The Evolving Landscape Of Sustainable Travel Tech: Challenges And Solutions

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Tech entrepreneur with a strong background in sales and a deep interest in business strategy, CEO and founder of Voyagu.

For many years, the tourism industry has faced its share of criticism as social and environmental advocates have raised concerns about overcrowded destinations, rising living costs and carbon emissions.

Despite the pushback, travel companies are working hard, implementing new policies to accommodate the fact that, according to Booking’s Sustainable Travel Report 2023, there has been a considerable shift in travelers’ priorities. Nowadays, a remarkable 80% of them have expressed that they value the opportunity to travel sustainably. This change has been boosted by a diversity of factors, including the desire to reduce carbon footprints, bolster local economies and partake in deeper cultural experiences.

Also, travelers have more choices. Through artificial intelligence, travel agents can learn more about destinations that are off the beaten path yet still offer what their clients are looking for. For example, an advisor can suggest a remote, calm and romantic island in Greece as an alternative to visiting another similar spot in, say, Venice that might be overcrowded and more expensive on those same dates.

Yet, even with this transformation, there are challenges that need to be addressed. Based on my experiences in the industry, here are several that travel tech companies can keep in mind.

1. Preventing Environmental Harm And Exploitation

The impact that the tourism industry has on the environment is well-documented. According to one report, “Tourism accounts for an estimated 8% to 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.” However, the industry is adapting, and following the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, many operators have made their practices more sustainable. Examples include making ecological hotels, contributing part of their proceeds to climate action-oriented funds, and more.

Environmental issues like climate change are having a profound impact on how travelers choose their preferred destinations. A recent report by the European Travel Commission (ETC) found that tourists interested in going to Mediterranean countries from June to November 2023 have dropped 10%. According to data we have compiled at my company, places with cooler climates are experiencing a considerable surge in popularity, with demand growing from 2022 to 2023, boosted by residents from traditionally warm states like California, Georgia and Florida.

On another point, with the rise of AI, it can be very easy for a property owner or an agent who offers travel experiences to generate content that claims that their property is sustainable. Furthermore, as TripAdvisor has painfully found out, AI is being leveraged to generate fake reviews, which is very misleading for travelers.

To help with this problem, I believe travel tech companies need to step in. One positive case is Booking.com, which offers a “Travel Sustainable” badge that aims to promote properties that comply with a set of standards. Partners who enroll in the program can choose from 32 different sustainability practices, which include being powered by cleaner energies and supporting local communities.

There are more ways in which your travel tech company can have a positive impact on the environment. For example, many flight searches already show a sustainability filter, favoring those flights that have a smaller amount of carbon emissions.

2. Using Technology To Enhance Human Touch And Support Employees

There is a lack of significant investment in the professional growth of individuals employed in the travel industry, including pilots, hotel personnel and flight attendants. And while technology has assumed some responsibilities, it is not always reliable. This is also affecting travel advisors.

The impacts of this reverberate further, considering that the travel industry had a very heavy tech debt before the pandemic. According to data collected by my company, “69% of travel agents believe that the way the travel industry is evolving is influencing them to adopt technological tools in their business.” While only 26% of agents reported struggling with implementing new tools and only 16% said that technology is squeezing them out of the industry, even these number is too high, especially when combined with a 15% dip in hiring activity involving tourism professionals due to the integration of AI.

While advancements in technology have played and will keep playing a crucial role in automating certain tasks within the sector, such as booking flights or checking in at a hotel, they should not replace the human element. I recommend carefully considering which advancements can be used to enhance the empathy and problem-solving abilities that individuals in the travel workforce bring to the table. I believe it is in this direction that further developments should be done and something that travel tech companies must carefully balance.

3. Addressing Poor Infrastructure Preventing Successful Integration Of Technological Tools

In the travel industry, infrastructure plays a critical role in ensuring that operations happen smoothly and safely. However, a challenge that many companies have felt—worldwide—is the delay in upgrading essential infrastructure components.

For instance, renovation of command and control centers and other internal infrastructure for airport operations lack upgrades but are critical to detect potential threats and take necessary action to prevent them. And if we are to leverage technology to bolster the capacity of these sites, the sites need to be equipped for this technology to be integrated seamlessly. It is something that, unfortunately, doesn’t happen.

For example, according to a report by Airports Council International, in the U.S., the capital required for airport infrastructure needs has boomed to a staggering $151 billion over the next five years. Many airports do not have the capacity to fund projects of this nature.

Outdated facilities also lead to passengers’ discomfort, inconvenience and longer wait times, and it is something that tourism stakeholders must address to ensure that tech is utilized to optimize and make the passenger experience substantially better, not worse. To accomplish this, consider working together with airport operators, government authorities and airlines to secure a more sustainable, efficient and profitable future for the industry and one in which travelers are happy.

Final Thoughts

Technology has the potential to bring substantial benefits to the travel industry, including an increased commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility, as well as opportunities for personalization and facilitating the discovery of new attractive destinations.

As groundbreaking tools like AI continue to evolve, I believe we can expect the potential of travel tech to grow even more. However, all stakeholders must work together to ensure that this potential is realized.


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