Andrew Shelton, Managing Director – Cheapflights.co.uk
1. What or who has been the biggest disruptive influence in travel over the last decade?
For me, it’s the growth of the sharing economy – if you look at what Uber has done, or Airbnb, these are models that couldn’t have been conceived of in 2006, let alone made a reality.
The way such platforms have been embraced by consumers to such an extent that they’re already a threat to the established structures and institutions across numerous sectors is indicative of the way online continues to make inroads in to our life and drive paradigm changes in how we live it.
It’s also been fascinating to live through the tectonic shift of trust from institutions to individuals. The old one-way information consumption mode is long dead – now it’s all about dialogue and the authentic content voice.
The internet democratises opinion, and in travel – as across most sectors – the greatest challenge brands and organisations face is how they win and hold on to the trust of their customers.
2. What or who do you think will be the biggest disruptive influence in travel in the coming decade?
Consumers and the data they generate. They will be front and centre of the decision making process and will be in the driving seat when it comes to deciding how to book, where and when to go and how to get there. The data flowing from that process provides an opportunity for brands – but they, with the necessary checks and balances, need to use it responsibly and in a way that adds value to the journey and customer experience.
3. What about the travel industry today surprises you most, given predictions made about what we should expect 10 years ago?
A decade ago, everyone was predicting the death of the travel agent and the high street, but both continue to exist and are adapting (albeit slowly) to a changing landscape.
Digital has, I think, exceeded expectations in the way it’s driven change in every aspect of the industry – and like any truly disruptive force, we really have no idea of its real potential to continue to shape the future.
4. Do you think the pace of change will quicken in the coming decade compared to what we saw in the last 10 years, and what will influence the speed of change?
Yes, and data will be the key catalyst. Joining data together will help to make the travel experience frictionless and ever more intuitive, simplify the process and driving retention and value.
Data will eliminate choices that you have no history of making and no plans to make, while serving those that are relevant to you – or which you didn’t even know you were about to make before you do so.
That’s either liberating and full of opportunity – or worryingly intrusive. How that debate pans out will be fascinating to watch.
5. How do you think travel rates against other areas of business and commerce in terms of how it has met the challenges of the digital era?
It took a while to get going, but the travel sector has picked up the pace now. In some areas I think it is still slightly behind the curve, for example in content and customer management.
6. Do you think travel is well placed to meet the challenges of the coming decade? If yes, what gives you that confidence, if no, why?
Yes, I do. I think there is enough experience, expertise, entrepreneurial spirit and investment in the market now to create products that will truly delight users.
The one area that remains poorly understood is ability to continue to “afford” to grow the travel sector at the same rate we have in the last 10.
Do we truly understand the impact that this growth is having on the environment, for example, or the effects on culture?
7. What has been the most disappointing aspect of the travel industry for you over the last 10 years?
Our inability to balance the equation of the overall benefits of travel in opening the world, fostering cultural understanding and driving progress, with the need to do so in the most responsible way.
In many ways, it still feels like that is being paid lip service.
8. What has excited you most about the industry over the last 10 years?
Its resilience. Through thick and thin, whether it be natural disasters, political or economic instability, diseases or long term climatic challenges, the industry has adapted, developed and for the most part, embraced change.
The way it is now putting technology – and the way it can improve customer experience – at the heart of everything it does bodes well for the next 10 years.
9. Has the Internet proved to be a broadly positive force for travel intermediaries or are the forces of disintermediation still at work?
I think it’s a bit of both. And I see a future for both
10. If you were given £1 million to invest in a travel start-up today, what would you look for?
Personally, I would be happy if someone truly had a solution to extending mobile device battery life beyond half a day!
You need to find something someone actually needs. Too much is developed that is clever but only for its own sake. The law of diminishing returns means that the real challenge in a competitive marketplace, is to create something that truly adds value.
A lot is being made about VR being the next big thing, but the potential there is less in the hardware, and much more in the possible applications – especially if some bright spark can bridge the gap between augmented and virtual reality.
In the not too distant future, being able to ‘virtually’ explore a environment, interact with ‘products’ and then buy them within in the real world will be the norm. The implications for brands are massive.
10 second interview
1. Apple or PC?
2. Which of your gadgets do you most worry about losing? Wireless earphones
3. How many Twitter followers do you have? Cheapflights has almost 100,000 so I won’t try and compete with that
4. What was your first online travel purchase? I organised car hire for a trip to South Africa
5. Who makes the best smartphones? Apple
6. Atari or Sinclair Spectrum? Atari all the way – I was a demon Pac Man player back in the day.
7. What’s your favourite travel app? Uber. They come to market with useful and clever features, setting them apart. I’m especially fond of the itemised receipts sent at the end of the week. I also love the BA app, a great example of form, function and that’s cleverness that actually makes my life easier.
8. How many travel apps do you have downloaded on your phone? I’ve currently got about 40 on my phone, and use around 10 of those frequently.
9. Who has made the biggest impact on travel in the last decade? Having worked for him for a number of years, I would say Branson. His fearless approach to innovation in travel and so many other sectors inspires entrepreneurship and a belief in better
10. What was the last Instagram picture you posted? Most likely an airport lounge