Technology’s impact on the tourism industry dominated early at the 19th annual Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum, but the enduring value of well-informed experts seemed to get the last word.
Held last week at the Sheraton Waikiki, the event attracted about 230 Hawaii tourism industry stakeholders, including hoteliers, tour operators, airline executives, travel marketers and state tourism officials.
The forum featured panel discussions and presentations covering topics like recent target market research from the Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau (HVCB), growing global trends and their impact on the planet and, of course, technology’s ever-increasing role in today’s tourism business.
In his morning keynote presentation, Duncan Kennedy, Accenture’s senior manager of industry solutions and services, emphasized the “massive and mainstream” impact mobile devices are having on travel.
“Smartphones and tablets are transforming how consumers are interacting with your brand,” he said. “It’s no longer something that’s arriving. It’s here; it’s happening today.”
Citing a recent study by PhoCusWright, Kennedy said travel purchases made by U.S. consumers with their mobile devices are booming.
“Travel sales on mobile devices in the U.S. will jump from $6.5 billion in 2012 to almost $40 billion by 2015 — that’s phenomenal in three years,” he said. “And this year, one in eight [U.S.] travel dollars will be booked on a mobile device.”
Kennedy pointed out an important distinction, however, in the way travel consumers are using their various mobile devices.
“People are going to browse on their smartphone,” he explained. “[But with] the tablet, or what’s now being called a ‘phablet,’ to quote a teenager, people don’t just look on there. They book on there.”
In a later presentation, Jay Talwar, the HVCB’s senior vice president of marketing, mentioned social media’s increasing impact on U.S. consumers’ travel decisions.
“Clearly travel has become a highly social process across all age demographics,” he said. “If you look at the millennials [typically ages 19 to 36], 60% of them say they are motivated to make travel purchases based on their friends’ and followers’ recommendations. That’s huge.”
ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby, however, offered some positive news for travel agents in his keynote address.
“Sales dollars and transactions are up at agencies,” he explained. “For the first four months of this year, agency sales rose almost 5% over the same time last year, to $32.4 billion.”
Kerby added that, according to a recent ASTA-funded research study by MMGY Global, both leisure and business consumers reported “a higher level of satisfaction with a trip when they used a travel agent.”
And he said the percentage of U.S. consumers using a travel agent when they book a trip has also increased over the last five years, growing from 11% to 13%.
During the forum’s sole tour wholesaler panel, moderated by Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann, Pleasant Holidays President and CEO Jack Richards also made it clear that Hawaii remains a destination where well-informed and experienced travel agents have an advantage.
“When people are spending $10,000 to $20,000 on a vacation, there’s just an important comfort level the human element offers,” he said. “That becomes very important for a destination such as Hawaii, [and] if you want to increase your conversions, you better have somebody that knows the different islands and hotels.”