PARIS – Google and Atout France joined representatives from the travel industry this month for the fourth annual Tourism and Technology conference, TOTEC. Presentations and discussions focused on the new trends in the travel industry that both businesses and clients will confront in the coming years.
A record-breaking one billion world travelers were tracked in 2012, forcing the tourism industry to reevaluate its practices in the face of exploding demand. With 79.5 million tourists reported in 2011, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, France is the top destination for this ever-expanding population of vagrants. With the Eiffel Tower, deemed the most valuable monument in Europe, and Disneyland Paris, attracting 16 million visitors this year, it’s no wonder the French are leading the march towards the future of this ever-increasing industry.
Harald Eisenaecher, senior vice president of Sabre Travel Network, who hosts the event, opened TOTEC with remarks about the travel industry’s future, which is largely consumer-driven. “It’s an emotional industry that’s hard to industrialize,” he said.
Insisting that companies need to distinguish themselves from traditional travel, he called upon companies to innovate and drive new expectations. "The industry needs to go the unconventional way using technology going into the 21st century," Eisenaecher said. During the day’s events, three notable trends emerged, illustrating how the French travel industry is evolving.
While user-generated content is not new to the tourism industry, how businesses use this information is transforming. Sociologist Ronan MacDubhghaill said that user-generated content fosters a sort of authenticity, a stamp of approval, to a traveler's experience. How are French industries using this information?
Arnaud Bertrand, founder of HouseTrip, a French version of AirBnB, discussed the importance of the user profile and ratings for this site. He said that the social aspect of his site is a key factor in the success of not only the postings, but of the site as a whole. "The users define our brand experience," he said.
This sort of dependence on the social network aspect is developing on other fronts as well, like TripnCo that plans group trips via online profiles, and American Express who partnered with FourSquare this year to offer deals when cardholders check in at select addresses. Even Google Plus, which is beginning to take off in France, could play a role in helping recommend travel choices, according to Google's Social Expert Pauline Butor.
Mobile in travel
Many of these advancements, however, are only as useful as the smartphone that travelers are carrying. Heather Leisman, European CEO of Hotel Tonight, launched a mobile reservation service in France this month, and discussed the necessity for businesses to develop mobile content that goes beyond traditional websites.
"Mobile is past the 'nice to have' and is now a 'must have,'" she said. From original content to attractive photos, Leisman said that mobile apps can’t just be transpositions of websites onto tablets or phone – travelers expect more.
Other mobile developments by French-founded Kinomap demonstrated the future of map use on our smartphones. The company uses geolocation and filmed content to produce a video version of Google Maps, allowing the user to virtually travel down a street on a bicycle or automobile. The application could be the future of cartography with more and more travelers armed with smartphones.
An evolving clientele
According to Atout France, the country’s official tourism board, over the next few years there will be a shift in who visits France. The Anglo-American and European traveler will largely be overtaken by a rising middle class in places like Brazil and China, he said. By 2020, the tourism board projects 100 million Chinese, 50 million Indian, and 26 million Russian travelers in France, concentrated in Paris, the Loire Valley, and the Mediterranean coast.
He said that the French tourism industry will have to adapt to these demographic shifts. Changes will have to come from the government, including more direct flights and infrastructure, in order to welcome these new tourists. More importantly, the industry will have to engage them with technology and social media.
Vice President for Sabre in Western Europe Stephane Aita said that these changes are imperative for the future, but also the present state of travel in France and beyond. "It’s the new normal to be connected constantly to digital services," he said.