How To Boost SEO and Build Links For Your Travel Startup

Getting noticed online isn’t easy. Especially in the travel industry, where a handful of platforms dominate search results, customers flit from site to site in search of the best deals and loyalty is a becoming a thing of the past.

But that doesn’t mean that starting up in the industry is a lost cause, or that driving traffic is impossible. There are plenty of ways that you can boost your hits, build a strong presence and work your way up the organic search rankings.

Today we’re going to go through a few of those. But let’s make one thing clear before we do: A prerequisite to taking any of these steps is that you have a solid idea that’s ready to go – a niche travel concept that people are going to be searching for in the first place.

For more information and guidance on that particular hurdle, see here: How to Choose a Travel Marketplace Niche

So, onwards.

Building Links in the Travel Industry

There are a bunch of things you can do to boost your platform’s SEO and improve your Google ranking. But today we’re going to focus on just one aspect: link building. Essentially this refers to the practice of getting other website domains and pages to link to yours.

Generally speaking, the more links you get, the better your domain will rank in search engine listings. This is because Google largely bases search results upon the concept of relevance. If other sites are linking to you for a particular topic, then it shows a level of consensus. It suggests that your site is the place to go for useful information within that sphere.

But it’s not all about quantity. Google’s algorithms are way past being fooled by thousands of bogus links from totally irrelevant sources. In fact, spammy links like that are likely to harm your SEO rather than improve it.

Instead, the source of your backlinks is crucial. The better and more trusted the source (which effectively translates as domain authority), the more impact it will have on the site it’s linking to.

Which sites have good domain authority? Usually it’s those that are established, trusted and reliable. So we’re talking about long-standing company pages, factual encyclopedias and, of course, respected publications.

Respected publications could include popular blogs or more conventional publishers, like newspapers and online magazines. These two groups are the link sources that we’re going to focus on today.

Here’s our rundown of the best way to build solid, SEO-boosting links for your travel industry business.

1 – Build relationships with travel industry partners

Getting great links back to your website isn’t easy. To highlight that point, we thought it would be a good idea to start with a hard method that takes both time and patience.

Like any relationship worth having, building connections with other companies and individuals working in the travel space doesn’t happen overnight. It might also require some legwork on your end to get things started.

Let’s say you’re a travel startup offering motorcycle tours in Africa, like one of the companies we featured in our Gap in the Market series, Wheels of Morocco. There’s a way to gain publicity from other travel companies without letting your rivalry get in the way.

For example, an Africa-based tour company focused on motorcycle trips might want to develop a working relationship with a tour company offering similar experiences in Asia or South America. The two companies aren’t necessarily competing for the same customers – and could each benefit from mentioning (and linking) to the products of the other.

That’s just one example, of course. Travel companies needn’t be operating in the same sector to mention one another and develop a relationship. A food tour company might appreciate the witty product descriptions of a snorkeling trip startup. Why not mention it and why you think it’s so great in an article or social media post about marketing? Share the love and start building those relationships.

This also works with news publications and journalists of course. Which gets us to a key thing that travel industry companies need to appreciate when it comes to publishing content and posting on social media: it’s not all about you. Not everything you throw out into the ether needs to be about your products and services.

The more you mention others and support your fellow travel companies and publications, the more you’ll find that favour reciprocated.

So, to finish off this little section let’s make one final thing clear. This link building strategy is not a quick fix. It will take time and effort. But it’s also important to point out that relationship building comes in many forms. You might want to explore the potential of official partnerships. You might just want to mention other travel businesses in passing on social media or blog posts.

Put your company out there and see what sticks.

2- Become the go-to source

best seo tips for building links in the travel industry

Building relationships with journalists and publications takes time, but it’s worth it in the long run.

We mentioned above that it’s a great idea to build relationships with journalists and publications – both in the travel industry and out of it.

Which brings us to the second way your travel business can secure vital backlinks from publications: become a go-to source. Whatever your travel industry niche, there’s bound to be journalists out there interested in hearing about it, talking about your personal experiences and getting first-hand insight to support their articles.

If you’ve got the time and the patience, cultivating these relationships can be invaluable in the long term.

So start out with a speculative but interesting press release, build up a contact list of relevant journalists and media publications, hit send and make yourself available for further comments.

See where it takes you. At worst you’ll get some easy publicity. At best, you’ll become a go-to source for relevant publications, which could add up to countless backlinks with strong domain authority in the coming years.

3- Get interviewed

how to build backlinks for travel business

Make yourself and your team available for press interviews. It’s a great way to gain publicity and build strong backlinks.

Any travel startup – even those with just a handful of employees – have individuals with interesting stories, insights and expertise to share.

So just as you might send off regular press releases to the media in search of publicity and online traction, why not make your staff available for interviews? That way your team can effectively be the news.

The brilliant part of this strategy is that your potential publications are no longer limited to those dedicated to travel or your travel niche. Instead (or as well) you can target business-focused publications and those that cover startups, local news and something related to your travel niche.

The takeaway is this: just because you’re buried in what you do, day in, day out, it doesn’t mean there aren’t thousands of people out there interested in hearing what you and your team have to say.

Again it comes down to building relationships. For example, your marketing manager can become the go-to source for journalists who write about online marketing, or your product manager could be a regular interviewee for a business magazine. Think outside the box and watch the high DA backlinks come pouring in.

It’s also important to realise that getting interviewed is no longer something that’s limited to written journalism. Why not reach out to radio shows, relevant Youtube channels and podcasts? All offer the chance for your travel company to gain publicity and awesome backlinks.

4- Guest Write

Lots of our marketing hints and tips for travel industry startups take the two birds with one stone approach. And that’s a theme that crops up a lot when we’re talking about SEO in general.

For example, if your team members do interviews as we suggested above there are two benefits. The first – from a traditional marketing point of view – is that your name is getting out there. Your products and services are being exposed to a relevant audience and you’re generating leads organically.

The second part of the double whammy is that you’re gaining backlinks, boosting your SEO and creating a virtuous circle or relevance.

That two birds with one stone approach also applies to the art of guest writing. It’s not a new concept, but it is certainly an effective one.

It starts with a simple fact: publications, no matter the industry, are always on the lookout for interesting articles and content more generally. Sadly, the publishing industry isn’t flash with cash and many editors work hard to put together features and opinion pieces alongside general news.

This fact represents a fantastic opportunity for any travel industry startup looking to gain credible publicity and solid backlinks. Instead of being the source or getting interviewed as we’ve mentioned above, why not pitch articles yourself?

The best way to do this is to get in touch with the editors at relevant publications and ask some genuine questions about what kind of content they are looking for. It’s then up to you to pitch interesting ideas and convince them why you or a member of your team is the ideal writer for that article.

Before you know it, your company could be represented with regular guest post spots in a number of publications. Not only will this allow you to carve out a reputation as a thought leader and draw leads to your brand. It’ll also get you a bunch of high domain authority links to boost your SEO.

5 – Keep a finger on the pulse with these PR tricks

Most PR is opportunism, pure and simple. It’s about knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.

From an easy SEO win, there are some easy strategies you can use to get mentioned, quoted and featured by leading publications.

First up, keep an eye on Twitter trends such as #JournoRequest. These will link you directly to journalists looking for sources, inspiration and more. It might take a while, but there’s bound to be a request related to something relevant you can bring to the table. Maybe a journalist is looking for interesting travel ideas or some insights from a startup CEO.

Once you’ve found an opportunity that looks like you could fit the bill, get in touch. It’s as easy as that.

If you don’t want to spend valuable time trawling through Twitter, keep an eye out for relevant stories that have already been published, and follow up on articles with the appropriate editor or journalist. They will always be open to hearing from an alternative source with a different side of the story to tell.

For the ultimate convenience, consider signing up for a press service like UK-based Response Source. They act as a go-between for journalists and companies, connecting publications to people and organisations that fit their query. For startups, the service offers a great way to connect directly with journalists who you know are looking for information and sources.

The only problem can be the expense: So consider signing up for a free trial to see whether it’s worth the money in the long run.

All of these methods exist to help you get in touch with journalists and get your travel company noticed. There’s just one thing to remember: All of these journalists will likely get multiple responses to their requests for comments. So make their lives easier and you’ll have a great shot at being featured.

Whenever you contact journalists, include quotes that address their questions or topic in the first email you send. Outline why your company is best placed to be included.

Make yourself available to provide further details and don’t forget to include an ‘About’ section that offers a quick overview of who you are and what makes your travel company noteworthy.

6 – Create stuff worth linking too

content marketing ideas for seo in the travel industry

Make more content worth sharing and you’ll notice a positive impact on your Google ranking.

Moving away from traditional PR, you should never, ever forget the importance of content marketing.

Content marketing boils down to a simple, necessary truth for any travel company that wants to be successful these days: In the age of online connectivity, if you’re not publishing content and building your brand for others to see, you’re missing out on a vital opportunity.

You’re also missing out on the chance to develop a community-driven platform that can inspire and entice potential customers – something we know a little bit about.

But getting back to content marketing: The whole idea is to create things that other people want to see. At an SEO level, that means creating things that are worth linking too, that people will willingly share and, if you’re lucky (and highly skilled), content that has the chance to go viral.

Some ideas to get you started: An epic, in-depth guide to your travel niche; an online magazine packed with inspirational content; infographics, maps, useful tools that automate a usually tricky task, how-to features… that kind of thing.

7 – Publish your research findings

travel industry seo tips for link building

Don’t be afraid to publicize your market research. Industry insights are worth sharing and people will take notice.

A great way to develop original content and conduct vital market research at the same time is to get out there and survey your potential customers.

In the travel industry that’s easy, because everyone is a potential customer. Why not explore demographic or geographical preferences to gauge who the ideal target market is for the kind of trips your company offers? Then all you have to do is publish your findings in a shareable, accessible medium.

You will quickly become recognised as a trustworthy source of primary data and your backlinks will begin to reflect that.

And it doesn’t always have to be direct. You could explore social media trends or look at travel industry statistics as a whole. Performing research doesn’t necessarily mean sending out surveys and hoping for the best!

8 -Make your content more shareable with name drops

Most people love to show off. It’s human nature. Which is why when you mention someone online in a positive light – whether that’s an individual or a business – they tend to respond.

That natural instinct translates well into SEO. If there’s a particular piece of content out there that you think your readers will find interesting or valuable, don’t be afraid to mention it or link to it.

As well as boosting your SEO by providing relevant external links, you can create posts on social media, tag the companies or individuals that you’ve referenced and watch as they go on to share your material.

A common format for this type of thing is Top X type articles.

For example, if you, as a travel company, put together a feature on the Top 10 places to get travel industry news, you can then share that article while tagging the sites you’ve mentioned. Watch as the backlinks come in.

In a way, this goes back to building relationships. Interact with other companies in the space and you will soon become a point of reference.

9 – Old school link reclamation

Newsflash: The internet is not a perfect place.

Some sites are old and broken. Some links don’t work anymore because they point to sites which are old and broken. And some companies and individuals have gone ahead and mentioned you without providing a link for their readers. How rude.

The solution to all of these issues is good, old fashioned link reclamation. This can often be a tedious business, scouring the web for broken and missing links that could instead be pointing to your company website.

But there are some new tools that help speed up the process, including LinkClump and Buzzstream. In fact, for more information on link reclamation than we could possibly hope to provide in this post, check out this fantastic guide from Moz.

One easy thing you can do before starting any sort of link reclamation process is this: If your startup is starting to build a name for itself, consider setting up a Google Alert. This will ping you an email whenever people are talking about you online.

Then, all you have to do is check if they included a link in their article. If they didn’t, drop them an email and ask nicely for a backlink. Chances are they won’t protest, as they were kind enough to write about you in the first place.

But they might need a bit of persuading. Time is money after all. So try to entice them by sending a link to some extra content on your site that’s relevant in some way to the original mention. Or send them some cookies. Either way.

The good thing about link reclamation in the travel industry is the sheer amount of travel writing and related blogs out there. Search for long enough and you will be able to build a huge collection of potential leads.

Just make sure the links you seek to reclaim are relevant to your travel niche. Spam will get you nowhere.

10 – Build a user-generated encyclopedia

We already covered this to a degree in point 6. But here at Travelshift we take the notion of building content worth linking to very seriously indeed. In fact, you could say that user-generated content is the fuel that makes our marketplace software so successful.

Take our Guide to Iceland platform as an example. Since launching in 2014, our Iceland-dedicated travel guide and booking platform has become the go-to source for Iceland tourist information, with millions of visitors every year. In turn this has helped us to build a highly profitable marketplace with explosive growth and fantastic travel products and services.

Sure, it’s all made possible by the solid foundations of clever marketplace software, but the main reason we are where we are is that we’ve encouraged travellers, local guides and vendors to create inspiring content that allows us to compete with (and more importantly, outrank) travel industry giants.

Want to find out more? Contact us today for more information.

travel search terms seo

 

How Travel Companies Can Adapt to Google’s Increasing Influence

Google: you might have heard of it. The search engine giant, 20 years old this year, has become synonymous with the internet. The company is a household name around the world and even a verb.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact this single company has and continues to have on the travel industry. As consumer behaviour changes and bookings and research increasingly shift online, the gatekeepers hold all the power. Google is the gatekeeper. The door through which the majority of western travellers find their information, discover trips they want to go on and complete bookings.

Read more: Google Steps Up Presence in Online Travel Space

In turn, Google’s dominance has forced travel businesses to adapt. Websites are now tailored to meet Google’s everchanging SEO standards. Entire businesses are designed and adapted to suit Google’s framework and take advantage of its peculiarities.

Google has always indirectly influenced the way travel businesses operate. But things have moved on in the past year or so. The search engine giant has shifted its business model. You know the established drill: Most of Google’s revenue is through ad sales. Companies pay to get listed on Google and target certain search terms; Google charges a small fee each time they get found. There are plenty of businesses out there who bypass organic SEO and are happy to pay for easy traffic.

That translates as follows in the world of travel: Google makes plenty of money from travel companies, from hotels to ride-sharing platforms to OTAs. All have to fight for traffic. All are desperate to be at the top of search results for their chosen keywords and terms.

But now Google is becoming a travel agency too. The reason? Ad fees pale in comparison to referral fees. Platforms such as Skyscanner, Expedia and Kayak all aggregate search results and gain commission from completed purchases. So why shouldn’t Google do the same, particularly when it has control over the flow of traffic?

Read more: Searchmetrics Study: Travel Industry SEO & Ranking Factors

And now it appears as though Google has started to use its muscle when it comes to search results, a development that shouldn’t be of any surprise to travel industry watchers.

Google exerts further control over travel industry search results

According to a recent study from Searchmetrics, travellers searching online for flights, hotel rooms and other related products using Google are now faced with fewer “organic blue links” on the first page or results. Instead, that space is being taken up by the search giant’s own tools and services.

This is significant: the playing field is shifting. Google is using its power as a platform to boost the search returns of its own tools. Inadvertently, this means that travel companies with products to sell are further down the pecking order.

Searchmetrics’ study looked at thousands of U.S.-based queries as part of a wider, cross-vertical analysis. The aim was to find out the extent to which search results are changing as Google introduces more of its own tool and services on search engine results pages (SERPS).

And this is what they found…

On average, 8.8 blue links were shown by Google to travel-related queries, down from the traditional ten. Google-created content shown in SERPS varies between desktop and mobile devices, but overall there is an increasing number of different elements served up instead of travel content, the study found.

Chief technology officer and founder, Marcus Tober, says: “Getting onto Google’s first page for important search terms is a necessary goal for all travel brands, and the universal search elements offer an additional way of appearing there.

“Travel marketers need to understand which universal search integrations commonly appear for the keywords and topics their target customers are searching for and optimize their web content to increase the likelihood that Google will feature it.”

So why is this happening?

Searchmetrics disclosed that Google’s own elements, which include news, maps and the knowledge graph (facts and details about a product or destination) were featured in most travel industry search results.

This is the quantified likelihood of each individual element appearing on page one of a desktop search engine result:

  • Images – 18%
  • Videos – 6%
  • News – 20%
  • Maps – 17%
  • Adwords (top) – 15%
  • Adwords (bottom) – 9%
  • Knowledge graph – 65%

And here are the figures for mobile search results:

  • Images – 15%
  • Videos – 6%
  • News – 16%
  • Maps – 23%
  • Adwords (top) 32%
  • Adwords (bottom) – 7%
  • Knowledge graph – 22%

As we can see, the knowledge graph has become a recurring result for travel queries. The sources of that ‘knowledge’ are going to benefit hugely. So how can you become one?

Well, the study concludes that “As a brand, you need to be sure to have an up to date, active presence on these sites with good quality, relevant information. Information that is well structured, with headings and bullets is more likely to be used. Encourage reviews and ratings as they are often included in a company’s knowledge graph listings.”

But what else can companies do to push up the rankings or hold on to their place on page one?

The Threat of Google

As we’ve seen, it seems as though travel companies should be worried about how Google is displaying search results and the amount of real estate left on the front pages after a query has been plugged in. But are there ways to get around these new challenges and continue to drive traffic through search engines?

Of course there are. And we’ll come to those later. But right now would be a good time to think about some comments from travel industry leaders made at a recent EyeforTravel Europe. In particular, they were discussing the threat and impact of Google.

Attendees on the day were asked: what is the biggest threat to the industry right now?

Clearly, and as we have seen, one of the possible answers was the role of Google. However, it appears as though the rise of Google was way down the list of concerns of some delegates.

That outcome confused keynote speaker, chairman of Rome2Rio and former founder of Viator, Rod Cuthbert, who said: “With Google’s hotel product, they are now allowing hotels to advertise directly, and if a consumer chooses a particular property they can pay using Google Pay. So now they are [also] getting payment data, and they are at the top of funnel”.

In fact, Cuthbert has hopes that the European Commission will eventually get a grasp of Google’s anti-competitive behaviour in the travel industry.

A different view, however, came from Eurail CEO Brenda van Leeuwen who argued for the “need to play smart”. And that may well mean partnering with Google, and others like Skyscanner and Expedia, to put the rail industry on the map.

It might not be fair, but travel firms do need to keep on top of Google’s moves in search. So, if Google announces, as it did earlier this year, that sites which “follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing” will see significantly better results, then brands need to be on the ball.

google travel industry influence

Top Tips to Address Searchmentrics’ Google Research

So we know that the number of organic blue links that Google is placing on page one of travel industry search results has gone down from 10 to an average of 8.8 on mobile and desktop. We also know that the first results page is increasingly dominated by Google’s Knowledge Graphs, as well as images, apps and maps – anything which leads to a higher clickthrough rate for searchers.

So how can travel companies address their own websites and content to meet these shifting requirements?

1. Maps

First up: Maps. The Searchmetrics study found that 23% of travel search results include at least one map on mobile phones and 17% on desktops. More often than not, this map data comes from companies’ Google My Business pages.

So how can your travel business work with that statistic? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Consider creating posts to your website highlighting events or sales periods. Sometimes these show up on Google Maps, and you might generate some leads that way.
  • Get feedback and reviews! If you encourage customers to leave reviews about your travel service, these comments can make it more likely that Google will list your Google My Business page in maps.

2. Images

The most important thing to note here is the presence of images in travel search results. 18% of desktop travel searches include at least one images box. 15%  feature images on mobile.

So what should you do to make the most of this? Obviously, you want your images to be the ones that are featured. Which takes us back to an SEO basic principle: Use high-quality images and ensure that image file names, image titles and alt attributes include words that are relevant to the topics that are being displayed.

Google’s algorithms can’t identify images through pixels, so these references are your travel company’s chance to show how relevant they are to a particular search term.

3. AdWords

The harsh but siple truth about ranking in the top spot on Google is that you get what you pay for, to an extent. That’s why 32% of travel searches on mobiles include at least one AdWords’ ad at the top of the page, compared to 15% on desktops.

So when putting together Google Ad Words campaigns, try to find search terms to bid on that are neither highly competitive or irrelevant. You want words and phrases that suit your audience down to the ground.

After that, it’s a case of always working to improve your landing pages to make them as effective as possible. Aside from those details, you should also obviously have a big focus on coming up for organic search terms.

Holiday Pirates CEO David Armstrong recently shared a few insights at EyeforTravel Europe, as you can watch in the video below.

4. Knowledge Graphs

And now to Knowledge graphs, those pesky things that suddenly appear in 65% of travel search results on desktops, and 22% on mobile. Clearly, these represent an opportunity for travel brands to get right onto the first page of results.

Usually Google takes the information for the graph from sources such as Wikipedia. But the data can also come from an organisation’s own website or Google+ page. If it’s a business that’s been searched for, details from its Google MyBusiness listing, links to social channels and contact information will also be included.

So the obvious thing to do is to keep these updated for your travel business and play the Google game. If you’re hoping to provide the information for a specific knowledge graph, be sure to organise your content in a way that encourages Google to use it.

For example, your website pages should be well structured, with headings and bullet points and easy-to-read content.

5. News results

The last but not least factor you should consider is Google News, which aggregated breaking news stories from numerous sources around the web. When travel terms are searched on Google, the search engine displays news results 20% of the time on desktop and 16% of the time on mobile.

So what’s the message here? Well, getting on the first page of Google doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be killing ti with organic search terms or spending a fortune on Ad Words. Instead, travel businesses also have to realise that there’s an opportunity to be discovered purely through being in the news.

So get involved with travel publications and other news sources that offer travel advice, information and analysis. If you develop a positive relationship with key media players in your chosen niche, you could find your company hitting the first page of Google for your chosen search terms – inadvertently through news articles.

Helping You Build a Content-Driven Travel Marketplace

travel search terms seo

Here at Travelshift we build travel marketplaces that get noticed. Our marketplace software is proven, adaptable and has a bunch of features to help you quickly scale in your chosen niche and compete with the bigger players in no time.

Crucial to that process is our focus on building a content-driven platform. We provide our clients with all the tools they need to become not just a booking platform, but a hub for all things related to their niche: a newsroom, a blog, a social platform, a community of tour operators, local guides and travellers.

This means that you’re quickly building your Google ranking from day one with authentic, community-driven content that perpetuates sales and boosts your SEO.

As we’ve mentioned, Google is stepping further into the travel space and becoming its own OTA of sorts. This means that the competition is fiercer than ever for bookings and research. Particularly when Google could act in future as the gatekeeper to information and bookings.

However, as the large majority of Google’s revenue comes through search, it remains in the company’s interests to provide relevant results to travellers looking for inspiration and opportunities. For that reason, the foundation of Travelshift software – our ability to drive traffic and sales through the power of community building – is here to stay.

Want to find out more about how we can help you set up a travel marketplace in your chosen niche? Contact us today.

 

Why the World Cup is a Unique Travel Industry Event

Ah, the World Cup. It only comes around every 4 years and is always over far too soon. This summer’s tournament is no different, with 32 national teams from around the world heading to Russia to compete in beautiful game’s greatest spectacle.

Like so many international sporting events, the World Cup brings together people and cultures that wouldn’t normally mix. It’s a festival atmosphere that somehow manages to drag everything into the mix. That explains why there are various sponsors from all over the world – including an ‘official beer partner’ – and every conceivable brand is seeking to get involved with the action.

This World Cup’s FIFA Partners include Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai/KIA, Qatar Airways and VISA. But aside from the huge multinationals, individual nations are also looking for ways to boost tourism as a result of the tournament.

Travel Industry Stories From the FIFA World Cup 2018

As we reach the end of the group stage and discover which countries will be facing off in the first knockout rounds, it feels like as good a time as any to look at how travel industry players are making the most of World Cup.

Here are a few examples.

Russia, Obviously

As the host nation, Russia has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of football fans from all over the world.

In fact, more than 1.5 million foreign tourists are expected to visit Russia during the World Cup, the head of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, Oleg Safonov, said.

“We believe that about 1.5 million people will visit us. The figure may be even revised upward,” he said.

Eleven Russian cities are hosting matches throughout the tournament: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Saransk, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Sochi. The host nation hopes that, contrary to Russia’s international reputation, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will have a long-term positive effect on Russia’s tourism industry.

moscow, russia - how is the fifa world cup impacting the travel industry

It’s too early to say what the long-term benefits will be to Russia, but it’s likely that cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg  – currently the main fan hubs – will see increased numbers of tourists following the positive experience of many international visitors. Market research company Euromonitor believes the World Cup could put Russia on the map for more tourists after the tournament ends.

“The number of inbound arrivals in Russia is expected to record a compound annual growth rate of 4 percent by 2022, reaching 37.5 million trips,” Euromonitor’s sports industry manager Alan Rownan said. In fact, Euromonitor forecast a 1.4 percent increase in the number of total arrivals to Russia in 2018.

“However, negative factors, such as lack of mid-tier accommodation facilities, safety concerns, relatively high visiting costs and burdensome visa regulations for non-ticket holders will have an impact on the incoming tourist flows,” said Rownan. “Furthermore, the recent political tension between Russia and UK is also likely to undermine tourist flows from the latter.”

Given the billions of dollars Russia has spent preparing to host the tournament with infrastructure investments, it’s unlikely that those funds will be reimbursed overnight or even within a matter of years. The World Cup is being framed by Putin as a longer-term project to improve facilities in the country, not to mention the international prestige that comes with hosting.

There have been fears that foreigners have been put off making the trip for a variety of reasons. These range from strained diplomatic ties between Russia and the West, to threats of football hooliganism and discrimination against minorities.

But speaking to Skift, Varvara Topolyanskaya, general manager of Australian Russia tour operator Discovery Russia, said the World Cup is a chance for fears and doubts to be eased and reputations to be restored.

Her company is bringing more than 1,000 travellers to the World Cup.  “We’re hoping for a completely different image of the country after people watch the matches on TV,” said Topolyanskaya. “We’re always asking our clients of their first impression of Russia and the number one response we get is that Russian people are so friendly.”

She added: “I think we have a lot of brainwashing right now in the media on what Russia is like, but that’s not what Russia is.”

Beyond the Hosts – A Chance for Smaller Nations to Build a Reputation

One of the best things about the World Cup is the platform it gives smaller nations to make a name for themselves.

At Euro 2016, for example, the Iceland football team captured the imaginations of people around the world – both on the pitch and off it. As well as making it through the group stage and beating England in the last 16, the team’s fans became famous in France for their passionate support.

The easiest way to understand is to watch the video above.

Sure, the ‘ThunderClap’ doesn’t directly make Iceland a more appealing destination. But its popularity says something about the nation to the wider world: that despite being the smallest country in terms of population at the World Cup, it’s going to have its say no matter what.

In fact, according to Bloomberg, Iceland’s tourism industry is expecting its football team to drive further interest in the country’s tourism industry.

Which is handy, because by Icelandic standards the country’s tourism boom has plateaued…

tourism and the world cup

However, the chance to shine on the global stage is an opportunity to bring back some spark. “Iceland is stepping on the big stage this summer,” said Skapti Orn Olafsson, a spokesman for the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, so “we surely have a clear shot on goal to use the attention in a positive way.”
No puns intended, of course.
Yet there is real hope that an injection of footballing interest in Iceland will stretch beyond the smallest nation in the tournament becoming many fans’ second team. It could drive more visitors, too.
On the flip side, it might turn out that the appreciation of the Icelandic krona (it has strengthened by more than 40 percent against the euro since 2009) – one factor thought to be contributing to the slowdown in growth – is a blessing in disguise. Although it has turned Iceland into the most expensive tourist destination in the world and led to Landsbankinn to declare that “the tourism boom is over,” there have been worries about the sustainability of Iceland’s tourism growth.

An Influx of Chinese Tourists

Anyone working in the travel industry will know how lucrative it can be to tap into the Asian markets. Across the continent, there is a real demand for international travel experiences – no more so than in China.

Incredibly for a country whose team hasn’t even made it to this summer’s World Cup Finals, it’s expected that more than 100,000 Chinese tourists will make the trip to Russia.

Interestingly, Russia is becoming a magnet of sorts for Chinese holidaymakers, so it’s no surprise that they are flocking in to watch the football.

According to data released by Trip Advisor, the number of Chinese tourists between January and May increased by 38 percent year on year.  Data collected by Ctrip suggests that, for example, two-leg tours to Moscow and St. Petersburg over the summer have seen a month-on-month increase of over 100 percent. The conclusion: It seems as though the Chinese are coming for the football and making a vacation of it.

And Don’t Forget India

Another football-mad country that failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament is India. According to the India Times, wealthy Indians will be heading to the World Cup in huge numbers, despite a spike in airfares and hotel rates.

According to the piece, the relative proximity of Russia makes it an ideal starting point for a summer trip of famous sporting events, from the World Cup to the Wimbledon Championships.

“We have seen an increase in people travelling to Russia during this period. Airfares and hotel rates have definitely gone up by at least 20% due to increase in demand for the World Cup, but this hasn’t dampened demand,” said Karan Anand, head of relationships at Cox & Kings, one of India’s oldest travel agents.

“We have also seen a 10% increase in last-minute bookings to Russia, and expect this to continue, and even peak closer to the final stages of the tournament.”

The Other Side of the World Cup from a Tourism Perspective

It seems obvious to say but we will say it anyway: If the World Cup is drawing travellers to Russia in huge numbers, surely there are other destinations missing out?

That appears to be the case, at least in the Seychelles.

seychelles tourism hit by weak russian ruble and fifa world cup 2018

The archipelago in the western Indian Ocean is a popular destination for tourists from around the world. Among the country’s most common visitors are Russians. However, the Seychelles has seen just a two percent rise in inbound tourists for the first half of the year. The boss of the Seychelles Tourism Board, Sherin Francis, has said that the figure is below what the country was predicting.

One huge part of that is the fact that the number of Russians coming for the summer has dropped by a huge 18 percent compared to the same period last year. Francis believes that the FIFA World Cup is partly responsible: Many Russians are no doubt staying at home to enjoy the party and choosing to travel around their own country instead.

The value of the Russian ruble has also dropped in recent times, making travel abroad more difficult for the Russian market. Both of these conditions “are not favourable for prompt recovery of this market,” she said.

“Four years ago, we had only one percent increase and this year we see ourselves faced with a similar situation. Russians are travelling within Russia to watch the matches as the event is taking place in their country. We also see other potential visitors from Europe as well as other markets travelling to Russia to support their teams,” said Francis.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. The World Cup is a unique travel industry event that causes some obvious tourism shifts, as well as some unexpected ones.

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?