NEW YORK -- Some challenges that industry executives
anticipate in coming years, such as terrorism, are largely out of their
control. Others, such as attracting new talent, are things they can work to
overcome. But whichever type of challenge is faced, continuing innovations
promise better products for agents and clients alike.
Innovations and challenges were among the topics discussed
by a panel of executives representing the airline, cruise, hotel and GDS
sectors during Tzell Travel Group's annual branch meeting here last month,
coinciding with the company's 50th anniversary. The panel was moderated by
Travel Weekly editor in chief Arnie Weissmann.
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Terrorism and global conflicts are challenges the industry
faces together, said Simon Yip, vice president of sales for Peninsula Hotels.
Nikki Upshaw, senior vice president of sales at Oceania
Cruises, agreed. "How do we address ... the fear that someone may have due
to the global terrorism that is affecting our world and is so random and no one
can predict it?" Upshaw wondered. "How, together, can we create a ...
sense of safety and that travel is still something that we should all aspire
For travelers who are concerned about terrorism but still
want to go on vacation, Upshaw said, cruising could offer an attractive option
because cruise lines have the ability to quickly move port calls away from
destinations where incidents have occurred.
Another challenge identified by Yip is attracting new talent
to the industry. Peninsula Hotels, he said, is investing in providing training
and career opportunities to attract young talent to the company.
Dave Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales at
United Airlines, said attracting new talent was especially critical for the
airlines, which are facing pilot shortages. And while United is working to
attract more pilots, he said, it is also dealing with another set of challenges
stemming from government involvement. He said airlines face an uphill battle in
dealing with the "efficiency of the air traffic control system,"
heavy taxation on airlines and market regulation.
Emirates faces a different challenge in the U.S.: getting
passengers to try the airline, said Joel Goldowsky, the carrier's regional
sales director of the eastern U.S. Agents could help with that, he told the
Tzell crowd, asserting that once the product is sold, "our retention rate
turns out to be pretty darn high, because once they experience the product and
what we profess to have, they tend to come back a second time."
In the GDS sphere, Shelly Terry, Sabre's vice president of
travel product solutions, predicted, "The greatest innovations that Sabre
will be making in the coming years will be those that actually support the
transition from the transaction to the experience."
She said Sabre's innovations will be focused on helping
buyers understand what suppliers are offering and what has the greatest value
to deliver the experience they want. Meanwhile, she said, other challenges will
stem from the changes to business practices that those innovations are likely
to cause, though she did not offer examples of what those changes might entail.
In the hotel sector, Yip predicted that the customer
experience as a whole will change, becoming more "holistic." For
example, a wellness program wouldn't be limited to a spa treatment, but might
also include healthy eating at a farm-to-table hotel restaurant, among other
Upshaw said innovation already abounds among all segments of
the cruise sector, from contemporary to luxury. One thing cruise lines are
doing better, she said, is differentiating their brands. For example, Oceania
identifies itself as the "cruise line for foodies," she said.
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When it comes to airlines, the executives in attendance
agreed that most future innovations would come down to customer service
improvements and to creating a better overall product.
"We've got great technology that's finding a way to
help do better and make more money, but it's mostly just doing the basics
better," whether that be through better on-time performance, improvements
in baggage handling or other places that affect consumer attitudes, Hilfman
"We just want to do better by each of your clients,"
Vasu Raja, vice president of network and schedule planning
at American Airlines, said carriers are no longer "playing survive the
winter." Now, he said, airlines must turn to sustaining and growing
business, which comes down to customer service.