Should hoteliers develop in-house or outsource IT applications and solutions?

Some hoteliers (brands & management companies) believe that developing tech solutions in-house is cheaper and provides better customization to the hotelier’s concrete needs and control over the ongoing maintenance and performance. Another school of industry-thought believes that hoteliers should focus on their core competencies: providing the best customer experience and best returns possible to ownership and outsource technology applications, products and solutions to specialized vendors.

So the question is, in this era of rapid technological advancements and adoption of next-gen technologies such as AI, IoT, automation, robotics, blockchain, etc., should hoteliers keep technology developments in-house or outsource to specialized, well-funded vendors?

Lyle Worthington
Technology Executive and Consultant & Past President of HFTP Global

“Building tech in-house can be cheaper and can provide more customized solutions, but only if you know what you are doing and you invest properly. You need to understand how to build software and, more importantly, how to maintain it. It is never an “invest and rest,” you will always be enhancing and fixing bugs. That said, I think you should feel comfortable investing here for the right projects. I don’t mean huge things like a PMS, but perhaps a service that automates certain tasks in your PMS via its API, or your own website and mobile app. Extend or enhance things to make your company more efficient.”

Jai Govindani
Chief Technology Officer at Red Planet Hotels

“This is definitely a divisive topic within hoteliers and extremely subjective – so what follows is my personal view: Buy what you can, build what you can’t. If a product/service/platform is commoditized to the point that there are various providers in the market, it’s unlikely (not impossible) that hoteliers will be able to add value by building that particular piece of technology. That’s not to say that a well thought out technology platform that is 100% tailored to the operations of a particular business won’t do well – however, most hotel companies are not structured to successfully build that kind of tech.”

David Sjolander
COO at Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG)

“It depends on the company’s size and what they are building.  However, in the large majority of cases, it makes more sense to buy than build.  When you buy, you have less control over functionality and it is slower to get changes made, but you benefit by speed to market and the enhancements that come from all user ideas.”

Michael Schubach
Chief Technology Officer at Rosen Hotels & Resorts

“The build-or-buy technology question is hard to answer if you’re part of a software development organization, but harder still when you represent a proprietary user community – even a sizable or highly specialized one. The argument is traditional: stick to your knitting. A hotel company may not be the best judge of software design, documentation and long-term maintenance. A hotel company rarely opts to build its own beds; why would it write its own software systems?”

Bryan Hammer
Vice President IT at Belmond

“A large chain may have more resources better suited to development in house.  This requires a high level of funding, process maturity, infrastructure and deep skill sets.  In return for the customisation and control they get over the environment, they also take on the responsibility to make sure they are incorporating all of the legal, statutory, and regulatory requirements, no small task these days!  Smaller chains won’t have these same resources and will definitely not want to take on the risk and liability to make sure privacy by design, PCI, and GDPR are built in.  Even if they had a small development team, there is a higher risk having that in house knowledge in the hands of just a few people.  What happens if someone takes a job with a new company, gets a long term illness, etc?  Better for the small hotel companies to outsource to professional companies with a proven reputation, and specific skill sets focused on this rapidly evolving  next gen space.”

Timo Kettern
Corporate Director of IT at Bierwirth & Kluth Hotel Management

“For a smaller hotel management company like us, we cannot afford in-house developments – not budget- and not resource-wise. We will always look to partner with vendors for technologies that help us achieve our operational and financial goals.”

Jon Davis
CTO at Village Hotel Club

“I would always be an advocate of buying ‘off the shelf’ solutions where possible, and I believe it is becoming increasingly easier to do this, although there is still a way to go! With the rate of change in technology, I am more comfortable relying on solutions that are used by other hospitality experts, which should, in theory, allow for a wider group to impact research and development.”

Floor Bleeker
CIO MEA and Global Accor Strategic Programs

“To develop your own solutions, a big and expensive team of specialists is required. A typical software development cycle has project managers, product managers, developers, testers, security specialists, DBAs, and functional and technical analysts involved, amongst others. For most of us the first question would be: can we even afford to develop our solutions in-house?”

Ian Millar
Professor at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne

“This is a tough one. Yes hotel companies should concentrate on being hotel companies but if we look into why they have in the past built their own systems it is probably due to existing ones not meeting their requirements, overly expensive and poor integration with other systems and lack of ongoing support (what industry people have told me). So basically born out of frustration of existing off the shelf solutions. Today where the new breed of technology solutions are taking a more open and collaborative approach, Open API’s and with a more cloud computing platform it makes sense to go with off the shelf solutions. With 5G around the corner, AI and IoT coming our way there will also be a new wave of solutions for hotels run their operations.”


Investing in the Guest Experience

Many will recall the 2017 brand crisis, which cost United Airlines $1.4 billion in value practically overnight after a passenger incident where injured while being forcibly removed from a fully boarded, sold-out flight went viral. This situation showcased the enormous impact of customer experience, and arguably there is no industry in which the experience holds more weight than hospitality. So, it comes as no surprise that the recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Surveyrevealed an increase in IT investments into “Guest Experience” products, with 46.63% of respondents naming this category as the primary focus.

Hoteliers are in the business of curating exceptional experiences for a diverse portfolio of guests, across varied travel segments. Everything a hotelier does, from the aesthetic of a hotel property, the customer service standards, the amenities offered to guests, on-property experiences, room decor and upgrades, helps to piece together the guest experience. Modern guests crave a more intuitive experience, which not only lends itself to a deeper connection with their hotel of choice, but also provides a faster, more intelligent and convenient service model. Fortunately, with the use of cutting-edge, guest-centric technology, seamlessly personalizing the guest experience from pre to post-stay is entirely possible.

According to Kevin King, COO of Shiji, there is an industry-wide shift in focus to digital transformation which centers on continuously enhancing the guest experience, interactions, and converting guests into returning visitors and ambassadors to increase their lifetime value. Connie Rheams, Global Vice President, Global Accounts Sales at Oracle, echoed this opinion during a HITEC interview conducted by the Hospitality Net team, explaining that the technological investments which deliver the biggest ROI are always built around people.

As hoteliers actively seek out new technology and vendors who promise to deliver on enhanced guest engagement, what will act as the key differentiator? How can hoteliers remain ahead of emerging demands for personalization and knowing the guest on a deeper level?

Delving into the subject of the guest experience, Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey respondents were asked to name the top technology-enabled features they will always use when staying at a hotel. Wi-Fi (80.51%), climate control (43.75%), and USB plugs (33.82%) were the most popular choices for this segment. When asked to detail the one technology that causes the most frustration when booking or staying at a hotel, respondents named slow booking process, poor Wi-Fi connection, non-functioning door-lock key cards, repeating details at check-in, and more.

Hoteliers should strive to provide guests with enhanced convenience, in tandem with technology that allows them to control their journey. Fortunately, mobile technologies and social media have introduced more options for customers to interact, creating new opportunities and challenges. When guests do not have the freedom to choose their preferred communication channel, it causes additional friction. With the utilization of self-service functionality across mobile devices and kiosks, guests can use technology to shape their unique journey across every touchpoint of their stay. Many guests are opting to bypass the front desk to check in and to access their room via smartphones. Others prefer texting with a virtual concierge to get the answers they need quickly while others enjoy the one-to-one interaction with hotel staff.

The survey also queried organizations about the allocation of budgets for IT projects, which are purely serving innovation or research without any immediate expectations in ROI or guest experience. There was a noticeable divide between suppliers and hoteliers. 61.98% of hoteliers said “no,” whereas 73.42% of suppliers said “yes”. This seems to imply that suppliers may be missing the mark when it comes to technology development and priorities. This also sometimes holds true for top management and IT, who are two independent divisions within hotel companies. They should be aligned, on both the business and IT side, for their guest experience vision. Both the teams should choose the technology solutions together, keeping in mind the end goal.

These insights and trends make it clear that the guest experience revolution is just beginning. More and more, hotel organizations rely on technology to understand guests, provide quicker resolutions, empower personalized interactions, and proactive engagement before, during and after the stay. Technology and open API connectivity between systems are critical components that should drive technology strategies. When asked if APIs are expected to gain greater traction versus standards organizations such as HTNG or OTA, 78.51% of hoteliers said yes, while 65.82% of suppliers said yes. From a vendor perspective, 67.09% indicated that they currently have an API available for their solution.

As far as 2020 and beyond? The world is changing, and the way hotels connect with their guests also needs to change. By improving the guest experience and empowering hotel staff with technology advancements that drive engagement instead of transactions, hotels will increase both loyalty and revenue. The trends point to seamless integrations, predictive analytics, personalization, robotics, automation, self-serve tools, digital applications and artificial intelligence as the technology priorities that will revolutionize guest experience in the hospitality industry for years to come. In the end, the hotels that show a deep understanding of their guests and are proactive in responding to their frustrations are set to win the guest experience race.


Industry insight: How smart tech is reshaping hotels

With technology being a catalyst in the competitive arena of hospitality, hoteliers are focusing on offering guests a unique experience that attracts them toward their services. The hotel industry has changed over the years, explains STAAH.

Smart technology is changing everything from the homes we live in to how our cities are managed. The hospitality industry is no exception. In many ways, the hospitality industry is leading the charge in the adoption of smart business technology.

From operations to guest experience to marketing, smart hotel technology offers a variety of cost savings and revenue opportunities, and it is enabling hotel owners to reach new levels of profitability. Here are some ways in which smart technology is reshaping how hoteliers operate.

Self check-in

Today, the guest does not want to wait at the reception desk, and they are expecting everything digital in your hotel. However, self-check-in service by a mobile app is the best solution for customers as well as hotel management staff.

Also, with this, the guests can easily find out whether their room is ready, can make requests for amenities and many more.

Mobile room keys

A smartphone app that provides guest room access, eliminates the problem of attendees losing their key card or the environmental impact of countless plastic cards. This could help your corporate social responsibility image. It’s a win-win!

Reserved Parking

Smart sensors and hotel apps will allow guests to not only reserve parking spots ahead of their visits, but to also have their spot assigned at their arrival. This will give your guests an effortless experience from the minute they pull up.

Online Reputation Management

A hotel’s online ratings can not only help predict future bookings, but they offer owners valuable insight into how well a property delivered on guest expectations. Therefore, operators will continue to invest in platforms such as STAAH’s review minder, that help them monitor online reviews, manage their online reputation and use that feedback to improve both their operational and guest experience standards.

Room service

Hotels will be able to push menu notifications to guests’ smartphones when they are in their rooms using smart occupancy sensors. They can also schedule texts tailored to fit their preferred ordering times, including personalised menu suggestions based on previous orders.

Other smart technologies such as customer surveys, smart loyalty-program management and smart hotel management will play a bigger role in how hotels operate in 2020 and beyond. The key to smarter hotel operations is implementing the right technologies that meet guests’ expectations and hoteliers’ needs to get to know these travelers better.


How augmented reality will help the hospitality industry

Augmented reality (AR) is being adopted as a tool to increase customer satisfaction and profitability across industries, including travel and hospitality. This fascinating technology superimposes useful data on top of the user’s environment in real time.

This integration of digital information provides a holistic experience that far supersedes any traditional standalone service we can offer today.

So, how does AR impact the hospitality industry?

The goal of any hospitality business is to enhance the customer experience. To this end, the industry has been a forerunner when it comes to adopting new technologies.

AR technology in hotels will transform the experience to one that aligns with the needs of the new generation of guests. The digital components of AR, like a live picture on various surfaces like TV or a minifridge, will add to the feeling of an infinite and yet connected space and add to a memorable experience.

Augmented reality smart glasses have hit the market, but for a regular hotel experience, guests can access AR through devices like tablets, smartphones, and headsets. These intelligent services and facilities will make guests feel hyper-connected, trendy, and right at home. Some of the popular uses of AR in the hospitality space include a guide to introduce guests to the hotel’s facilities; helping them find services in the hotel; amenities of the room; and information about lounges, parking areas, the fitness center, etc.

For international travel, AR will become a viable translator/interpreter, making it easy for international guests to communicate in foreign lands. This means traveles can easily find the various services they need with the help of smart AR devices.

AR is an excellent tool for maps and direction, too. All guests have to do is point their smart devices at the maps app, and they will be guided to their destination.

Augmented reality is also changing the way customers interact with brands and companies. It delivers immersive experiences through its many real-world applications that allow customers to get a different perspective of a brand. AR has the intrinsic ability to improve customer experience, which ultimately will lead to a healthy bottom-line.

Investing in a customized AR app is good for a hotel business. It will help deliver an excellent customer experience by offering the right information at the right time and place.

Some of the cool features that will help AR-driven hotel experiences stand out to include interactive hotel rooms, augmented environments that help guests explore the establishment, gamification of destination experiences, beacon technology to guide them, and virtual keys that get activated through proximity.

Businesses can integrate the app with their enterprise systems, CRMs, and maintenance systems to gain more insights about their customers and then use the knowledge to enhance their services. As an automated tool that is integrated with the maintenance systems, augmented reality can help boost productivity, efficiency, and decrease costs. As a preventive maintenance tool, it will help keep guests safe.


Hoteliers and Technology: Why Hospitality Expertise Doesn’t Stop at Hospitality

In any industry, standards of education help to ensure brands have access to the talent they need to continue moving the needle and growing their product or offering. Within hospitality, we realize a similar need — as the landscape continues to evolve, hotel brands and vendors alike rely on having access to qualified talent, especially in the realm of IT.  The hospitality industry, as we know, is enormous and subject to continued growth. Within our sector exists a wide variety of exciting careers and rewarding management positions that cover the full spectrum of the guest experience. However, as hospitality technology continues to advance and standards of guest care are increasingly influenced by digital mediums, we arrive at the question: Are hospitality programs offering enough of an IT education component?

The recent Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey presented by HospitalityNet™ and HFTP addressed this topic specifically when it asked hoteliers if they are concerned about access to the talent they need to achieve current IT goals while innovating and enhancing guest service. According to the survey results from hoteliers, 26.45% are ‘somewhat concerned’ while 24.79% are ‘very concerned’. Suppliers, on the other hand, have a different take with 22.87% saying they are concerned and more than twice as many ‘somewhat concerned’ (57.85%). Only 25.32% cited they are ‘not concerned.’ This not only encourages us to consider the need for up-and-coming talent while continuing on the path to innovation but also speaks to the need for dedicated IT emphasis within the education system.

To dig into this topic further, I asked Lyle Worthington, Technology Executive and Consultant & Past President of HFTP Global, to elaborate on what he believes to be the potential role of hospitality schools and university programs in the field of IT education.

“I think a comprehensive technology track should be a core component of any Hospitality business degree,” explains Lyle. “Mind you, I don’t simply mean a one-week intensive course, or a few tech-focused lessons crammed into the middle of a Microsoft Office class. Rather, I think you need at least two full semester-long classes covering the many important concepts and theories of technology which are applicable to our industry. If you want to be a leader in any area of hospitality operations or management, you have to realize that the technology you use is absolutely critical to your success,” continued Lyle. “Almost every point in our customer’s journey is impacted in some way by technology, and each day they become less tolerant of even the slightest technical issue. The key is not to become an IT expert, per se, but to exhibit a baseline level of knowledge that allows you to make intelligent technology business decisions. You should understand IT architecture and feel comfortable working side-by-side with IT professionals and consultants. You must be able to cut through industry buzz words and hype to make informed decisions on what new technology to implement and, more importantly, why. Moreover, hoteliers should be able to properly manage their relationships with technology vendors, whilst contributing their operational expertise to their brand’s big-picture IT strategy.”

The survey also indicated that the majority of respondents (43.14%) are working with increased IT budgets for 2020, while only 21.57% are working with the same IT budget as last year. Further, when asked to compare the importance of their IT budget to the perceived importance of other departmental budgets, 65% said it is awarded equal or greater importance. Of course, with this increased capacity for technology, comes a subsequent increased demand for individuals who know what to do with it.

Lyle added, “It’s far too easy for hoteliers to claim, “But I’m not an IT person!” Well, you’re not a plumber either, but you understand the concept of a toilet well enough to make sure it is installed correctly and functioning. Technology is a part of our business that we can’t function without, so it is time to recognize that, at the end of the day, we are in the IT business.”

Ultimately, the role of any hospitality expert is two-fold. Whether a hotelier or a vendor, in order to provide the highest level of service while ensuring an effective operational model, you simply must have a thorough grasp of modern technology implications and priorities.


Moving the Needle for Hospitality Technology Takes Innovation, Agility, and Alignment

The success of the hospitality industry has always been rooted in the provision of service and the continued cultivation of relationships. While the rapid advancement of mobile and cloud-based technologies are enhancing the ways hoteliers can interact with travelers, the underlying goal remains the same: to create an exceptional guest experience.

The most successful relationships are always based on communication and mutual understanding. At Shiji, we believe it is always important to look, listen, and learn一not only to your guests, but also to your partners, competitors, and the industry at large.

That is why we welcomed the opportunity to sponsor the Hospitality Net Sentiment Survey as a way to inspire communication, awareness and collaboration across the hospitality industry. The results of this study were revealing: Hoteliers across all segments believed that innovation, agility, and technological alignment were all critical elements of their competitive success. More specifically, the responses revealed three significant trends:

Today, technology drives or supports nearly every touchpoint in the guest journey. Technology is playing a pivotal role in personalizing the guest experience, connecting hotels and restaurants with their guests, and allowing guests to more seamlessly connect with each other. Ultimately, if a hospitality company wants to be guest-centric, it has to embrace the change that comes with technological transformation.

Many hotels used to be tied to legacy systems which made it difficult for them to upgrade or scale the use of technology solutions in their businesses. Fortunately, we are now witnessing an industry-wide shift in favor of emerging cloud-based technology. The results of the Sentiment Survey reflect this progression. When asked how their executive management rates the importance of IT budgets, over two-thirds of the hoteliers surveyed said that management valued IT more (30.98%) or about the same (34.12%) compared to other departments. This sentiment is mirrored in their actual IT budgets: With the majority of hoteliers indicating that their IT budgets have either increased (43.14%) or have remained the same (21.57%) since last year.

Ultimately, this shift in investment priorities will drastically increase the amount of data available during the guest journey一from booking, to arrival, to in-stay and post-stay. No longer will hoteliers make broad predictions based on simple customer variables such as occupancy, average room rate, etc. Soon they will be able to connect with guests in real-time, based on robust data that is actionable now. In this way, technology will enhance every aspect of hotel operations, from staff productivity to revenue, to the guest experience itself.

Let Guests Use Their Technology to Shape Their Unique Journey

Still, it is important to emphasize that technological change must not take place in a vacuum. Technological investments must arise naturally from the unique needs of your business and should improve some actual part of the guest journey.

Modern travelers expect convenience, personalization and “anytime, anywhere” service on the mobile device of their choosing. And it’s their journey that should dictate your strategy. Today’s guests, especially Millennials, place a high value on self-service: They don’t want to have to wait in line, or talk to people to address mundane, administrative issues that could be handled automatically. They want to be able to use their technology to control their unique journey.

This shift towards self-service is reflected in The Sentiment Survey. Technological investments this year will focus largely on guest experience platforms, operational management, and technology stacks. Guest experience platforms include applications that allow for mobile check-in, self-service, and enhanced personalization and convenience. Operational platforms and technology stacks, on the other hand, will help hoteliers to streamline their day-to-day operations and enhance staff productivity which, in turn, also contributes favorably to the guest experience.

With slow booking processes, traditional room keys, antiqued front desk procedures and a lack of in-room control systems being cited as common hospitality grievances, it comes as no surprise that The Sentiment Survey cites smart room controls, self-check-in, IoT, voice-activated assistants, and mobile keys as promising technological investments moving forward.

No More Walled Gardens: The Rise of Open API’s

A major issue facing the personalization of the guest journey is the fragmentation of customer data. In many ways, personalization is a function of data and platform connectivity: Technology platforms need to be able to “track” the guest through different devices, locations, and moments in the guest journey to tailor themselves to the guests’ needs. But none of this can happen when customer data is siloed in different technology systems.

This is why it is critical for technology providers to embrace Open APIs. Not only can Open APIs help hotels scale and integrate with third-party platforms, but they can facilitate the level of data exchange needed to personalize the guest journey. API’s connect the various hospitality software, applications, and programs to optimize operations across every guest touchpoint.

According to the survey, an overwhelming 78.51% of respondents answered “yes” when asked whether open API’s are expected to gain greater traction versus standard bodies such as HTNG or OTA. This sentiment acknowledges the need for different systems from different vendors to connect seamlessly and intuitively to provide hoteliers with the comprehensive data needed to enhance the modern guest experience.

Working Together for the Greater Good

An old proverb says, “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.”

The relationship between technology providers must never be about strict zero-sum competition. Competition exists, of course, but all providers should be working to develop a series of open platform systems so that hospitality companies can craft the solutions that work for their guests. Nobody wins when technological solutions are hoarded in separated walled gardens.

The hospitality industry is currently experiencing a revolutionary transformation, and we all play a critical role in this exhilarating journey. Propelled by consumer trends, emerging technologies, and the explosion of mobile devices and cloud-based applications now is the time for leaders to work together to develop the next generation of solutions for the hospitality industry.

A Note on Shiji and the 2019 Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey

Shiji sponsored the 2019 Hospitality Technology Sentiment Survey to help the hospitality industry gain new insight into emerging technology, market trends, and ultimately, customer needs. This Survey will help hoteliers and vendors understand the industry’s key technology priorities based on today’s guest requirements.

Shiji Group has been a driving force in hospitality technology for over two decades. During that time, Shiji has developed and curated a comprehensive ecosystem of world-class technology solutions that empower hoteliers to better connect with their guests. From investing in emerging startups to helping innovators scale cutting-edge solutions, Shiji’s is actively committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in technology.


Tourism is bad for locals and the environment. How do we fix this?

Who doesn’t want a vacation right about now? Especially as the weather gets worse here in Connecticut, jetting away to somewhere livelier and warmer sounds nice. There’s just one problem: You have to be a tourist.  

The tourism industry is a world of contradictions. It is opulent for those at the top but often leaves the actual destinations destitute. It is beloved by the governments that prosper from it but is often reviled by actual citizens. It can give tourists a more worldly perspective but also contribute to a great deal of injustice. How do we reconcile these problems? 

Tourism has been around for a long time — the Seven Wonders of the World were tourist sites for the ancient Greeks and Romans. Historically, the rationale for all this travel has been “just don’t think about it too hard.” But just as technological advances have made travel more available for the average person, they have made us more aware of the state of the world. As it turns out, there is a large, dark underbelly to the glamor of tourism.  

At its best, the tourism industry allows funds to be redistributed from the wealthy visiting far-off places to the local communities in those places. However, this isn’t always the case. The interests of tourists are not always or even often in line with those of the residents.  This is especially true in places with unstable or corrupt governments. Perhaps infrastructure upgrades can be helpful to the region, but is it really fair to say that knick-knack shops are a route to actual economic progress? Or how about restaurants catering to tourists that are of little affordability or interest to the residents?  

Jobs near tourist destinations too often end up being low-paying and unfulfilling. So, while tourism can be helpful for development, it is not necessarily economically sustainable. This is especially true in the most vulnerable places, as nothing ruins a tourism industry like war or civil unrest.  

Unsustainable is often the word that comes up when discussing tourism’s environmental impact as well. Tourism can be done in a way that is not overly detrimental to the environment, but these ways are less fun and comfortable, or at least are perceived as so. There is no doubt that planes carting travellers all around the world at every moment is not the best for the environment, though. The pampering of much of the tourism industry also results in a lot of waste byproducts. These aren’t problems inherent to the tourism industry in particular, but consumerism as a whole is rampant there. 

The largest problem with tourism is the ethical grayness of the way in which the industry conducts itself. Ideally, tourism allows for the broadening of perspectives, the understanding of cultures other than your own. Is it successful in this? 

Well, that’s a loaded question. Many governments around the world are very careful to craft a specific image of themselves to tourists. North Korea is the most stark modern example of this, but every country does it to a certain extent. After all, if a country is making a lot of money off of tourism, keeping a good reputation is necessary to keep people coming. In this way, the industry will try to hide unsavory or unappealing aspects of destination locations. Alternatively, they may exploit poverty in the region to sell an entirely different image, known as “slum tourism.” 

Furthermore, what of the tourist attractions themselves? Part of the reason Britain is such a nice tourist destination is all the history there. And nowhere can you get a more worldly view of historical artifacts than the British Museum. The great irony here, though, is that most of the items there are not originally British! Instead, it is a collection of things taken from all around the world. While it is spectacular to see so much, it leaves an uneasy feeling. By going there and supporting British tourism, are we not complicit in centuries of oppression?  

Of course, it is impossible to completely quash all of these contradictions. At the end of the day, tourism involves non-residents contributing to the local and national economies. So, when it comes time to budget out this money, sometimes the interests of the tourism industry will run counter to the interests of the local people. At the very least, thoughts should be put into how you travel and visit other places. While we cannot fix all the inherent issues, we can at least hold ourselves accountable to act respectfully, open-mindedly and thoughtfully. We can hold tourist destinations accountable for putting the sustainability and well-being of their own residents first. 


How travel and tourism has innovated over the past decade

For an industry that is all about movement, travel changes at a glacial pace.

At your local airport, the experience today will be much the same as it was in January 2010 – with the possible exception of carrying your boarding pass on your smartphone.

You will need to follow the same rules to go through the same security. The odds are you will board an Airbus or Boeing jet that was designed decades ago; the giant United Airlines has just announced an order for 50 Airbus A321 aircraft, a jet launched as something of an afterthought by the European planemaker in 1993. And your pilots will follow much the same tortuous course through the skies to your destination.

On the railways of the UK, ironically, the most innovative train operator of recent times, Virgin Trains, is about to be dumped by the Department for Transport (DfT) in favour of Avanti to run trains on the West Coast main line.

And few hoteliers seem yet to have woken up to the realisation that this is the second decade of the 21st century and the traditional accommodation model really needs to be updated to make life smoother for travellers.

These are my choices, and I would like to hear your nominations.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the endless battle between Airbus and Boeing was characterised as a conceptual dual between the giant Airbus A380 and the smaller Boeing 787. Both went through severe birth pains, with the “SuperJumbo” delayed two years before it entered service in October 2007.

The “Dreamliner” was even further behind schedule – flying for the first time in December 2009 and enduring a three-month grounding while self-combusting lithium batteries were sorted out. And Airbus is ending production of the A380. Partly it was because the concept of a 500 to 600-seat plane with four engines was an evolutionary cul-de-sac. But it was also because the A350 is a far better aircraft from the airlines’ viewpoint: easier to fill and hyper-efficient.

The A350 has two engines, a carbon fibre fuselage and wings, and capacity to fly 300-400 passengers comfortably and profitably – making it an “XL”-sized plane compared with the “L”-sized 787 and the “XXL” A380. 

The plane has been granted “370-minute Etops,” meaning it is certified to fly for over six hours on a single engine. So it can serve almost any route on the planet, including straight over the north pole from Heathrow to Hawaii or Edinburgh to Tahiti. There is just a tiny patch of the Antarctic that is beyond its capabilities.

Passenger benefits range from bigger windows and more headroom to higher cabin pressure and humidity, making long flights more bearable. On a Qatar Airways trip I flew outbound to Doha aboard a 787 (with intermediate flights on the dated A330) and back on a A350. The new Airbus won easily.

D-Train (entered service 2019)

Extensive and expensive fleets of new trains have been deployed in Britain over the past decade, predominantly on lines to, from or through London. The new Japanese-designed Intercity Express Trains on the Great Western lines are enabling faster journeys between the capital and Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. But the passenger jury is out about whether they are actually any more comfortable than the old High Speed Trains.

Meanwhile a company called Vivarail is doing something much more sustainable: bringing back to life old London Underground trains, reinventing the 40-year-old stock to run on branch lines around Britain. The perfectly serviceable aluminium bodies are retained, as are the steel wheels, but the interior is far more comfortable and spacious – with options for electric, diesel or battery power.

You can find them shuttling between Bletchley and Bedford, and soon the railway on the Isle of Wight (currently served by Underground trains from 1938) will get an upgrade.

Incidentally, this year’s glorious technological revolution in Scotland involves refreshing 40-year-old diesel trains that have been “cascaded” (the railway term for hand-me-downs) from the Great Western network for service from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen and Inverness.

Eurostar to Rotterdam and Amsterdam (2018)

The Channel Tunnel train operator has the vast majority of passengers travelling from London to Brussels and Paris. Achieving dominance was easy, since the Eurostar network was designed to do just that. What has been disappointingly slow has been extending beyond the two cities – a summer-only link to the Mediterranean and a weekend winter service to the Alps are hardly revolutionary.

Finally in 2018 Eurostar launched a service to Amsterdam via Rotterdam, which has proved so successful that that 12-a-week link has been stepped up to 21 weekly departures. The main beneficiary is the traveller to Rotterdam, just three hours from St Pancras and previously poorly connected to Britain. Amsterdam, which is exceedingly well connected by air from the UK, is 40 minutes’ further.

Unfortunately, bureaucratic hold-ups mean that the service is one way only – coming back from the Netherlands, you have to change trains in Brussels. But the word on the platform is that direct inbound services should be with us by April 2020.

Gobbins Cliff Path (2015)

To see the “mist rolling in from the sea” to Scotland’s Mull of Kintyre, an excellent place to be is in Northern Ireland. Almost anywhere along the coast of Antrim will do, but the Gobbins Cliffs are particularly good; you can also look across at the anvil of land guarding the harbour at Stranraer in southwest Scotland. But this is just an overture for a fabulous reinvention of a Victorian adventure: clambering along the undercliff, on a network of walkways and bridges.

The Gobbins Cliff Path first opened in 1902 but was closed in the 1950s. Today, a guided tour makes an excellent day out from Belfast, or stepping stone to the Giant’s Causeway.

Hertz Ultimate Choice (2016)

The best rental car experience I have had all decade was earlier this year in Tampa airport. Forget lining up wearily after a long flight and going through the documents kerfuffle, carefully declining all the tedious and expensive extras. Instead, as Hertz instructed me by email: ”Go directly to the Gold zone, where you can choose any vehicle in that zone and go.” And that was that, choosing the roomiest (I was with an annoying film crew) and finding the keys already in the car. All I had done to deserve it was to sign up free with the rental firm’s Gold Plus frequent-renter scheme. Even though I am a very infrequent renter, I appear to qualify.

MS Roald Amundsen (2018)

“Flight-shaming” is an increasingly popular cause. “Cruise-shaming” isn’t. Yet in time the immense carbon footprint of cruising will be understood. Which means that the Roald Amundsen, the newest member of Norway’s Hurtigruten fleet, will be a relatively shining example of innovation – emitting one-fifth less CO2 than conventional vessels thanks to its hybrid propulsion system. Other vessels in the Hurtigruten fleet are being converted to run on liquified bio gas, made from organic waste such as fish.

Qantas from London to Perth (2018)

The daily Boeing 787 trip on the journey of 9,000-plus miles between Heathrow and Western Australia is now routine. While the environmental impact of ultra-long-haul flights is coming in for increased scrutiny, the passengers aboard the Dreamliner are loving the ability to reach Australia in a single hop. Families, passengers with reduced mobility and business people in a hurry are filling almost every seat on the 17-hour Qantas flights known as QF9 and 10. London-Sydney nonstops, likely to take three hours longer, may begin in the next decade.

Silk Road Express, Tashkent to Samarkand, Uzbekistan (2011)

The actual name of the train service on Uzbekistan’s high-speed railway is Afrosiyob, but I prefer Silk Road Express.

The 7.30am departure from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent speeds across the central Asia steppe at over 140mph, reducing the parched, crumpled foreground to a blur. The Spanish built train arrives in Samarkand, a city of minarets and mausoleums (as well, it must be said, of quite of a lot of Soviet detritus), after just two hours – unheard-of pace for terrestrial transport in this part of the world.

I paid about £12 for the trip, and few pence for onboard tea and biscuits. The line – a mix of new build and upgraded tracks – extends to Bukhara and will soon reach the mystical, medieval city of Khiva near the Turkmenistan border. Which, as it happens, is the most beautiful and beguiling place I have visited this decade.

And an honourable mention for Morocco’s Al Boraq line, which is Africa’s first high-speed railway – connecting Tangier, the capital Rabat and Casablanca in just over two hours.

High-altitude London (2013 and 2015)

Whether or not you invest £25 in a visit to (near) the top, the Shard has transformed the capital’s skyline – just as the London Eye did a decade earlier. London’s highest visitor platform was an integral part of the skyscraper’s design, and from 800 feet up you can see on a clear day for 40 miles (on a really unclear day, you will get a ticket for a return visit).

Yet this 2013 attraction has been mirrored by the Sky Garden – the amazing green and pleasant space that opened in 2015, facing the Shard across the Thames. It comprises the top of the building known as the Walkie Talkie for its strange shape, protruding from the City of London. The main purpose is as a posh and commensurately expensive bar and restaurant. But a certain number of people are let in free every day; book in advance online. (If your day isn’t available, then the 20th-century Oxo Tower on the South Bank has a viewing platform on the 8th floor.)

Titanic Belfast (2012)

On a quayside overlooking Belfast Lough, a structure as monumental as the ship it commemorates took shape in the early years of the decade. The visitor attraction occupies part of the old Harland and Wolff shipyard, which in the early 20th century was one of the most productive places on the planet.

If Ikea sold flatpack ships, and someone had made a muddle of the instructions, it would resemble Titanic Belfast. For once, the term “of Titanic proportions” applies literally. The top of the five-storey building is exactly as high as the tip of Titanic when the transatlantic liner was completed.

The vessel left Belfast on 2 April 1912. Twelve days later, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, Titanic struck an iceberg. She sank, with the loss of 1,517 lives, at 2.20am the next morning.

Titanic Belfast launched a century later. Inside this startling shell, the most familiar tragedy in maritime history is placed with sensitivity in its social context.

The high-risk project cost the city council and the Northern Ireland Executive almost £100m, but it succeeded in “doing a Bilbao”: transforming a post-shipbuilding city with bold, fresh architecture and a compelling story.

The visitor numbers, around twice as high as anticpated, tell their own story.


WTTC aims for ‘climate neutral’ tourism sector by 2050

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has reiterated its commitment to the global fight against climate change following the UN’s Climate Change Conference, Cop 25, in Madrid this week.

The WTTC aims to tackle the climate crisis through its Climate & Environment Action Plan and called on the tourism sector to become climate neutral by 2050. 

Its plan sets out targets, energy efficiency measures and renewable energy initiatives to reduce the use of plastics, food waste and others. 

The WTTC has also helped in the creation of a Sustainable Travel & Tourism Partner programme, to recognise companies that are taking action on this area and will share industry best practices via a Sustainability Knowledge Hub.

The travel and tourism sector supports one-in-10 jobs around the world and contributes 10.4% of global GDP, figures the WTTC said emphasised the need for the industry to commit to tackling climate change.

The meeting was the second time the tourism sector has been formally represented during a Cop summit and follows the WTTC hosting the first global Climate & Environment Action Forum during UN Climate Week in September.

The gathering featured presentations and discussions on leading by example through sustainable business practices to move the travel sector to climate neutrality by 2050 as well as delegates debating what is still needed to be done to create a more sustainable industry. 

Gloria Guevara, WTTC president and chief executive, said: “We are excited to be moving forward with our Climate & Environment Action Plan, as the leaders within the travel and tourism industry, we have the power to drive real change and are committed to this issue.

“Many of our members are already champions in sustainable business practice, and WTTC has the opportunity to convene the industry so we can move faster, contribute, and address the significant environmental and sustainability challenges facing our world.”


Tourism Task Force tries to get handle on tourist overload

In packed Assembly chambers at City Hall, the city’s Visitor Industry Task Force tried to get a handle on the ever-growing tourism industry.

The issue at hand was how the city will manage the influx of tourism expected to arrive in the coming years.

“There are a lot of ships on order,” said City Manager Rorie Watt, “and they are large.”

In its third meeting ever, and only the second substantial meeting according to Task Force Chair Carole Triem, the group looked at how the city had managed tourism in the past and how that might serve as a guide for the future.

“Past efforts show that we’ve been at a point where we thought mitigation was insufficient before,” said Michele Elfers, Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation for the City and Borough of Juneau. Elfers walked the Task Force through portions of the city’s Long Range Waterfront Plan, a technical document which gives an overview at how the city has approach tourism management in the past.

“It seems that we’re at that point again where we need to look at tourism more seriously,” Elfers said.

One of the words that is used repeatedly in the plan, Elfers said, was the word “balance.”

“The word balances comes out a lot, it’s a reoccurring theme,” Elfers said. “It also talks a lot about unifying the waterfront, about connectivity between the waterfront and downtown.”

Elfers told the task force to think of the Waterfront Plan as an infrastructure guide. However, she said, the plan did not discuss things like management, policy or maintenance issues.

Task force members talked about how to enhance the quality of life for Juneau residents while still accommodating the needs of the tourist industry, which is a major economic driver.

Meilani Schijvens of Rain Coast Data said she had worked on a number of studies related to the tourism industry, and that building infrastructure with locals in mind was a key element of achieving that balance.

“If you build for the tourists, the tourists are going to hate it,” Schijvens said. She said amenities built specifically for tourists often feel unauthentic and are usually disliked by visitors.

“But if you build for the locals, everyone is going to like it,” she said. “Sometimes if you go down to the waterfront, it’s all locals. We’re building a tourist industry that is for the locals and for the visitors.”

Yet there was still concern about the growth of the industry and the number of people coming to the city each year.

Paula Terrel, a community organizer and tourism industry critic, said the number of tourists was affect quality of life in Juneau.

“The ships are getting bigger, we’re getting more. If we don’t do something, it’ll just grow and grow,” she said. “There’s nothing to stop the cruise ship companies from coming with any volume they want.”

Assembly member Wade Bryson was wary of putting a cap on the number of tourists.

“There’s no way for us to pick a number, there’s nothing we can do to say this is the line (where no more tourists can come),” Bryson said. He was concerned that caps or other limitations on the tourism industry might disincentivize cruise ship companies from choosing Juneau as a destination.

“We also have to look at how much money is at stake,” Bryson said. “Every business in Juneau is tied to tourism.”

At the end of the meeting, Triem said she wanted to schedule additional meetings where members of the public could give comment.

“What I would want to hear is specific concerns,” Triem said. “The more specific, the more it helps with policy. I find it helpful when people have their specific points of friction.”

Two meetings were scheduled for public comment. On on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 10 a.m. and the other on Thursday Jan. 16, at 5:30 p.m. Both meetings will take place in Assembly chambers at Juneau City Hall.