This year’s Global Summit is a more inclusive event focused on what tourism will look like in the future and spotlighting the people who will bring that future about.
TW Illustration by Jenn Martins
TW Illustration by Jenn Martins
It has often been said that the only constant in life is change, but it’s likewise true that change doesn’t move at a constant speed.
Its acceleration in the second decade of the 21st century and the resulting impact on travel has been profound. Change — both recent and yet to come — will be the lens through which the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) examines myriad issues at its Global Summit in Seville, Spain, April 2 to 4.
The alliance’s lofty membership — it includes CEOs of major airlines, hotel companies, travel agencies and tour operations — has pegged “Changemakers” as its binding theme.
And one change this year, perhaps reflecting societal changes, is that the Summit will be more inclusive. While ministers and destination marketing organizations have always had a presence at WTTC summits, a membership category was added that enables national and regional policy and promotion groups, such as the U.S. Travel Association, to join.
And for the first time, the gathering, which was previously invitation-only, will be open to members of the trade for a $4,000 registration fee.
WTTC CEO Gloria Guevara said the goal of this year’s program is to spotlight the changemakers who will actually have a hand in shaping the future of the industry.
‘We’re living in a time of complexity, with so many forces influencing travel and tourism.’
“We’re not talking about looking 10 years into the future but rather a couple of years, five years at the most,” she said. “We’re living in a time of complexity, with so many forces influencing travel and tourism, from the U.S.-China trade war to Brexit to the yellow vests in France. And we want to set a tone that doesn’t just identify what has changed but to identify opportunities.”
To drill down on certain regional topics or areas of specific concern, the Summit will for the first time in more than a decade feature breakouts as well as general sessions.
Not all the changes the organization has identified for discussion are travel-specific. Anticipating the spread of 5G technology, the WTTC has invited Jose Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, CEO of Telefonica, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, to speak.
“We’ll be talking about the future of digital and 5G in terms of policy,” Guevara said.
Other broad topics include sustainability and jobs.
“A recent study from Oxford Economics predicts 47% of jobs are going to disappear, be automated or transformed,” Guevara said. “Where are the jobs of the future in our sector?”
Additionally, the program will explore artificial intelligence, the internet of things, biometrics, cybersecurity, robotics, driverless cars, virtual reality and augmented reality and will try to identify how these may contribute to “seamless travel.”
As at past summits, world leaders will mix with captains of industry. Among those speaking will be the presidents of Spain, Portugal and Colombia. Former President Barack Obama will give a keynote and be interviewed on stage.
“He assigned the highest [governmental] priority that we have ever seen with the [U.S.] Travel Promotion Act,” Guevara said. “We’ll be asking him to share his vision for travel and also what turned him around to be more supportive of the sector. What benefits did he see? Because some leaders take us for granted.”
How change can lead to disruption and adaptation will also be addressed.
“Our industry has a lot of intermediation, and when there’s a lot of intermediation, there’s a lot of opportunity for disruption,” Guevara said. “And when we see all those changes, we see also a lot of adaptation. Travel agents, for instance, keep adapting, adjusting and learning and as a result are doing quite well. They are the experts, of course, but the conversation is spirited because of competition from OTAs.”
Travelers, too, are living among a swirl of changing dynamics.
“They’re more conscious about where they stay, their footprint, sustainability, access,” she said. “And, of course, price is always a driver. We’re seeing people traveling more but with less planning.”
This year’s venue, Seville, also figures into the theme. The city is celebrating the 500th anniversary of Ferdinand Magellan’s departure from Seville to begin what would be the first successful circumnavigation of the Earth with a crew that became the world’s first true global travelers.
“The leaders who shape the future learn from the past,” Guevara said. “The bottom line is that this is a meeting of changemakers who can learn from each other. Growth is going to continue, and we’re trying to influence the agenda of policy makers and maximize on the growth opportunity. There’s a space for everyone. We just need to understand the different signals and the meaning of the different changes that are underway.”
The full lineup of speakers can be found at WTTC .org, but we spoke to some of the panelists and moderators to give our readers a sneak peek of what to expect in Seville in April.
KSL Capital Partners' Eric Resnick discusses his WTTC panel
The company's CEO will sit on a panel at the World Travel & Tourism Council Global Summit next month. It's theme: building successful future destinations.
Dirk Ahlborn, founder of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, will deliver a talk titled “Vision of the Future.” For Ahlborn that is “a future where travel no longer sucks.”
Hyperloops are systems in which pods similar in size to a single train car travel through a vacuum-sealed tunnel or tube, hovering via magnetic levitation. The near absence of friction and the low atmospheric pressure in the tube would enable the pods to reach speeds of around 700 mph, faster than commercial aircraft.
Ahlborn believes hyperloops will make travel “fun, productive, even something you look forward to,” not only by connecting the cities of the world faster and more efficiently but by providing “a cutting-edge passenger experience.”
Ahlborn will ask audience members to ask themselves, “What if the world were connected by vehicles utilizing safe, sustainable energy? What happens when travel can happen within minutes instead of hours? What would it be like for citizens of Seville if it only took them 38 minutes to see their loved ones in Madrid,” which is now about two and a half hours away by train?
“We envision the future of travel that will turn countries into neighborhoods,” he said.
‘We envision the future of travel that will turn countries into neighborhoods.’
Adapting to this technology will not necessarily be easy. Much has been made about the threat that hyperloops pose to both airline and rail companies.
“While, the technology created will prove to advance the capabilities of the travel industry, there will be an adjustment stage the field must adapt to,” Ahlborn said.
Travel is not the only field that will have to adapt: There will be innovation in many industries due to the reduction in travel time that hyperloop brings, he said.
“Healthcare providers will no longer be limited to assisting those only in their region; job seekers will not be restricted to career searches in their locales; students will be able to attend schools far out of their districts; and more.”
Ken Dychtwald, founder and CEO of Age Wave, will focus on “The New Boomer Experiential Consumer,” positing that although it might seem sexy and exciting to court the millennial market, the 50-plus age group is where the opportunity is: In the U.S., 70% of all wealth is held by people over the age of 50.
Comparatively, he said, millennials “are broke.”
More importantly, retiring boomers still have 20 to 25 years left of life. And there are a lot of them. Dychtwald uses a compelling statistic to put this into perspective: “Two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived past 65 are alive today.”
He calls these factors “a perfect storm if you are in the travel and tourism sector: A billion people are reaching this stage of life with more appetite for travel, more desire to experience the world, more free time and financial strength than ever before in history.”
But it is not enough to just know that they exist and have all that money and time. Travel suppliers, Dychtwald asserts, have not done a good enough job in understanding that these people are looking for “peak experiences” — rare moments that create lasting memories.
“When you get to be 55 or 60 or 65, you’ve circled the sun enough times to realize that rare moments, special moments, don’t happen as often as you thought they would when you were young,” he said.
An example of how the industry can do better, he said, is with the photos on their websites, which he said are too often focused on the “ballroom, the chandelier, the sunsets, the size of the staterooms.” Those things don’t matter as much as experiences like “laughing until you can’t breathe anymore, feeling the love of your children.”
“It’s an industry that the heart of it is the heart,” he said. Yet suppliers “are not showing experiences on their websites.”
‘It’s an industry that the heart of it is the heart. Yet suppliers are not showing experiences on websites.’
It might seem paradoxical at an event so focused on the future, but Dychtwald said he thinks part of the reason for the failure is that the travel industry is so distracted.
“So much attention is focused on the fireworks of technology that not an equal amount of attention is given to the human experience,” he said.
Making this session more fun is that Dychtwald’s son Zak Dychtwald, founder & CEO of Young China Group, will discuss the opposite end of the new global consumer curve: how young China and its millennials want to see and feel the world.
Tourism for Tomorrow Award finalists
The World Travel and Tourism Council organized its 15th annual Tourism for Tomorrow awards into new categories, including Changemakers, which for 2019 will spotlight fighting the illegal wildlife trade through tourism. The 15 finalists in five categories are:
Social Impact Award: Awamaki, Peru; Intrepid Group, Australia; Nikoi Island, Indonesia Destination Stewardship Award: Grupo Rio da Prata, Jardim and Bonito, Brazil; Masungi Georeserve, Philippines; St. Kitts Sustainable Destination Council, St. Kitts and Nevis Climate Action Award: Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, Aruba; the Brando, Tetiaroa Private Island, French Polynesia; Tourism Holdings Limited, New Zealand Investing in People Award: Lemon Tree Hotels, India; Reserva do Ibitipoca, Brazil; Shanga by Elewana Collection, Tanzania Changemakers Award: Kelompok Peduli Lingkungan Belitung, Indonesia; See Turtles, U.S.; the Cardamom Tented Camp, Cambodia
More information about the finalists can be found at
Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch will himself moderate the “Consumers of Tomorrow” panel, bringing a unique perspective to WTTC as one of two heads of a travel advisor consortium on the agenda.
He asserts that as travel advisors plan for the future, they will contend with both labor shortages and a talent gap.
“How do you train your staff to deal with diversity, from people with disabilities as they are aging up to young millennials, all of whom have different needs?” he asked. “And how do you educate your staff to deal with varied cultures? Staffing properly is going to play an even greater role in future success, especially as it gets more and more difficult to discern between established and aspirational luxury brands.”
Future consumers, Upchurch said, will be “much better educated, that much more connected, and you better be able to keep up if you want to keep them as clients.”
He will also make the case that as advisors look to the future, they should embrace technology that “can enhance the human touch.”
“Human connection is at the core of what we do, but effectiveness and efficiency play a major role in advisor success,” he said.
Virtuoso’s Incubator, he said, gives the consortium’s members a say in the technology that is developed so that it meets their individual needs.
“Our philosophy on tech is simple,” he said: “Automate the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional.”
‘Our philosophy on tech is simple: Automate the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional.’
Upchurch also has a message for travel and tourism companies that invest too much in technology focused on direct-to-consumer conversion.
“With some forward-thinking architecture, that investment can also provide a platform to enhance the ability of value-add partners to deliver clients based on value propositions not easily replicated,” he said. “And with that philosophy should also come a compensation strategy that rewards not only quantity but quality.”
Travel advisors, he said, will have to decide what they want to be to survive.
“Within our industry, we’re seeing the bifurcation of commoditized and optimized experiential economies, placing an increased importance on providing truly personalized service through relationships,” Upchurch said. “You can’t live in the middle. You have to decide where you want to be, and if you choose to live in the optimized experiential world, where you can build longer-term value, you have to know how to scale properly.”
To find and maintain the consumer of the future, Upchurch encourages travel advisors to share their personal experiences. Thanks to social media and mobility, he said, travel advisors are now “natural digital nomads, where their travels inspire their clients.”
“Consumers of today and tomorrow also judge us by the depth and breadth of our authentic human connections,” he said. “They know we can’t know everything, but they do expect us to have powerful networks that deliver hyperpersonalized experiences executed by people who truly care.”