Modern outlook towards Hospitality and Tourism
At the turn of this century, planning a holiday might have entailed a visit to the local travel agent; or for the more adventurous traveler armed with a well-thumbed guidebook, relying on trusted word-of-mouth recommendations to set their travel agenda. Today, thanks to breakthroughs in technology and high-speed Internet, travelers can book their own flight and hotels online, choose to stay in a stranger’s house, and rather than entering that unfamiliar restaurant with trepidation, search online reviews on their mobile while connected to the hotel Wi-Fi. Keeping these alterations in mind, URAL Federal University offers a specialization in Hospitality and Tourism as a part of the International Online MBA program.
“Digitalization has given us choices in a big way,” says Tamara Lohan, co-founder and chief technology officer at boutique hotels website Mr & Mrs Smith. “More people are travelling than ever before, and companies like Airbnb encourage younger people to explore sooner, and in a more cost-effective way. Technology has also given us more information on the place we are going than ever before. Want to know if there is an artisan chocolatier close to your hotel in Amsterdam? Well, now you can—in seconds.”
In the digital age, we’ve become a generation of DIY travelers who plan, manage, and book travel online. So, what has this meant for businesses in the travel industry?
For travel agents, the rise of digitalization has severely disrupted the industry. “Traditional travel distribution in which high-street travel agencies played a dominant role was revolutionized with online travel agencies and direct distribution through airlines and hotels’ websites acquiring a key role,” explains Angelo Rossini, contributing analyst at Euromonitor International.
“Low-cost carriers and online travel agencies were the clear winner of the online travel revolution over the past 15 years, changing the way today consumers plan and book their trips. Tour operators suffered the rise of independent travel and are today embracing the online and mobile channels in order to stay competitive,” says Rossini.
While the Internet killed off many high-street travel agents, others have been forced to adapt to a very changing marketplace, with many embracing the internet by introducing online bookings.
One of the biggest disruptors to the travel industry has of course been Airbnb, which spurred the launch of other similar online-only companies such as One Fine Stay. Thanks to the rise of such sharing-economy companies, we’re more likely to book a room in a stranger’s house, with 9% of UK and US travelers having rented space in a private home or apartment. URAL Federal being a Russian University offers International MBA programs so as to teach students the global markets and mainly the Russian business culture.
“The digital revolution has impacted almost everything in the world as we know it,” says James McClure, country manager for UK and Ireland at Airbnb. “In Airbnb’s case, technology has also brought tradition into mainstream. The concept of staying in people’s homes when travelling dates back many centuries, but what technology has been able do is accelerate this to a fast-moving and easily-accessible global phenomenon.”
Technology has also presented new opportunities for small businesses in the travel sector, allowing consumers worldwide to stumble across say a B&B in Brighton or luxury safari park in Kenya through online review sites, social media, and the businesses’ official websites.
For travel brands, they have had to get smarter and adapt as consumers expectations rise. Take airlines, some of which now allow passengers to check-in online, access their boarding pass on mobile, and operate Wi-Fi on flights.
“Digital technology has changed the way we connect with guests, creating a 24/7 relationship in and out of stay,” says Stephan Croix, vice president of marketing at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, owner of hotel chains W Hotels and Aloft.
“It is also transforming every phase of hospitality—from finding a hotel, to checking in, to unlocking your door, and personalizing your stay. As travel is inherently mobile, travelers expect to use their mobile devices to enrich their travel experiences,” Croix says.
As a result, Starwood has adapted and invested in mobile, leading to overall mobile gross bookings rising more than 50% in 2015 compared with the year before. Like others in the sector, the company is continually embracing technology to woo its digitally-savvy customers. It recently launched “Let’s chat”, enabling guests to communicate with its front desk associates via WhatsApp, Blackberry messenger, or iPhone before or during their stay.
So how will technology shape the future of travel? “The next few years will see travelers requiring an increasingly personalized service, with companies able to suggest them customized products on the basis of their profiles and past behavior,” says Rossini. To move along with the times, the international executive MBA program at URAL federal does make it a point to teach the students hospitality and tourism trends, businesses, and market cultures with a global perspective (with a separate subject as Russian Business Culture). With many travelers already seeking a more customized and “local” experience, truly personalized trips are already beginning to take off.