By Paul Tilstone, chief executive of Festive Road
Providers of DIY packaging to the leisure sector should be targeting business travel.
The last time I had anything to do with leisure travel was more than 20 years ago and I was wearing a yellow Seersucker jacket and bright-blue trousers as a Thomson rep in Greece. There was also ouzo involved, but my memory is a little hazy.
Since then, I have occupied myself in the business travel sector. It has always struck me that, despite having the word ‘travel’ in common, I occupy a different universe from those of you in the leisure travel space.
Things that happen in business travel generally don’t impact the leisure sector and vice versa – apart from the ‘Yes we will/no we won’t’ craziness of Ryanair’s transatlantic expansion (not).
That is until the past couple of years, when the innovation and creativity of online services in the leisure sector have started influencing business traveller needs.
Airbnb is a perfect example, but there are plenty more, demonstrating that our universes appear to be aligning, where the expectations and services required by the leisure traveller are replicated in business trips and vice versa.
It would be fair to say that, despite the higher yields in business travel, the leisure sector is more advanced in its market dynamics – and those of us in the business sector can learn a lesson or two.
One area of advancement in leisure was the dynamic packaging revolution of the 2000s, which pretty much passed the business travel sector by because of the managed channels we use – until now.
We’re entering a new phase in business travel, where the airlines have been increasing ancillary services but have been challenged by the ability of the managed distribution channels – GDSs, travel management companies and self-booking tools – to market and sell these to travellers effectively.
So the airlines established an initiative through Iata, the New Distribution Capability (NDC), to streamline the distribution process and allow more effective retailing.
I’m sure this is a hot topic in the leisure sector too, but probably for a different set of reasons. In business travel, NDC offers an environment, for the first time, for dynamic packaging to thrive and be delivered by any company in the retailing space (and lots more about to enter it).
It will create a revolution in the way in which services are packaged and offered to the business traveller, and challenge many of the legacy service providers to get on board or lose out.
It strikes me that those providers in the leisure sector that have come through the dynamic packaging revolution have an opportunity here. If you provide services to the leisure sector, then the time may be right for you to strike partnerships to offer packaged services to the business sector.
A recent conversation with a UK-based ground transportation provider convinced me of this and my visit to ITB in Berlin in March cemented that thought.
If you won in the dynamic-packaging revolution of the 2000s (and if your business has grown, you probably did), you should be thinking about how your products apply to the business sector. Then think about the channels you work with that already cross the business-leisure divide – and start talking.
The time for you guys to leverage your experience in market changes has arrived. We may occupy different universes, but our gravitational pull is strong and your star is ascending. Strap on your rocket boosters and take a look at a now-not-so-different universe.
Paul Tilstone is chief executive and founder of business travel marketing company Festive Road and corporate envoy for Iata. He has held senior positions at the Global Business Travel Association and Institute of Travel and Meetings.