The Travel Industry’s Battle Against Plastic Has Begun

The travel industry owes a lot to the natural world. If it wasn’t for the spots of outstanding natural beauty, the pristine beaches, the untouched wildernesses; many of us would be out of a job. These are the things that most people enjoy. These are the things that help make travel worthwhile.

Which is why the travel industry has a clear vested interest in keeping the natural world in the healthiest state possible. But that’s not always easy. Inevitably, travel means pollution. So unless you’re going to force tourists to cycle from one destination to another, that’s one thing you have to allow for and mitigate against. Governments are already stamping down on dangerous emissions, for example, and encouraging electric vehicles where possible.

But one other side of pollution is the human footprint left behind at travel destinations: the rubbish, the waste and – most destructive to the long-term health of the environment – the plastic.

Single-use plastics, such as shopping bags and drinking straws, are perhaps the epitome of the globalized, consumerist world. They are cheap enough to make and use to be totally disposable, but they are not degradable in the environmental sense. They don’t just go away and break down. They clog up our beaches, harm our wildlife, pollute our water and entangle the animals living in our oceans. One million seabirds die each year die from ingesting plastic.

All of which isn’t ideal for an industry reliant on the natural world remaining as pristine and untouched as possible.

Earlier this year, the EU introduced the first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, which is aiming to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU. Better design of plastic products, higher plastic waste recycling rates, more and better quality recyclates will help large companies dealing with plastic to be more environmentally friendly.

But aside from actions taken to stop plastic and the use of non-recyclable materials at a governmental level, what can the travel industry actually do? And what steps have already been taken by travel giants to handle waste in a more responsible manner?

Alaska Airlines Leads the Way

As you might expect, the battle to become more sustainable is starting with travel companies associated with more nature-driven customers. For example, in a couple of weeks, Alaska Airlines will become the first in the US to ban straws on their flights. The airline distributed 22 million plastic straws in 2017 alone – that’s a huge amount of plastic.

The plan, in line with their partnership with environmental charity Lonely Whale, is to replace stirrers and straws with birch stir sticks and non-plastic straws. Most of their juice boxes will also be replaced with recyclable aluminium cans.

The initiative is part of Alaska Airlines’ push for sustainability and the ultimate goal of reducing in-flight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70 percent by 2020.

“Whether providing fantastic service or leading in sustainability, caring about people and communities is in our DNA,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of external relations.

“Without a doubt, we fly to some of the most beautiful places on earth, including many communities that depend on healthy oceans. We’re thrilled to partner with Lonely Whale to take this next step in our sustainability journey, and help keep the places we live and fly beautiful for years to come.”

Another popular travel company, Ryanair, is seeking to back up its claim of being Europe’s ‘greenest airline’. Much of the company’s efforts are targeted towards the significant challenge of CO2 emissions, but there was also a plastic policy unveiled earlier this year.

The company has pledged to be plastic free by 2023 as part of the five year ‘Always Getting Better’ plan. After the announcement, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer, Kenny Jacobs, said, “We are very pleased to announce our Environmental plan which includes our commitment to eliminate all non-recyclable plastics from our operations over the next five years.”

“For customers on board, this will mean initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, bio-degradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products We will also introduce a scheme to allow customers to offset the carbon cost of their flight through a voluntary climate charity donation online.”

Hotels making progress with plastic waste

Beyond airlines, other major travel companies are also taking steps to reduce plastic waste and, in some cases, go entirely plastic-free. For example, hotel giant Hilton is planning to eliminate the use of straws in all of its 650 global accommodations, as well as plastic bottles from its conferences – all by the end of 2018. Marriott International is also the way to reducing plastic use by replacing those small bath bottles in its North America hotels with dispensers.

Simon Vincent, Executive Vice President and President, EMEA, Hilton said: “As a leading global hospitality company, we have a huge responsibility to act as stewards of our natural resources, and support the communities in which we operate. Through our corporate responsibility strategy, Travel with Purpose, we are constantly looking for new ways to reduce our environmental impact. Extending a ban on plastic straws across our managed portfolio is an important move in the right direction, and one which we are committed to building on in the coming years.”

Hilton’s move will mean that in Europe, Middle East & Africa alone, more than five million plastic straws and 20 million plastic water bottles will not be put into circulation. For a dose of respective, that amount of straws saved each year laid end to end would exceed the length of the River Seine.

It makes sense that hotels chains are making these big steps. They have guests with environmental and sustainable values. They also have a moral responsibility to not produce waste that will mostly impact those who could never afford to be one of their guests.

Sonu Shivdasani, the chief executive of Soneva Resorts, a small luxury hotel chain that stopped its use of single-use plastics way back in 2008, said “Hotels serve the richest 30 percent of the world’s population, and in doing so, consume far too many natural resources that weigh negatively, impacting the other 70 percent of society. We, as an industry, continue to consume far more than our fair share of resources.”

Cruise companies joining the fight against plastic

Nowhere is the scourge of plastic more obvious than in our oceans. Plastic straws alone take 200 years to biodegrade. On top of that, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans every year.

For that reason, it makes particular sense for travel companies reliant on the seas to go some way to protect them. And so several cruise companies have been taking steps in the right direction.

This week cruise giant Royal Carribean announced that the 50 ships across all of the company’s brands will stop using plastic straws by the end of this year. The move is a step forward from the previous position, which was to only provide straws to guests on request.  Next year, guests who ask for straws will receive paper ones. Royal Caribbean also wants to tackle the use of other single-use plastics on its ships, including condiment packets, cups and bags.

Chairman and chief executive of Royal Caribbean Cruises Richard Fain said: “Healthy oceans are vital to the success of our company. For over 25 years, our Save the Waves programme has guided us to reduce, reuse and recycle everything we can. Eliminating single-use plastics is another step in that programme.”

And they aren’t the only ones. Norweigan Cruise Line Holdings has launched an anti-plastics initiative. P&O Cruises and Cunard also announced plans earlier this year to abolish single-use plastics including plastic straws, water bottles and coffee stirrers from all cruise ships by 2022.

Changing things from the bottom up

All of these examples feature big travel companies removing plastics from their operations, which is undoubtedly a positive step. But for real change to occur, it needs to happen from the ground up. It requires a state of mind shift for travellers and a more widespread recognition of the damage we are capable of doing to the natural world.

You’ll have to travel literally as far from the ocean as possible to find a place where this shift has started to take place: Mount Everest.

The world’s highest mountain is, unsurprisingly, an extremely popular tourist destination. 100,000 people – mainly adventure tourists – visit the region every year and help to make the Everest basecamp path one of the world’s busiest trails. On top of that, each year around one thousand people go via the mountain’s base camp and attempt to reach Everest’s summit.

In a recent Guardian article, wildlife journalist Ben Fogle describes how, on a recent trip to the top of Mt Everest, he was taken aback at how clean the mountain was looking.

everest plastic rubbish cleanup

Over the years, Everest has developed a reputation for being something of a dump. Climber and hikers have nowhere to put their rubbish and use supplies, so they inevitably get tossed to one side  – especially when rapidly changing conditions force climbers to keep on moving.

But over recent years, local agencies have teamed up with climbers and sherpas to help clean up the mountain and remove the tonnes of plastic that were thought to be partially responsible for dangerous avalanches.

The job isn’t done yet, but Mount Everest perhaps offers proof that, even in the most remote and wild locations, we can undo the damage of unsustainable, unecological tourism.

As Fogle writes, “I have spent time in many of the world’s popular wilderness locations and I would say Nepal should be proud. It is an example of man repairing the damage he has done. As our focus turns to the oceans and the seemingly impossible task of repairing our marine habitat, we could look at Everest as a fine example of turning back the clock.”

There’s a long way to go

According to an article in the New York Times, “Many big luxury hotel brands, airlines and cruise ship companies — notorious for their oceanic waste and high carbon footprints — remain slow to curb unnecessary single-use plastics like bottles, slipper wrappers and plastic swabs that end up in the very oceans and beaches their guests travel across the world to experience.”

“It’s surprising that the travel industry doesn’t show more leadership in terms of sustainable practices,” Clark Mitchell, a former editor at Travel & Leisure and now director at The Band Foundation, a conservation charity, told NYT.

“People go on a cruise to see beautiful islands, clear waters and gorgeous beaches. These companies have a direct stake in keeping these places pristine. And yet single-use plastic, like straws, are literally everywhere a traveler looks, in the drinks being sold, in the water and on the beach.”

plastic wastre travel industry declares war on plastic

Inspiring the next generation

The travel industry has an important role to play in the fight against single-use plastics. Sure, individual companies can take steps to reduce their plastic waste and encourage their customers to treat the environment with respect.

But we already know that a sustainable world requires sustainable humans. So what’s ultimately required is a state of mind change. We need to think differently about how we treat the environment as travellers. Luckily, travel is an easy way to inspire that kind of mental shift. Encouraging people to get out there and explore the world is the best way to motivate them to protect it.

That’s probably why we’ve seen eco-tourism evolve as a sector in its own right. Environmentally-minded travellers are starting to demand trips that combine conservation with sightseeing and exploration. Perhaps we need to find a way to bring this attitude into mainstream travel. Just as mountaineers scaling Everest are asked to collect any rubbish they see en-route, maybe we should all start with the little things to help make tourism viable and enjoyable for future generations.

Research: Tourists Aren’t Ready For Digital Detox

A survey of American tourists has revealed some interesting results about travellers’ relationship with their mobile phones. Hint: we’re more addicted than you think. 

One travel industry trend that’s been well documented – by us and others – is the desire for authenticity.

This trend arguably has several distinct causes. Among them is the relentless presence of technology in our lives. Internet access in the palms of our hands has caused a change in dynamic. It’s made the world feels closer than it’s ever felt before. Nowhere is off limits.

On a day to day basis, it’s also changed the way we travel for the better, at least in practical terms. You can read some of our stories that discuss the intersection of travel and technology here:

Many of these stories explore our relationship with technology and how it impacts the travel experience. Sometimes there’s room for debate, such as with Google’s Pixel Buds. Real-time translation is obviously useful, but does it take something fundamental away from the authenticity of random encounters abroad? That’s just one example.

Either way, with an increasingly connected world comes the desire to remove oneself from it, to escape the madness. More than anything, that’s embodied by the search for unique, bespoke and authentic experiences – which is as competitive as ever.

Second, it’s shown in the wellness travel industry rise, in which the desire to switch off and remove ourselves from the pressures of modern technology – and the intensity of that 24/7 connectivity – is a leading driver.

So what do tourists really think about technology and much it should be present during a vacation? Are we just addicted to our devices, or do they genuinely add something to our time away from home? These are a few of the big questions that a joint survey from Asurion, a mobile device insurance company, and OnePoll, a UK-based marketing research company

Here are the headlines.

A digital detox is a step too far for most tourists

Vacations are supposed to be the place where we get away from it all. But apparently ‘it all’ doesn’t include smart phones and social media.

According to the Asurion study, Americans check their phones an average of 80 times a day while on vacation. Some check their phone more than 300 times each day, according to new research.

A study of 2,000 Americans found that while we want to relax and get away from our daily routine, we don’t want a break from our phones.

Whether on a beach, by the pool or in a museum, results showed the average American checks their phone five times an hour – or once every 12 minutes while on vacation. And nearly 10 percent said they check their phones more than 20 times an hour.

The study by global tech services company Asurion found we might like to relax on vacation but we certainly aren’t looking for a digital detox – 53 percent of Americans have NEVER unplugged while on vacation.

In fact, Asurion’s 2018 study conducted by OnePoll shows that we are on our phones during vacation just as much as during our regular day-to-day life. Asurion’s 2017 survey insights into day-to-day phone use found that we check our phones 80 times a day as well.

So how long can we stand to be away from our phones while indulging in some R&R? Four hours is the average. In fact, Americans are so dependent on our phones that one in four said they’ve either climbed a tree, hiked to the top of a hill, or canoed to the middle of a lake just to get cell phone reception during vacation.

“The results reveal that while people enjoy taking a vacation from everyday life, they don’t necessarily want to take a full break from their phone, which serves as their main connection to friends and family, and is a practical tool to help get around when travelling,” said Bettie Colombo, Asurion spokesperson.

So what’s driving our phone attachment on vacation? Friends and family are the biggest factor, with more than 46 percent saying they want to stay connected with friends and family, or to share their experiences. In second place, nearly 20 percent said that their phones help them to be a smart tourist and get around unfamiliar locations.

Mentally, it can be difficult to take a break from social media even while lounging poolside, and Americans agree – with 68 percent admitting they check social media when on vacation.

And Americans will go to extreme lengths to get cell phone reception or squeeze in more screen time. Nearly half of respondents reported tripping or bumping into things on vacation because they were too distracted with their phones.  And more than 10 percent reported missing their vacation destination while travelling because they were focused on their phone screens.

So, for those looking to just catch a break from their phone while on vacation, Asurion tech experts offer the following suggestions to help find life-phone balance while staying connected:

  • Set your phone on Do Not Disturb for select hours when you don’t want to be contacted.  This allows you to use your phone when you really need to, while blocking calls that distract you from your vacation.  This can be done on iPhone by going to Settings > Do Not Disturb. Android users can activate Do Not Disturb by going to Settings > Sounds and Vibration > Do Not Disturb. From there, you can pre-schedule how long you want the DND setting in effect, and allow repeat callers to get through (in case of emergency).
  • You can also block out everyone while still allowing for crucial calls and texts from your closest friends and family. Under the Do Not Disturb setting, iPhone users can allow their “Favorites” list to get through. Android users can create a custom list of friends and family who can reach them.
  • Need extra help weening yourself from checking your phone too often? There are many apps available to help users break their screen dependency and reduce distractions.
  • The Forest app (available for both the iPhone and Android) uses gamification to help you break the screen habit by setting a timeframe (up to two hours) when you don’t want to use your phone. During that time the Forest app plants a digital seedling that slowly grows into a tree on your phone screen.  The tree withers if you check your phone before your time is up.
  • The Flipd app removes your phone distractions by locking you out of your phone apps during a timeframe that you designate. Or it can also do a “light lock,” which encourages you to stay off your phone, but still allows you to use it if you want to.
  • You can also manually move all your phone apps into one digital folder on your phone.  By not seeing the apps, you’ll be less distracted and tempted to use them, but will still be able to use them if you need to.

Top 5 Things Most Likely to Make Americans Pull Out Their Phone On Vacation

  • Capturing a photo
  • Researching directions
  • Picking up a phone call
  • Responding to texts
  • Looking for a place to eat

Top 5 Phone-Related Accidents On Vacation

  • Bumping into something
  • Tripping
  • Missing your destination
  • Falling down
  • Walking into traffic or a dangerous situation

Bad news for digital detox advocates

Plenty of travel companies are developing trips to cater for people who want to leave it all behind – ‘it’ being absolutely everything, and including mobile phones. These digital detoxes might sound marketable in principle, and perhaps they are, but the pool of willing participants may be shallower than we’d like to think.

The facts don’t lie; tourists won’t give up their phones easily, so why make them?

Talking Points and Final Thoughts

For some people, the results of this study will be a little worrying. Are we really this reliant on our mobile devices? Do we seriously need to check our mobile phones 80 times per day, or keep in touch with social media during our vacations?

These are big questions that go way beyond the travel industry and into wider society, where our relationship with technology is arguably more of an addiction than we care to realise.

However, that doesn’t stop smartphones from being a useful addition to the travel toolkit. That’s part of the problem here: phones these days are everything. Your map; mode of communication, news hub, social media tool, gaming device. How healthy that relationship is can only be determined on an individual basis.

Which leaves us asking one fundamental question: Do these statistics negate in any way from the travel experience? Of course it’s hard to give a definite answer either way. Even the people surveyed in the study claimed to use the same technology for getting directions, checking out local places to eat, translation tools and the like. All of these are overwhelmingly positive and improve peoples’ time away.

Smartphones also allow travellers to capture memories with photos and videos at the touch of a button – the importance of which can’t be understated.

The point to consider from the survey results is this: Sure, we use our phones a hell of a lot, even when on vacation. And whether or not an element of that use is dopamine-driven, there are plenty of valid reasons for avoiding a complete digital detox on holiday.

One final thing to think about: The Asurion survey only dealt with American tourists, so we can’t generalise these results to travellers on the whole. With America being the globalisation capital of the world and the hub of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, more moderate results might be found with different nationalities.

How Will GDPR Impact the Travel Industry?

In recent weeks you might have received a weirdly large number of emails and notifications from companies and applications that you use, asking you to look at updated policies and privacy terms. That’s not a coincidence. These moves to adjust policies and develop new codes of conduct are all designed to help companies adhere to new customer data guidelines about to come into place in the European Union.

The legislative change, known as GDPR, stands for General Data Protection Regulation. Essentially, GDPR is being introduced to better protect customers’ privacy. Across the EU, GDPR aims to strengthen and unify data protection for all individuals, governing the storage, processing and sharing of customer data when it comes into effect on May 25th.

So what will this mean in practice for the travel industry?

How Will GDPR Impact the Travel Industry

Just like any other industry, travel companies handle customer data when they process bookings, register potential interest and push marketing campaigns. This data can range from everything to names, email addresses and bank details, as well as passport information and biometrics.

The purpose of GDPR is to give customers more power over where and how their personal data is stored and used. With its introduction comes a new set of regulations regarding data privacy, a fining system, a clear responsibility for organizations to obtain consent from people whose information they collect and, in some cases, a requirement for companies to create the role of a data protection officer.

This person’s job will be to respond to requests about the purpose of obtaining personal data and provide a copy of all user data if needed. They will also have to set up the data deletion process, as customers have the right to be forgotten: to ask for their personal data to be removed.

GDPR focuses on two main concepts, both of which travel companies will have to get to grips with. These are Consent and Security. Customers need to give consent for their personal data to be secured, which means they need to have an awareness and an understanding of what and why their information is being stored in the first place.

Once that hurdle is navigated, companies need to protect that data adequately. Let’s take a closer look.

Consent

Arguably the most significant part of GDPR regards Consent. Customers must give their express consent for their data to be used. They also have to be clear about what exactly it can be used for.

For travel companies, this offers an interesting challenge. Like any other industry, companies in the travel business often rely on mass marketing and email campaigns to draw in leads and target potential customers.

GDPR now means that express consent will need to be given for those emails to be sent out. So could this be the end of email inboxes packed with spam? Maybe. No doubt there will be travel agencies concerned that their huge mailing databases will soon be rendered useless. But in reality, it’s more effective to target people who are actually interested in your products and services. Travellers are too savvy these days to take seriously anything less.

Security

There’s no doubt that travel agencies carry a lot of responsibility. They often store sensitive data, from bank details to passport information. Arguably this makes the travel industry one of the most vulnerable to data security threats.

In fact, that potential has played out in reality. A report by telecommunications giant Verizon in 2016 discovered that travel & tourism suffers the most number of cyber-attacks of any industry. So the good thing is that, in a sense, GDPR will help the industry get its act together. That’s because the new regulations force all businesses to be accountable for the customer data they hold. There’s no hiding or blame passing if and when things go wrong.

More established companies are bigger targets for data thieves, but they also have the resources to keep personal data secure. Every travel agency should be using encryption for data storage, for example.

What is personal data, anyway?

According to the GDPR definition, ‘personal data’ means any information relating to a person that allows them to be identified directly or indirectly. The regulation lists examples such as name, identification number, location data, or some factors specific to the physical, cultural, or social identity of that person.

From the travel industry aspect, personal data could include the following types and sources of information:

  • ID / Passport details: names, postal addresses, race, origin, biometric data;
  • Contact information: email addresses, telephone numbers;
  • Digital data: photographs and videos;
  • Sensitive data: financial and payment information;
  • HR records: current and former employee details.

Practical GDPR steps for travel companies

So how about a few practical recommendations for companies in the travel space, who are running out of time to adhere to the incoming GDPR regulations.

Think about how you’re going to obtain customer consent

The first step is one of the most important. In order to be granted permission to hold and process customer information, you need to have systems in place that allow you to obtain the right kind of consent. The GDPR law makes clear the conditions for consent creation. Travel companies have to work in line with those conditions for compliance purposes.

The GDPR rules that govern how companies should obtain consent state that:

  • Consent must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.
  • Companies must present the consent in an easily accessible format, written in clear language.
  • The consent can’t be inferred from silence, visiting, and continuing to browse a website. This is important. Consent has to be actively given, never passively assumed. It also needs to be separated from other terms and conditions. The user must complete an affirmative action. The best approach is probably to create a click with an opt-in box.
  • If you gather information about users via cookies, you should give customers the opportunity to accept or reject them.
  • If a user changes their mind, they also must be able to access settings menus to update their preferences.

Another important point: Personal information collected about users for one purpose can’t be used for a different one. That would violate the whole point of informed consent.

An interesting, potentially tricky example of how consent will need to change in the world of travel is with users’ email addresses. During a booking process, it’s standard for customers to hand over their email addresses to receive their boarding passes or e-tickets.

With GDPR, travel companies have to ask for explicit consent again if they want to use this contact information for marketing campaigns, for example. That goes for airlines, hotels and travel agencies.

Instead of bombarding customers with consent forms and non-stop ‘please tick here’ boxes, the easiest way to incorporate this philosophy of unambiguous consent is to include multiple tick boxes for each type of consent you need.

Within that consent box, travel companies will have to clearly explain why they want to capture personal data, who is requesting it, and who else will have access to it.

Keeping track of the data your travel company stores

Personal information about customers has, before GDPR, been spread across a wide range of departments, from sales to marketing to loyalty. But now, it’s more important than ever that travel companies know what data they have, what it’s being used for and where it’s being securely stored. A good way to keep on top of all of that is to organise a regular information audit.

In theory, this practice will help travel companies keep tabs on the personal data they have, why it’s there, what it’s being used for and how long it’s going to be there for.

GDPR requires that companies communicate with their customers about the purpose and nature of data use. This level of transparency will be much easier to achieve with information audits, particularly for agencies offering sophisticated personalisation of their products.

gdpr travel companies: the right to be forgotten

Part of GDPR is a customer’s right to be forgotten, to remove all of their data on a company’s system.

Responding to customers’ data requests

Because GDPR is all about giving the power back to customers in the personal data relationship, companies in the travel industry need to be ready to deal with data requests as and when they arise.

According to GDPR, all of a company’s customers have the right to ask:

  • for a list of the data stored with them;
  • for the company to define data collection purposes and uses cases;
  • for an outline the time period for which the personal data will be stored;
  • for the company to send a copy of all their data that is held;
  • for the company to delete the data about them.

Each company is obligated to supply this information and process such requests. Some of that may be via autonomous systems and profiles, some requests may have to go through the company’s data protection officer.

Dealing with data breaches

Even with the best security measures in place, it’s likely that data breaches will happen at some point down the line. Dealing with these breaches in the correct manner is essential for GDPR compliance and, ultimately, customer confidence.

Travel companies need to have procedures in place to properly detect, report, and investigate any personal data breach.  GDPR also states that companies must report certain types of data breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office within 72 hours. If that breach has the potential to impact customers’ rights and freedoms, the individuals concerned have to be notified as well.

Providing access to users

Another vital part of GDPR is the notion that customers have access to their data, not just control over how it is stored, processed and obtained.

GDPR states that customers have the right to receive all of their personal information from the company concerned, whether or not that personal data is processed or about to be processed.

For travel companies, this means being in a position to provide customers with access to all of their personal data, as well as details on what that data is being used for.

Making data portable

Under GDPR companies are also bound to ensure that customer data is portable. What this means is that customers can, at any time, ask for their data to be moved elsewhere – say, to an alternative service provider. The notion of portability is that this process will be expedited, provided free of charge and done in such a way that it remains compatible with other organisations.

Should travel companies be worried about GDPR?

There’s no doubt that GDPR will change that way that travel companies deal with customer data in the EU. But, although there’s work to be done to ensure compliance, these changes in the data landscape can also be viewed as an opportunity.

The bottom line is that, from low-cost airlines to hotels and OTAs, travellers are keen to share their personal data if they think the result will be a more personalized and efficient service.

Speaking to Travel WeeklyFarina Aam, partner at Travlaw, said that travel companies shouldn’t be too concerned with the scope of GDPR. “Travel has a definite advantage over other industries because people want to hear about holidays and offers,” she said. “The main reason for the law is to stop spam and data being passed on to third parties. It’s not to stop companies contacting customers about services they have provided in the past.”

Abta’s director of legal affairs, Simon Bunce, agreed that it’s not as fearsome as it may appear. “It is being portrayed as big, scary and complicated, and a lot of companies might be tempted to put it off and hope it goes away, so we need to get people engaged.”

“The ICO – The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK regulator tasked with enforcing GDPR – describes it as an evolution rather than a revolution and I think that’s right. Businesses should [already] have a pretty robust system in place, so they should not be starting from zero.”

GDPR in the travel industry: Final thoughts

gdpr travel industry

GDPR: It needn’t be a scary process for travel companies.

There’s no getting around it: GDPR is going to change the way that every company in the travel business deals with customer data. But here at Travelshift we see these changes as an opportunity rather than something to be intimidated by.

The aim of GDPR is to bring more transparency to the table when it comes to companies and their use of our data. Following high profile stories in recent times concerning the likes of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, that sense of trust between customer and business needs some work.

Overall, GDPR has the potential to foster better relationships between travel businesses and their customers. It may seem like a hassle, but ultimately a stronger relationship will bear fruit. New value will be found in the forms of a more efficient, targeted and personalised service. Or it could be in giving customers the right to be forgotten when they want to sever that relationship.

GDPR is also about raising awareness. For years companies have profited from data, digital gold. People have a right to know where their information is being held, who it’s being used by and take back control if they feel it’s necessary. In the world of travel, GDPR represents an opportunity to harness data collected with consent. What’s not to love about that?

Travel Industry PR: The Relationship Between SEO & Public Relations

Reputation is important in the world of travel. It’s what inspires loyalty or drastically reduces return customers. If your agency or platform is known for a certain something: unbelievable customer service, poor value for money, once-in-a-lifetime experiences… that’s going to directly impact your bottom line, for better or for worse.

Which brings us to PR, Public Relations – essentially the art of reputation management. We’re talking about handling the press, reaching out to journalists in the right way and promoting your platform or agency in a manner that highlights your positive values and attracts the right kind of attention.

Aside from dictating the state of the intangible – your travel company’s reputation – PR has a more direct influence on your business because of how closely it ties in with SEO. Allow us to explain.

Why Travel Industry SEO Requires Good PR

In our business – empowering online travel agencies – SEO is fundamental. No matter how great your travel products, services and prices are, if customers can’t find you on the internet, you’re going to miss out on bookings. The end result of a great SEO strategy is being discoverable. More often than not, travellers do their research through search engines. You want to be at the top of those search results for your chosen niche.

A key part of any SEO strategy is backlinks, powerful little links that point from another website to yours. As well as sending relevant traffic in your direction, the quality and quantity of these links act as a barometer for your platform’s relevance.

In the eyes of Google and other search engines, the more high quality links you have from appropriate sources, the more relevant your content must be. The more relevant it appears to be, the more likely these search engines are to push you up the results rankings. It’s a cycle of reinforcement: the higher you are in the rankings, the more likely it is that you’ll be cited as a source of products, insights, or whatever it is you’re selling.

So where does PR fit into all of this? Why should travel marketplaces consider PR as part of their SEO strategy? Well, when you think about it, it’s very simple. PR refers to how your travel platform deals with and uses journalists and their publications first and foremost. If you can get your company in the news, either with a quote on a current topical news item or a feature/interview with a senior management team member, any link from you get from that is worth its weight in gold.

That’s partly because established publications have incredibly high domain authority. And, while some are better ranking than others, most news outlets are trustworthy in the eyes of Google: what they say is relevant is relevant.

Of course, good quality backlinks don’t only have to come from journalists and positive PR campaigns. Recent years have seen the rise of bloggers, professional social media influencers and websites dedicated to all manner of travel exploits. These can also be valuable backlink sources. Getting exposure in publications reinforces your SEO in the same way that usual backlinks do. The only difference is that other publications will catch on to the fact that your platform offers interesting quotes or analysis on your chosen niche, and they may come to you in future.

So, without further ado, here are a few strategies your travel company can employ to get more PR exposure and, in turn, better SEO…

The Mighty Press Release

Have you ever heard of or used Google News? Essentially, it’s Google’s way of sorting out news articles from the rest. Publications can sign up and their articles will be featured when you hit the ‘News’ section of the search bar. Much of the Google News category is made up of press releases or rewrites of press releases. This remains the best way for companies to publicise announcements and news related to their business.

Which brings us to an obvious suggestion: Why not write some press releases? At worst, your release will be picked up and republished by some industry-specific publications. At best, it could travel much further than that – depending on how interesting your news is, of course.

Almost without fail, republished press releases improve your SEO because they ( more often than not) feature a link to your website. Better still, they are published or rewritten on websites and publications who hold high domain authority.

It’s a no brainer, particularly if you have exciting partnerships, announcements and stories to share with the wider world about your travel platform.

Tapping into social media

Have you ever been scrolling through Twitter and noticed the hashtag #JournoRequest? Essentially, it’s a quick and easy way for journalists to connect with PR agencies and companies, whether that’s as part of a search for original stories, quotes or comments. An example might be this:

And it works both ways. Journalists looking for help with a particular story will write out their request in search of a company that can help. And travel companies can use the same hashtag, or something like #PRRequest, to tweet out to journalists about stories in their field.

So why not try searching for that hashtag along with a few terms relevant to your company? Who knows what might come of it.

You can really look at this technique as reverse engineering a press release. When done well, your travel company will see all of the same SEO benefits. It’s possible that you’ll work out a much more specific, more personalised publicity because of it.

Reviews

All types of companies rely on reviews to get positive publicity in the press and boost their SEO. No matter what they are selling, from mobile phones to bananas to hotel rooms.

If you’re a small travel provider, you may not be in the position to give away trips for free to members of the press. But remember, a single article in a major publication could go a long way, both in terms of SEO and name recognition.

It’s certainly worth considering, particularly if you’re looking to build a travel brand in a specific niche.

Stay ahead of the news

This point can be seen as an extension of tapping into social media to boost your travel site’s SEO. Let’s imagine that there’s a breaking news story that’s related to the travel industry or, more specifically, your chosen travel niche.

You might be an adventure travel startup, and new data might reveal that your sector is becoming increasingly popular. Findings like this hit the news all the time. So why not get ahead of them and have comments/insights ready to share with journalists at leading publications?

All you need to execute this PR strategy effectively is an up to date database of journalists who cover yours and related industries. Oh, and a willing executive who can share insights at short notice. This strategy is all about speed, so you have to be prepared to be proactive and approach journalists before they’ve even realised they want your input.

Journalists will run with stories and comments that are well written, insightful and show personality without losing professionalism. The more work you can do for the journalist, the more likely they are to publicise your business. Which brings us to…

Have the best images

Any travel company should be featuring their products and services with beautiful, inspiring images. If you can, why not make these images available to publications and journalists in return for a backlink or a mention.

More often than not, publications will use stock photographs or those that have been attached to press releases. Make sure your travel business provides high-quality images every time you share comments or stories with journalists.

The more striking the better!

Become your own publication

Now that’s a bold statement. What does it mean to become your own publication? In our experience, becoming your own travel publication is about going the extra mile. It’s about doing more than offering tours, trips and accommodation. It’s about becoming a tourism hub in every sense of the word.

Prospective travellers and people who have already made bookings want the same things: inspiration and information. Not copy and pasted nonsense. They want genuine, thoughtful guidance on how to make the best of their holiday.

Unsurprisingly, if you do this well, people are going to notice. But why does that translate into a good PR tactic in terms of SEO? Well, as we mentioned earlier, it’s all about backlinks and growing the relevance of your domain. If other publications and websites are linking back to your informative blog posts and articles, search engines are going to start pushing you up the rankings.

Your foundational posts are going to become the go-to articles in your chosen niche. People will discover your publication first and make a booking second, rather than the other way around.

Now, if you think about it, this isn’t really something you can do without investing a lot of time and resources into building a dynamic publication. You’ll need to hire journalists and content creators. People whose sole purpose is to create informative, interesting reads about your chosen travel niche.

This is where we do things differently…

The SEO Power of Community-Driven Content

We’ve written before about the power of community-driven content. It’s central to the Travelshift platform and provides the secret sauce behind our success. As a marketplace software provider, we know better than most that content generated by users and customers is the best kind. Naturally, it’s the most genuine. There are no lies, no bias, just honesty from people who have been there and done it.

For that reason, it’s also great for SEO. If people find an article informative, original or inspiring, they are far more likely to share it with their peers or quote it (and link back to it) in their own work. That’s why we build the capability to create a community of writers, bloggers and locals into our software solution.

So if the prospect of becoming your own publication is daunting, consider driving your community-driven content.

Good PR is at the heart of good SEO

So there you have it. Good PR strategies lend themselves wonderfully to effective search engine optimisation. If you handle the press well and dabble in social media, reviews and publishing effectively, there’s no reason why you can’t put in some really solid SEO foundations.

And it’s worth remembering that good PR snowballs. Just like throwing a pebble into a pond, making the right moves in the PR world will send out ripples and increase the reach of your travel company even further. The same goes for positive SEO strategies. The more great content you create, for example, the more people read it.

The more people read it, the higher you get pushed up the rankings. And the higher you are up the rankings, the more people will discoverable your website will become. This is the fundamental truth of good PR and good SEO. Just keep plugging away. With a bit of patience and no small amount of flair, you’ll get noticed.

Dutch Travel Agency srprs.me Is For Tourists That Relish The Unknown

There are a few constants in the travel industry that haven’t budged despite the influx of technology and a new generation of travellers approaching things in a different way. One of those is the pain of planning, the agony of trying to make the best of a destination that you have little or no knowledge of.

The second is a need for adventure, for genuine, memorable thrills and excitement. Travel remains a form of escape and we want it to feel that way. But here’s the ever-present issue: How do you stay spontaneous and have an awesome itinerary? How do you keep that adventurous spirit burning when you always know what’s coming next?

The third problem faced by many travellers is simply choosing a destination. With European city breaks, for example, there is so much choice, not a huge difference in price but so much variation. An incredible city break is always on the doorstep, but taking the leap and choosing one is difficult.

The fourth and final problem is packing that sense of adventure into relatively short trips. Most European travellers make the most of long weekends and look to spend a few days in a destination. That doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity.

These are all problems Dutch travel agency srprs.me (short for Surprise Me) has been trying to solve. The Amsterdam-based agency does travel differently. Instead of offering a range of destinations and accommodation, srprs.me takes spontaneity to the next level. You tell them your dates, your budget and a few basic preferences. They handle the rest.

It sounds simple because it is.

The only thing we can tell you is that there’s an airport nearby. Whether it’s a destination that’s off the beaten track or somewhere you’ve heard of lots of times before, it’s the excitement of not knowing that gives you the thrill.” – srprs.me

Once your booking is complete, the srprs.me team go about arranging your flights and accommodation. Then, a week or so before you’re due to travel, they will send you a weather forecast. Spontaneity is no fun when you’re wearing shorts in the snow, after all. A couple of days before you’re going to leave they will send you a code in the post. That code gives you access to your destination, and the idea is that you open it up once you arrive at the airport.

If it all goes well, you find out where you are flying right before you check in and board the aircraft. It’s all the excitement and adrenaline of a last-minute trip with the peace of mind that comes with having everything booked already.

Guess what. You’re in control of picking your destination. We’re joking. That’s never going to happen. However, we will let you be in charge of one thing. You pick a cardinal point and we determine the exact coordinates. Whether you choose to go to your favourite part of continental Europe or decide to go to a lesser-known region, the city you end up in will always be a surprise.” – srprs.me

Personalisation Still Matters

This concept wouldn’t work without a bit of flexibility, which is interesting.

During the process, you can choose a part of Europe (north, west, east, south) and name a few cities that you want to rule out of contention. That should be enough to make sure you get the kind of trip you’re looking for and don’t head somewhere you’ve already visited seven times.

But it’s intriguing that srprs.me hasn’t gone all out on the mystery travel concept. They’ve left a little bit of room for personalisation. Perhaps this tells us that, while travellers are increasingly in search of adventure, they still want a few home comforts, as well as the guarantee that comes with having accommodation sorted and the ability to pack according to the weather forecast.

Why Mystery Travel is So Appealing

All in all, mystery travel finds the perfect balance between spontaneity and organisation. Sure, there’s probably a market out there for hardcore adventurers who want to be parachuted into a city with nothing booked and no plans. But for the majority of us, a hint of adventure is enough to get the adrenaline flowing.

srprs.me’s unusual formula frees travellers of all of those obligations that occur in the build-up to a trip: You don’t spend ages creating a city bucket list, you don’t find out the best spots to eat. Instead, you make it up as you go, and probably have a more authentic experience as a result.

Final Thoughts

Here at Travelshift we love nothing more than innovative travel companies and concepts. We straddle the space between tourism and technology to build travel marketplaces that make a mark. Just like srprs.me, we think that true travel experiences rely on adventure and authenticity.

That’s why our marketplaces are built with tourists in mind. Our software enables travel startups to band together and build community-driven marketplaces to compete with industry giants. Simply choose a travel niche, bring together authentic suppliers and watch as your community grows into a self-perpetuating, thriving online tourism business.

Contact us today for more information!

UK Government Highlights Risks of Celebrity-Inspired Travel

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Youtube are giving us more insight than ever into the lives of the rich and famous. This phenomenon has ties with the rise of ‘influencers’, closer relationships between brands and celebrities, and aspirational content becoming a thing.

This trend, however shallow it may appear to be at first glance, is having a transformative impact on the travel industry. Young people, according to the British Foreign Office, are going further afield as a result of online influencers. Research suggests that one-third of UK 18 – 24-year-olds (33%) will be influenced by celebrities when preparing for their holiday this Easter, with nearly one in three (30%) saying stars inspire their travel destination.

The role of influencers

There are a few problems that can arise when celebrity influencers are, well, influential. The most obvious is the realism they provide. On platforms such as Instagram, we already see the lives of others through a prism of sunshine and happiness. When it comes to celebrity influencers, that concept often moves to the next level.

Read more: The Power of Market Influencers in the Travel Industry

Of course, not all celebrity and influencer accounts are the same. Some are better than others, some are only accidental travel influencers. Some focus specifically on providing a realistic view of a destination, while others are all swimming pools, hotdog legs and sunset selfies.

The issue with the latter is clear: people following in those footsteps could land at a destination uninformed, and with unrealistic expectations of local customs, infrastructure and culture. And that’s where things can get awkward.

We’ve also seen high profile YouTubers – accidental influencers if you like – making poor decisions while travelling and generally making fools out of themselves. A case in point is American vlogger Logan Paul, who provoked headlines back in February 2018 when he took a trip to Japan and appeared to go out of his way to offend the locals.

The most controversial part of his Ladventure was a trip into Japan’s infamous suicide forest, Aokigahara. Paul posted images of bodies hanging from trees, among other things that were both culturally insensitive and disrespectful, to say the least.

What we have to say here is that Logan Paul is by no means representative of travel influencers. That’s partly because he isn’t one. But he is no doubt influential with his millions of young viewers. And he does travel. So the parallel is inevitable.

The UK Government is #Concerned

The worry is that these big YouTube stars and other influencers might inspire the wrong kind of behaviour from young travellers. We’re not sure how justified that worry is. But the British Government’s certainly considers it so, particularly after successive news stories in which UK citizens are getting into trouble abroad.

The British Government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is “warning young Brits following in the footsteps of globe-trotting celebs not to fall foul of lesser-known local laws and customs, which could land them in serious trouble.”

According to the FCO, young Brits are heading further afield as a result of celebrities and online influencers, to “destinations that have more unusual and surprising rules than UK travellers are used to.”

On the face of it, that’s quite a patronising statement to young Brits already. However, the statement continues…

“As most young Brits don’t have A-listers’ concierge support when planning trips abroad, the FCO is urging British people to be aware of local laws and customs in the destinations they are travelling to by reading up on Travel Advice – something that fewer than two fifths of young people (38%) currently do – if they want to avoid getting into trouble abroad.

FCO analysis of ONS data has found a significant increase in Brits travelling further afield than the traditional European trips, often to popular celebrity destinations that have stricter laws and customs than the UK. Visits to Sri Lanka are up more than a fifth (22%) and the UAE up more than a sixth (17%).”

Different countries have different rules: Really?!

In an effort to appeal to the young demographic which has probably never visited its website, the FCO appears to have roped in Jack White, celeb content director at Now magazine.

He said, taking the patronising tone of the announcement one step further, “We’ve all felt the pang of envy that comes from scrolling through a celebrity’s luxury holiday snaps on social media, but if you’re ever lucky enough to end up in Dubai or St Lucia it’s worth remembering different countries have different rules – and sometimes even the stars seem unaware of this.”

“It’s easy to get caught up the moment on holiday, so it’s worth researching the local laws beforehand to make sure your dream trip doesn’t end in disaster. After all, there’s definitely nothing glamorous about ending up behind bars!”

Now, it’s easy to sit here and criticise the British Government’s clumsy attempt to offer young people travel advice. We’ve done enough of that. The truth is that this guidance has been issued for a reason: politicians are worried that travellers are not as informed as they need to be and are getting into problems as a result.

Let’s look at some of the local laws and customs covered in the FCO’s most recent travel advice:

  1. UAE: Swearing and making rude gestures (including online) are considered obscene acts and offenders can be jailed or deported.
  2. Thailand: You can’t bring vaporisers, such as e-cigarettes, e-baraku or refills into Thailand. These items are likely to be confiscated and you could be fined or sent to prison for up to ten years if convicted.
  3. Greece: Indecent behaviour, including mooning, isn’t tolerated and could result in arrest and a fine or a prison sentence.
  4. Sri Lanka: The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offence and tourists have been convicted for this. British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha. Don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.
  5. Japan: The use or possession of some medicines like Vicks Inhalers or painkillers containing Codeine is banned in Japan and can result in detention and deportation
  6. Turkey: It is an offence to insult the Turkish nation or the national flag, or to deface or tear up currency. If you are convicted of any of these offences, you could face a prison sentence of between six months and three years.
  7. Caribbean: Many Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, St. Vincent, and St. Lucia ban the wearing of camouflage clothing, including by children.
  8. Spain: Causing a forest fire is treated as a criminal offence in Spain even if unintentional.
  9. Australia: Australia has strict quarantine rules to keep out pests and diseases that could affect plant, animal and human health. Breaches of quarantine regulations can result in large fines.
  10. Ukraine: Smoking and drinking alcoholic drinks in public places (including transport, bus stops, underground crossings, sports and government establishments, playgrounds and parks) is officially banned.

Julia Longbottom, FCO Consular Director said:

It’s great to see the British people being inspired to travel to new and exciting places. This makes it all the more important to follow our Travel Advice and respect local laws and customs to avoid unnecessary trouble. For instance, e-cigarettes are banned in Thailand and can result in a prison sentence of up to ten years.

Even in places closer to home, disrespecting local laws can have serious consequences – in Greece indecent behaviour, such as mooning, can be punishable with a fine or even a prison sentence. We see many cases each year of people breaking local laws and customs.

It is important that our travellers understand that the UK Government can’t give legal advice or get them out of prison. Instead, we want to do all we can to help British people stay safe when they are travelling, and avoid ending up in these difficult situations.

Social media, celebrity influencers and the information vacuum

There’s no doubt that people, particularly younger travellers, are increasingly making booking decisions based on celebrity influencers. This isn’t inherently a bad thing: it gives people the opportunity to explore destinations they might otherwise have overlooked.

But decisions based on the filtered world of social media could also lead to travellers being more uninformed than they should be. In the vast majority of cases, this won’t make a difference. Tourism is a booming industry for many countries around the world, and local guides and agencies provide information as well as excursions once customers arrive. It’s their job to keep travellers safe and happy.

However, there does seem to have been a rise in cases, as pointed out by the British Government, of travellers falling foul of the law purely out of ignorance.

This isn’t ideal, but it’s a natural result of the way that travel bookings are changing. We no longer walk into a travel agency and discuss our trip with an advisor. Young travellers are also perhaps more impulsive, spontaneous, plan as they go and don’t do as much practical research before jetting off.

Less than two fifths of young people (38%) currently check the UK Foreign Office’s travel advice before leaving the country, although that probably says more about the Foreign Office and its output than it does about the state of young travellers. At this point it’s important to recognise that the information will never be found if the medium hasn’t kept up with the times.

Having a community to fill the vacuum

So how can we fill that information vacuum and keep travellers above the law and informed about new destinations?

On the one hand, travel companies have to do more. With the help of AI, automated suggestions, tips and guides can be provided during the booking process. Travel operators could also do more in real-time, as we’ve seen with the advent of instant messaging-based customer service. 

No doubt there are gaps in every travel sector for an agency that provides practical information in as much abundance as it does deals and inspiration.

Here at Travelshift, this is a trend that we have recognised. In fact, you could say that our marketplace technology is perfectly placed to fill that information vacuum. How did we manage it? Well, we harness the power of a community.

Our marketplace solution has built-in blogging a community features that enable everyone – local travel operators, tourists and locals – to share tips and important information.

It means that as well as producing an enormous amount of content and massive traffic, travellers booking trips through a Travelshift marketplace are informed, educated and inspired in equal measure.

Want to find out more about how our marketplace platform works? Check out our case study or contact us today.