A few weeks ago, I was in Madrid for The Economist Future of Travel summit. It was a pleasure to speak there, amongst all these big brains. And I learned so much!
One of the highlights of the day for me was the opening keynote by Dr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the UNWTO (United Nationals World Travel Organization). I expected a boring story with lots of figures from this not too young man with a very impressive public record CV (3 time Minister in Jordan), but we got a heart warming story from a man with sparkles in his eyes, especially when he talked about the joys of traveling: “The world is a better world today because of travel”.
Dr. Rifai also warned us that the rapid growth of international travelers (1 billion now, 1.8 billion in 10 years time) presents challenges too. “It’s our world – we all share responsibility.”
When asked by chairman of the day John Andrews “If you could change one thing in travel, what would it be?” he answered after a millisecond of thinking: “Remove all obstacles”. I almost got out of my seat for a standing ovation…
Obstacles turned out to be one of the major themes of the day. There was a lot of talk about obstacles that block seamless travel experience for travelers (because of different IT systems, different rail tracks in every country, etc.), but few solutions… There was the usual tirade by Michael O’Leary (CEO Ryanair) about obstacles put up for disruptors in the European airline industry to protect the old school airlines.
But we also talked about a major obstacle for the majority of people in this world, but one you don’t think about too often when you’re lucky to have an EU passport: visa obstacles. With speakers and attendees from all over the world it was great (or rather: sad) to hear about first hand experiences. One of the speakers – Obinna Ekezie from Wakanow Nigeria – had waited for 3 weeks until he finally got a (5 day!) visa from the Spanish embassy in Lagos after explaining his situation a day before his trip.
I was one of the panelists on “Inspiring the new explorer generation of travelers”. It was very nice to talk about how millennials think about travel, and what impact this will have on the travel industry. As intended, not everybody agreed with my statement “I think the millennial traveler will no longer consider the Eiffel Tower a tourist highlight in 2025”, so we had some nice discussion!
Bart van Poll, co-founder, Spotted by Locals – "when millennials travel, they want to feel like a local" #econtravel
— The Economist Events (@EconomistEvents) March 24, 2015
Full time traveler and Youtube star Louis Cole (check out FunForLouis) explained us why young people like him are no longer interested in Facebook, but prefer Snapchat. Facebook’s head of Travel Lee McGabe reminded us almost all companies in the travel industry still have a long way to go until we have the seamless travel experience millennials are expecting.
Futurist Tamar Kasriel reminded us the travel industry is behind in many aspects, and that we should look at other industries for inspiration. She praised Amazon’s very long term plan of growth, which is also an example for us. We’re not interested in short term gains, we’re in this industry to make a change.
Just when I was about to to shut down my brain due to information overload Tony Wheeler – co-founder of Lonely Planet – took the stage for the closing keynote. He was the only one lucky enough to be able to use slides, but he didn’t need them… what an inspirational man! My highlight of the day was shaking his hand talking to him about his joy of traveling – I sincerely hope I’m still has happy as a child as he is when I’m a 69 year old traveler.