Travel – paradoxes, realities and opportunities

We’ve all got “those” travel stories from experiences we will never forget.  Day one had some interesting experiences with travel companies, although nothing (yet) like the stories we could all tell.

It’s hard not to analyse with the sheer number of flights, cars, trains, buses and taxis I’m going through and have ahead of me.

Already the experiences have been full of paradoxes.  Hopping on a bus that still checks people in with a piece of paper despite all the booking being done online.  Compared to Air New Zealand where from the comfort of my own seat I can tap a food and drink request into the screen and two minutes later they are delivered.

San Francisco airport was also a paradox.  On one hand they embrace Lyft, Sidecar and Uber (see photo below) along with a smooth free AirTrain between terminals.  Then the shambles of trying to pay for a train ticket by putting money into a machine first, then having to do mental arithmetic between a sign and the machine to calculate what your fare is right down to 5 cents, hoping you’ve pressed the right button for your ticket and then collecting your piles of coins.  The BART train was fast once I got on it I have to admit.

App based transport at SFO

The point is that the travel industry like every other industry is undergoing a significant disruption with technology (now that’s a whole another blog post on its own). How that impacts different locations is already playing out but with a lot more impact to come I suspect.

The likes of Skyscanner and Webjet are sitting over the top of airlines own websites, with travel agents still somewhere in the mix.  Uber and Lyft are grabbing market share from taxi and shuttle companies causing large scale protestsTripadvisor and mean you don’t have to pick up the phone again to book accommodation.  Airplanes are getting bigger and city airports are getting busier whilst airplanes at the bottom of the market are reducing in size, and smaller airports are seeing services reduced or stopped.

With travel services that can be purchased from a distance such as accommodation, then small locations get just as much upside from technology as cities, if not more.  Not matter what size your location, it can potentially receive a much higher profile than previously, and more quickly and cheaply.  You don’t have to wait for the next print run of Lonely Planet to see more customers flowing through the door – you are judged instantly for better or worse!  However, if you have an average product (hotel, transport, experience, town) there is no hiding.

For ‘on the ground’ service like car transport, there seems to be two markets.  Either you have competition in the cities or if you are in the provinces you don’t.  In other words, scale matters: if you are big enough there will be a market for new technology along with first mover advantage.  Will this change – could small towns be on Ubers list of locations in future?  What would that result in – will we see pensioners transporting people around small towns in their cars to top up their income as populations age?  Is there any way locations can become early adopters or trial places for new technologies?

So much of travel is still about the people you interact with on the ground so can these experiences be better leveraged and used as an advantage?  Much like the way New Zealand as a country has done so in differentiating itself from other larger countries.  Can people engage better and more authentically outside cities because life is more laid back or is the quality of product and/or service not what people expect compared to cities?

Doing some user stories on travellers would be interesting to flesh out just what more opportunities there are.


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