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The CEO Story: World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit: ‘Transforming our World’

I had the privilege to attend this year’s WTTC 2017 Global Summit in Bangkok (April 26-27) with the theme ‘Transforming our World’. I thought it would be interesting to share some of the summit’s moments and insights with you, and its relevance to our destinations in Asia. This CEO story is therefore not on my usual travel, but is about the challenges key tourism stakeholders believe our industry is facing today, as well as the transformation it will bring.

The WTTC Global Summit is also called the ‘Davos of the travel industry’. Rightly so, as the speakers not only included celebrities and CEOs from the private industry but also ministers and senior government representatives.

Among the prominent speakers this year were the Rt Hon David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the UK (2010-2016); H.E. General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand; H.E. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports of Thailand; Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, World Tourism Organisation; CEOs from the hotel industry including Marriott and Hyatt; CEOs from the aviation industry including AirAsia and ANA; the CEO from Thomas Cook Group and Agoda; senior representatives of conservation groups; NGOs; and senior representatives from virtually every field of the tourism trade.

Discussions were held on globalisation, sustainability, inequality, safety and security including the threat of terrorism, crisis management, freedom of travel, speed of information, technology, wildlife conservation and the protection of flora and fauna, economies of scale, economic balance, the future customer, the future of Asia (or should I say ‘The future is Asia?), responsible and responsive leadership, and many more.

I must admit I left the 1 ½ day summit trying to gather my thoughts on everything I had heard and seen, and what it means for my company and my business. I could write 20 pages on what were discussed, but instead I will limit myself to two key topics: Disruption by the consumer and the scale of Asian travellers.

China today counts about 100 million international outbound visitors. You think this number is huge? By 2030 China will have about 600 million middle class citizens, and most of them will want to travel. And where will they travel to as their first destination? Asia and ASEAN countries. If you thought that you are seeing ‘too many Chinese’ today, just multiply this number by six. Putting this into a regional context: Today there are about 10 million Chinese visitors to Thailand out of a total of 32 million tourists. In 2030, the number could increase to 60 million!

I don’t mean to sound negative with the above facts. I highly respect the energy and dynamism of the Chinese consumer, but what I want to show is the scale of what is going to happen. If we thought that the Chinese consumer is a ‘disruptive consumer’ today, we have to realise that we are at the very beginning of what is going to happen. Thinking about the Indian consumer and the Indian middle class, we are going to see growth scenarios of an unprecedented scale. Protection of resources and sustainability will be crucial topics in the development of our destinations.

Today’s consumer and the future consumer will continue to disrupt our modus operandi. Technology will play an even more important role in the future. Ease and speed of information is crucial today, but it will become even more important in the future. Flexibility and the freedom of travel will become the right of every global citizen. Experiences is the name of the game. The sharing economy will have a tremendous influence on how we think and on what we do. Sounds familiar?

We all know we need to change, adapt and foresee what these disruptions will mean to our companies and our businesses. But are we really aware of its scale and its effect on the tourism trade?

I’m not going to answer these questions. If you are interested to find out what the speakers had to say on these issues please read the articles in the international media, as the summit was widely covered by them, and WTTC.

What I would like to do, however, is tell you what Asian Trails will continue to do:

We believe in the power of people, and that our trade will continue to be a ‘people industry’. We will always put our customer first. There is not ‘one big bag’ that contains all our customers, but several ones distinctly being looked after by our professional multi-lingual teams catering to their specific preferences and needs.

Our distribution is multi-channel B2B, and will continue to be so. Our Asian customer base is gaining in importance and growing faster than our traditional long haul businesses, but every customer will always have the full attention of the Asian Trails’ management and team.

We will continue to be innovative and push our ‘Explore’ product range even more. We understand that today’s consumer is hungry for experiences besides wanting to visit main tourist sites, and we will cater to those needs.

We are a good player in the industry and support communities in their sustainability efforts, not as part of our marketing efforts but in real life. We will work with governments in protecting the environment and tourist sites, and advise them on what we believe the priorities have to be.

We are working on the future of our technology and have embarked on a massive project years ago, which we are presently rolling out. This will not only enable instant online bookings and confirmations, but will link our customers to dynamic and static content. We believe that connecting all stakeholders to each other through our B2B customers is the way to go. Whether the end-consumer books through a smartphone or tablet, website or tour operator, we will be at the end of that chain looking after that customer. Virtual reality will become a major source of information for the end consumer, and will be used for educational purposes of tourism trade professional but it will not replace a life time holiday in any of our destinations.

What we will further emphasise on is the in depth destination knowledge of our teams, and the content we can provide to our customers. They will always have a guarantee of quality services at competitive prices in every Asian Trails destination. They will always feel taken care of, and be understood that a Brazilian travels in a different way than a German or a Chinese national.

Automation is unstoppable, but I very much believe that the people aspect of travelling remains a key part of any holiday experience. Often it is not the extraordinary sites that visitors will keep on top of their holiday memory, but a special encounter with a local person. While this local resident may not be from the traditional value chain of the tourism trade and part of the sharing economy, it will remain a (real) person. We will always bridge together people, visitors and locals in unique experiences at all our destinations.

Lastly, I wish to update you of the latest development within Asian Trails.

You will have read in the international travel press and through Asian Trails’ communication channels that Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited Canada, through its fully owned subsidiary Thomas Cook India Group, has acquired Kuoni’s Destination Management Specialists including Asian Trails. Our new ownership will not change our values. It will instead complement our business, guarantee the continuity of Asian Trails’ entrepreneurial spirit and continue to offer quality services at competitive prices.

Happy Trails!


Laurent Kuenzle
Asian Trails Ltd.