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Life is still a rollercoaster

Now that the excitement of Ronan Keating’s late night performance has washed off my linen suit, I can, as our man in Abu Dhabi report that the business sessions of ABTA’s Travel Convention (#abta2016) were quite interesting this time around. In a year of extreme turbulence, there was much discussion about the health of the travel industry.

Terrorism and security threats across the Eastern Med and the Middle East, Brexit and the pound’s lead balloon act all featured heavily in the presentations, reviews and future-gazing exercises.

And the verdict?

Not only has the travel market not shrunk, it has grown in this year of drama and tragedy, and it is likely to go on growing for the foreseeable future. If anything, there is demand for more destinations, and more beds & berths, as the Brits’ national need for at least one decent annual holiday strengthens, in spite of (or because of) everything that this risky life and world throws at us.

The cruise industry is in rude health, with more and bigger ships being launched all the time. Tour operators are upping their game across the board to focus on customers’ wishes, needs and habits at every touchpoint. Technology is developing at an exponential rate to enable and facilitate both a better selling and buying process.
Even the slide of Sterling isn’t seen as much more than a bump in the road, if the speakers and audience in Abu Dhabi are to be believed.

I suppose what struck me most was that there wasn’t an awful lot of emphasis on the experiences people have on their holidays, and about the differentiation of holiday brands in what they serve up to their customers, as opposed to how they serve it up.

I guess it may be that with a travel trade conference traditionally aimed at the mass market end of producers, merchants and distributors, the focus is on numbers (quite a few of the big players are run by people from a financial background), but I still find it interesting that the brand stories are all about making the ‘process’ better for the customer, rather than the end-experience.

At least that was my take-out from a number of the talks, including those delivered by Chris Mottershead of Thomas Cook and newly-reprieved Monarch’s Andrew Swaffield.

Still, it is gratifying to see that people are referring to their brands these days, rather than just their products, and recognising the importance of marketing in the overall mix.

Oh, and by the way, no-one has a clue what the real impact of Brexit is going to be, nor does anyone seem particularly worried about it. But perhaps there is some irony in the fact that ABTA 2017 will take place at the very far frontier of Europe in the Azores.

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