The future of travel in the post covid world | Ana Jakimovska, CEO Of Culture Trip
I will start with a confession — I’m relatively new to the travel industry (with just 3 years under my belt) and whilst being a CEO in Travel, I still have lots to learn about what seems to be a fascinating industry. But I feel incredibly fortunate, as I am in the perfect place to do so — a fast paced and ever-evolving travel start-up, surrounded by a brilliant team of travel and subject matter experts.
A few facts help me contextualize the high level view of where things are at present; The global travel industry was worth £7 trillion before Covid and yet there is scarcity in the value opportunity for the travel companies — they represent only 10% of the consumer space in the stock market with holidays only 2%. As the pendulum of macro economic events swings from devastation to recovery, it is the travel industry that seems to be following it the closest. Unsurprisingly, the 2 years of various Covid induced lockdowns have been severely affecting all areas of travel, and in the same vein, the recovery on the back of pent up demand has come fast and all at once. The reported revenues by companies vary from 75% recovery to pre pandemic level to exceeding it by as much as 20%.
Being at Culture Trip, during the pandemic and at present, I believe I experienced the worst hit to the industry in recent history and the best in terms of recovery over a short period of time. For me in particular, the last three years have been an emotional rollercoaster professionally — running a travel startup and keeping a team motivated was hard especially when the levels of business uncertainty were off the charts. Interestingly, it was the travel folks in my team who were the calm and composed force during this time. Their experience in the industry taught them travel is cyclical but always comes back — this matched their career paths, embossed with multiple redundancies and uplifting periods of professional growth. For someone with a computing background and technical skills always in demand, I found this unusual, but even more unusual was the tenacity with which people keep coming back to travel even when forced to temporary work in different industries when things get tough. Ultimately the answer is that travel, and in particular the small group tour operators, are enabled and driven by human relationships and perpetual loyalty to employers. This is something I also find unusual, especially because in the tech and digital industry where I come from, the loyalty to the employer in the millennial and Gen Z workforce is largely driven by purpose, pace for career progression and interesting problems to solve. The moment an employer stops providing any of these, folks move on.
Like I said, lots for me to learn but also to contribute by cross pollinating my disruption thirsty, data driven tech approach to the traditional models and established ways in which the neverending demand for travel is being serviced. My observations so far, with few exceptions, is that on the tech side, travel has been largely undisrupted. On the marketing side it is a similar case but a slightly more mature picture. The acquisition routes are largely managed by paid spend or via loyal audiences acquired over a long period of time. An observable shift in finding customers is exploring content marketing for acquisition as an alternative route to paid marketing, especially with Google maneuvering towards owning the top of the funnel by introducing their own travel modules within search. In terms of the climate crisis, as the most pressing societal issue, some progress is made in exploring and introducing more responsible ways to travel with initiatives trying to reduce the carbon footprint of the trips, exploring how the revenues stay locally where the services are provided and finally acknowledging the shift in consumer trends towards experiential and purposeful travel that is good for the planet. What this means is that travel-post covid = lots of big opportunities.
Those opportunities will most likely be addressed after the high of the pent up demand and the chaos of resourcing gets resolved or settled. And with an enthusiasm of a straight A student after doing my research, I would bet on:
- Further explosion of the ‘experience economy’ with a focus on authenticity and storytelling
— Greater focus on curation and move from low cost service model
— Sustainable and responsible travel embedded deeper into purchasing decision making
— Tech wise more focus on utilizing data for forecasting and personalisation, consolidated tech infrastructure via APIs and microservices, proliferation of payment methods and better user experiences
— From a marketing point of view: focus on content and influencer marketing and increased role of CRM
So what does that mean for Culture Trip? Well, I wholeheartedly believe we are set up to ride this wave of opportunity. To start with, we have a whopping (and unfaltering) 10 million users coming to our site and app for our award winning travel recommendations by local insiders. And currently are providing our users with small group multi-day itinerary TRIPS around adventure, food and drink, culture and sailing (soon) and in a way that is good for the world, with a view to be net zero as soon as possible. We are excited about the future of travel and all prepared for the work now required to succeed.