In this series, we spend five minutes with an industry luminary to get their thoughts on the latest trends and opportunities for the travel tech sector.
This month we speak with Sergio Vargas Johansson, our newly appointed Managing Director of Travel, who joins us from Amadeus, where he spent two decades in various positions, most recently as VP of Online Travel Companies in EMEA.
1. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the travel sector in the next few months?
Travel is becoming more expensive – we have seen in 2023 how airline tickets, hotel rooms and most other travel services have increased. This hasn’t deterred us from travelling in 2023, there was pent-up demand due to people’s desire to make big trips after the pandemic. Will the high prices continue? Will people continue to fly in the context of high inflation and high travel prices? These are the biggest challenges in the next few months for me. There is a risk that demand will suffer and the growth that we’ve seen will decelerate. However, there’s also a belief that this is a structural change and people will travel more due to the flexibility that hybrid work allows. On the corporate side, companies want to get their people back together.
2. What do you think will be the biggest game changer in the travel industry in the next 5 years?
There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of Generative AI in the travel industry, and I certainly believe this will be the game changer in the next 5 years. It has already started to change travel planning, facilitating the creation of travel itineraries for holidays, for example.
The applications of Gen AI in travel are plentiful; it can power recommendation engines for personalized travel experiences and tailored promotions, based on individual preferences, past behaviors, geolocalization, and number of travel companions. I see this as a big potential to enhance the trip experience. And this is only just the beginning.
As we see AI evolve, there will be startups bringing innovation on this front, and many large travel players adopting this technology across all stages of the travel journey, from inspiration, shopping and booking, to in-trip experiences.
3. Looking ahead, what do travelers have to look forward to?
Travel is all about experiencing, and people want to continue doing this in an easier way. Technology is evolving and a lot of innovation is coming up. One thing that I am particularly glad about is the evolution of contactless and cashless services.
After the pandemic, we all got used to contactless services, leading to increased demand for touchless check-ins, digital boarding passes, and virtual concierge services offering convenience and safety.
Cashless payments, using credit cards only, have accelerated all across the board and now you can even buy a single bottle of water in a local market in a developing country, cashless. No need to exchange currencies when travelling anymore, to most places.
Travelers can certainly expect to see more areas where contactless services will be deployed in the near future.