activity holidays in ‘new’ locations away from the madding crowd; and all aspects of wellness travel with its irie new addition to the trend, CBD spa treatments.

This year’s predicted hot spots

Our friends in travel from Forbes Travel Guide and Intrepid Travel to Conde Nast and many more, predict that new hotels and museums opening up, as well as events, will be major draw cards for destinations. Airlines opening up new routes will also invite visitors to new destinations. Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe are front runners among the trendy African destinations. Indonesia and India keep their popularity in the year ahead, with Japan being the new must-see Asian destination. Australia is in for a bumper year, if forecasts are accurate.

In the Americas, Brazil and the Canadian landscapes remain perennial favourites, while the Caribbean will get its fair share of attention following a tough weather period. Foodies and Instagrammers will continue to make everywhere popular; so dig out the potential in your destinations and make it shine!

Getting the right content to tell the story of your experiences is where your performance starts and ends.

It all comes back to tech. When it’s in tune with what your clients want, it strums the heart strings – it’s emotional and evokes an emotional response. It’s a multi-media onslaught on the senses that moves the viewer sufficiently to take action. Use imagery that puts human faces at the centre of the action; inspirational quotes will work better for them than statistics about how many people visited a tourist site last year. Remember, travellers want proof that you’re talking directly to them through your content and that you understand their needs. That is ultimately what it means to be relevant.

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