Travel leaders talked post-pandemic trends at World Travel Market, London with enduring shifts in consumer behaviour and inflation in some markets having an effect.
In a session responding to the WTM Global Travel Report, Patricia Page-Champion, Hilton’s Senior Vice President and Global Commercial Director said: “85% now of business travel is through small to medium businesses.”
She added there was also an upturn in ‘bleisure’ – people combining business and leisure, with one in four people now bringing a loved one with them as part of a trip in 2024, partly enabled by the rise in flexible working.
Popular post-pandemic add-ons requests from Hilton’s customers include pet friendly hotels, confirmed connecting rooms and EV charging, with sustainability increasing request, including for events.
“Experience is the new luxury,” said Peter Krueger, Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Executive Officer Holiday Experiences for TUI, explaining that although customers were buying the same package holiday components of hotel, flight and transfers, “It’s the experience that triggers the sale, it’s no longer sun and beach.”
Krueger also explained how the growing demand for sustainability made strong economic sense. He referred to a couple of hotels in the Maldives that ran on diesel where TUI had installed solar panels and expected to recoup the money in one and a half to two years.
“You can earn so much money on sustainability,” he said. “All of our hotels are sun and beach destinations so what you have is a lot of sun!”
But he added that some governments had blocked TUI’s requests to build solar fields, because they were still investing in fossil fuels. “For us right now that is a limiting factor. This is what is holding us back most.”
With a wide spread of markets, Krueger was unconcerned about the financial downturn in some countries. “We see more of a shift in source markets and destinations,” he explained, with, for instance, North America picking up any European slack for the Caribbean and Europeans controlling their budgets by choosing all-inclusive or good value destinations like Bulgaria.
Hilton’s Page-Cham said the domestic markets globally remained buoyant post-covid, for instance with demand from Mexicans for room nights within Mexico.
Morocco is opening more offices in Africa to encourage regional travel, said Hatim El Gharbi, Chief Commercial Officer, Moroccan National Tourism Office. The destination is also ‘keeping it local’ for overseas tourists, encouraging more sustainable community tourism.
Concerning technology, Krueger stressed the importance of digital for a company with a customer base the size of the population of Australia: “If you have a scale of 27 million customers but everyone wants to have a personalised holiday, how do you match this? The answer is technology.”
Search patterns and even hotel touch points gather information for TUI to enable more targeted marketing. ‘Look to book’ is higher as a result, said Krueger. “We can customise… but on mass production it’s only possible if you digitise.”