Shifting Sands

Louis Thompson illustrates three major global hospitality trends that are set to disrupt the industry, providing a great opportunity for the glamping sector.

A series of images have inspired my musings this issue – each image is associated with a tourism related theme that represents a shift in the global hospitality landscape. For many of our readers these themes are likely to affect their business in both the short and long term.

1. Queues on Mount Everest

People queueing at the top of Mount Everest

This is an actual photograph of the highest summit on earth… a queue of people waiting to reach the peak in freezing, dangerous conditions. The photo illustrates the ubiquitous nature of overtourism. Historically, this relatively recent phenomenon has been associated with urban cultural sites such as Venice, Paris and Barcelona, but over the last few years it has been observed in rural destinations across the globe, particularly locations that have some specific photographable attraction that is easily shared on social media – the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, Maya Bay in Thailand or the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

We witnessed the disagreeable reality of overtourism at Yala National park while building Wild Coast Tented Lodge – queues of diesel pick-up trucks full of tourists waiting to glimpse a leopard or elephant.

We do not believe this is a passing trend – the twin threat of increasing use of social media and exponential growth in international tourists, will ensure that many first tier ‘bucket list’ destinations will fall victim to swarms of tourists as the number of global travellers increases.

The consequences will be three fold:
1. New developments in these destinations will become increasingly regulated
2. Limitations on visitor numbers will be initiated in many leading tourism sites
3. Second tier destinations will gain traction as alternative options.

UNWTO tourism projections

As a result we believe these changing tourism patterns will allow new destinations to blossom. Off the beaten track attractions that were previously under the radar, will become highly sought after as alternatives to traditional sites that are iconic, but inaccessible.

Secondly, hospitality brands and glamping concepts with a strong sustainability platform and corporate social responsibility programs will gain access to destinations as new planning regulations come into play.

 

2. Thomas Cook collapse

People queuing for help after the collapse of Thomas Cook

After 178 years of operation, Thomas Cook, one of the world’s biggest leisure groups with sales of £7.8 billion, 19 million annual customers and 22,000 employees, filed for bankruptcy leaving hundreds of thousands of tourists stranded abroad.

These images of tourists struggling to return home were transmitted across the entire planet instantaneously by the global media. The tangible, misfortune of those travellers undermines the credibility of the traditional package tour travel industry and is likely to have a profound impact on tourism for years to come.

The reasons for the bankruptcy were multiple – a heatwave in 2018, high levels of debt, ill-advised mergers, the value of the pound sterling and Brexit insecurity all played their role in the crisis. However the reality is that the company was victim to changing patterns of behaviour – Just one in seven of us now pop into a high street travel agency to buy a holiday, according to travel agent trade body ABTA. Those who do tend to be over 65, and in lower socio-economic groups, with less money to spend.

Thomas Cook may well be the first domino to fall – traditional travel agents will simply not be able to compete with online counterparts that don’t need to staff 500 high street outlets, and therefore have a fraction of the operating costs. In addition, younger travelers have the tools available to book their own flights and create their own itineraries with the click of a mouse.

The repercussions of these changes will be seismic – traditional online aggregators will inevitably gain more and more market share, but the entry of Amazon and Google into this space will lead to a bloodbath. We also wonder how long the hospitality sector will continue to pay ever increasing commissions to online travel agents (with low overheads) when the sector is facing increasing competition from the shared economy providers like Airbnb. Our advice is to make sure you have a strong online presence to drive direct sales; do not be over dependent on OTAs and keep a careful eye on the blockchain – a flat fee booking channel could transform the sector once more.

 

3. Nay Palad Birds Nest at Segera, Kenya

Nay Palad Birds Nest, Kenya

This photo of Nay Palad Birds Nest at Segera in Kenya symbolises a fundamental shift in the concept of hospitality – it combines three significant trends:

1. Experiential travel – the resort is selling a unique experience in a unique environment for 2,000USD++/night, not a hotel room. Blasé luxury travellers are looking for something special – an unforgettable moment that they can share on their social media. Flying over the bush in a bi-plane and staying in a treehouse ticks those boxes.

2. Design – over the coming years the hospitality industry will have to bring something new to the table to defend its market position against the shared economy competition from the likes of Airbnb. The diversity of accommodation types currently being offered on Airbnb is astonishing, and the company is expanding into experiential tourism in a big way. To justify their prices hotels, resorts and tented camps will need to think way outside of the box – be it a floating suite like the Manta Ray Resort in Tanzania, a treetop dining experience at Soneva Kiri or Snohetta’s underwater dining experience in Norway.   In the era of Instagram image is all. Magical experiences can be created for every budget – the secret is imagination.

3. Sustainability – Wilderness Safaris, the group that has built the Birds Nest at Segera, has four core values: Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce; the company has invested in community support, solar panels, rainwater collection, wildlife conservation, home grown vegetables and much more. These sustainability initiatives are no longer reserved to luxury African lodges – they are increasingly expected by guests throughout the sector. Eco-tourism is here to stay and initiatives like Travalyst launched by Prince Harry, Tripadvisor, Booking.com, Skyscanner and Ctrip suggest that companies with the appropriate eco-credentials may have a significant competitive advantage: in 2019, 71 per cent of travellers told Booking.com that they believe companies should offer more sustainable travel choices.

Each of these themes has a significant impact on the travel industry, but combined together they suggest that there will be monumental upheavals in the sector over the coming years – traditional models may simply become redundant and new concepts will grow to take their place.

For the glamping sector these could be exciting times – nature based tourism, alternative lodging, farm to table dining and outdoor adventure sports are on the up, and what was once a niche is developing into a travel sector in its own right. To cater to this nascent sector we launched our new operating brand Nomadic Escapes at the Indie Lodging Congress in Los Angeles last week. To find out more visit www.nomadic-escapes.com

About Open Air Business 689 Articles

The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online.

If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine for free here.

Between magazines we produce the electronic OAB Bulletin - get yours here.