• Cyril McAree

Travel Experts Take A Trip Into Tourism’s Digital Future At Kildare Village

A group of leading travel industry experts participated on Thursday 30th May in a World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) discussion at Kildare Village on ‘How the travel industry thinks about tourism in a digital age’. With international travel arrivals set to hit 1.8 billion globally by 2030 (up from 1.2 billion in 2016), the panel looked at how Ireland can combine a world class tourism product with cutting-edge technology to secure an outsized share of the estimated $1 trillion in additional economic output that will result from the global tourism boom.

The panel was led by Desirée Bollier, Chair and Chief Merchant of The Bicester Village Shopping Collection (including Kildare Village) and Vice Chair of the WTTC. The panel included Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland; Maribel Rodriguez, WTTC Regional Director for Europe and Latin America; Ray Hernan, CEO of Aer Rianta International; Leah Wang, Director of Business Partnerships with CTrip, Asia’s largest online travel agent; and Sarah Miller, founder of Sarah Miller and Partners and former Editor-in-Chief and founder of Condé Nast Traveller UK. Rapid increase in visitors heading to Ireland Summarising the challenges and the opportunities rising in the digital age of tourism Desirée Bollier said: “Ireland is uniquely positioned to lead the wave of digitalisation in the golden age of tourism. Today’s international traveller expects their experience to be as effortless as it is unique and memorable. There is much to do and by coming together, as we have done this week we can begin to make this a reality.”

Record numbers of visitors are expected to arrive in Ireland this year. Dublin Airport will have 23 new routes this summer, including new long-haul services to Canada, the United States and China. Last year saw 11.2 million people visit Ireland with strong growth, in particular, from emerging markets. Hainan Airlines and Cathay Pacific commenced direct flights from Beijing to Dublin for the first time last summer. Kildare Village has emerged as a leading destination for tourists from China and South East Asia. China, Malaysia and Taiwan are the top three markets for tax-free sales at Kildare Village. Technology will clearly play an important role in improving the journeys and experiences of these new tourists and in managing the increased pressure that growth in the volume of international travellers will place on infrastructure. The panel discussed the gains to be made from implementing existing biometrics, blockchain, machine learning and AI to manage security and identification at ports of departure and arrival. They looked at the use of IoT (Internet of Things) in locations such as Dublin Airport to monitor the movement of passengers, planes and baggage, and to drive efficiencies. Seamless global travel experience Maribel Rodriguez said a truly global perspective is increasingly important: “The principles behind the World Travel & Tourism Council Seamless Traveller Journey programme will need to be introduced in Ireland soon. The global aviation body, IATA, predicts a near doubling of air passenger traffic over the next 20 years but Ireland’s airport capacity is not expanding at the same rate. This means we need to be more efficient in the use of infrastructure. Increasing the use of biometric technology throughout the travel journey has the potential to meet the needs of passenger while enhancing the passenger experience and increasing security." Representing the increasingly lucrative Asian market, Leah Wang from CTrip emphasised the importance of providing comfortable experiences for Asian customers who are used to highly digitised day-to-day routines. CTrip is the largest online travel agent in Asia and is listed on the Nasdaq with a market value of over $20 billion. Its international business, which includes UK based Skyscanner, accounted for over 30% of its $1.2 billion revenue between January and March, primarily from hotel air-ticket bookings. “Efforts are underway to streamline the visa approval process for visitors from China. If this is successful, and we see a big increase in visitors, then Irish providers will need to ensure that they are familiar with travel apps such as CTrip, and that they can provide digital payment solutions for customers who have become adjusted to using technologies such as WeChatpay and Alipay,” she said.

Turning ‘lookers’ into ‘bookers’ Niall Gibbons highlighted the need for the Irish tourism sector to diversify into new visitor markets, and to leverage emerging travel tech to win new business. “There have been significant developments in marketing technology over the last number of years, including artificial intelligence, automation and harnessing the power of big data, all of which present new and exciting opportunities. Our job is to harness technology to match Ireland’s holiday offerings to consumer needs and motivations in new and existing markets, and to deliver tailored holiday offers that will ‘turn lookers into bookers’. It is an exciting challenge, particularly in rapidly developing markets like China.” Enhancing the customer experience Ray Hernan, chief executive of Aer Rianta International, spoke about the challenge of creating a retail offer that appeals to busy travellers. He said: “A lot of travel retailers are realising that we must ‘disrupt’ the customer journey but in a positive sense, by becoming more relevant, enhancing the customer experience through the provision of entertainment or theatre and creating an atmosphere in the shopping environment”. The panel discussion took place in Kildare Village before an audience of invited guests representing the travel, tourism and leisure, retail and technology sectors.

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