David Scowsill, outgoing President and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), explains why industry stakeholders must come together and ensure travel continues to be a force for peace and security

Our world in 2017 is uncertain, vulnerable, and unpredictable. Despite this, Travel and Tourism (T&T) growth has remained at about 4% a year. Disruption has been part of the sector’s DNA for the past 20 years, and the sector has emerged stronger and more resilient for it.

Low cost carriers, TripAdvisor, online hotel aggregators, the sharing economy —these new business models and approaches have changed the landscape of T&T forever. 

But throughout this time, all sectors of the industry have weathered their storms, survived, pivoted their business models, and thrived. In the last decade, no large brand name has gone bankrupt, even with the competitive pressures and impacts of the global financial crisis.

It is the people that ultimately define the experience, whether you are travelling for business or leisure

This ability to adapt to market forces, respond to consumer demand and adopt new technologies is what I believe ensures the future of T&T, as the sector has to face up to the macro level challenges of our time, be they terrorism, climate change or the fourth industrial revolution.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics will certainly impact jobs in the sector over time. While certain jobs might become redundant, others will be created. It is the people that ultimately define the experience, whether you are travelling for business or leisure.

Meanwhile, virtual reality and augmented reality will enhance the sector rather than compete with it.

At the moment T&T is just playing with the technology, but the opportunities—be it children learning in a classroom; training tourism workers to spot potential terrorists; engineers learning how to diagnose problems and replace fan blades on jet engines; or a terminally ill person visiting the world from their bed—are huge.

Business travel will increase as the human contact required for deal-making will never disappear

As for the online communications debate, this has been raging for 20 years.

While platforms such as Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, Facebook, and video conferencing facilitate connectivity, people still want to travel to see the world. 

Business travel will increase as the human contact required for deal-making will never disappear. More of the approach work can be done using technology to ensure that face-to-face meetings achieve what is desired.

However, much as the sector is able to grow off the back of technological developments and opportunities, this won’t resort to anything if T&T does not firmly establish its credentials as a force for good in the world.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide a great framework for making and monitoring change

We know that the economic and social impact of the sector is significant in all corners of globe.

But we also know that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that T&T growth really is inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide a great framework for making and monitoring change. I urge all players in T&T to engage with the SDGs and show how their activities are aligned with them.

As I step down from the WTTC, I call upon the whole T&T sector—from the CEOs I have represented to the government ministers I have worked with, to the 1.2 billion tourists who travel each year—to come together to ensure that travel, be it for business or leisure, continues to improve lives, protect the planet, and be a force for peace, security, and understanding in an ever more uncertain world.

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