Instagram Algorithm Raises Questions Over Travel Authenticity

If there’s one thing that all travellers want to do, it’s fit in. Nobody wants to be the tourist, to feel like an outsider in a new place. Instead, the desire is to blend in with those surroundings, to be one of the locals. Part of being a local is doing as the locals do, skipping the tourist traps and finding the hidden gems that only people who know the city well will have discovered.

If this need for a genuine experience is one of the permanent threads running through the narrative of the modern travel industry, others include the need to remember, record and share our experiences. We all want to have memories to look back on, even if it’s a postcard, a few old photographs or a 10-second video. And we all seem to want to publicize these trip highlights and share them with friends and family.

So blending in with the locals and sharing memories are two things that modern tourists seek. It’s about time that someone ties these two desires together, right?

New Tech Detects Attractions By Tracking Locals’ Instagram Activity

Programmers from ITMO University, Russia, have come up with an ingenious, indirect way for locals to give advice to tourists. The research team has developed an algorithm that scans local Instagram accounts to come up with a list of the most popular museums, cafes, streets and parks. By using data from locals, tourists can be sure they are getting as authentic an experience as possible.

Results of the research were presented at The International Conference on Computational Science and published in the peer-reviewed journal Procedia Computer Science.

Clearly, this is an interesting combination of social media, artificial intelligence and travel software. It merges the popular platform used to store and share memories, Instagram, with the desire many tourists have to get off the beaten track.

Let’s go back to the craving many of us have to capture and share our favourite holiday moments. Social networks like Instagram are becoming increasingly popular for that exact reason. The platform currently has over 700 million monthly active users around the world. 14.4 million of those are in Russia, where this study was conducted. There are two examples of why people would post an update about a specific place: because it’s their first time there or because they visit often.

You might be thinking that the algorithm might have an obvious flaw: tracking both locals’ and tourists’ Instagram activity instead of just locals. But the team at ITMO (Or more specifically from the Uni’s eScience Research Institute) found a way to distinguish between Instagram users living in St. Petersburg and visiting tourists based on how they use social media. By doing this, they were able to provide off-the-beaten-track locations that were most loved by St. Petersburg locals.

Of course, popular locations for locals and for tourists differ, but it was important for us to know just how they differ. Guides usually offer tourists a list of 10-15 attractions. However, locals usually know more. By identifying their favorite places, we can significantly diversify such guide books” – Alexander Visheratin, engineer and Head of Research at eScience Institute at ITMO University.

An important thing to factor into any tourism guide is that sites, scenes and destinations change over time. What’s popular today may not be popular tomorrow. As such, a service that works in real time and offers tourists an insight into recent trends could be invaluable.

“Instagram is a dynamically changing environment. Some places gain popularity while others lose it. Sometimes new restaurants or cafés open. Therefore, the creation of a recommendation service which follows photographs of interesting places in real time is a logical continuation of the current results. This is what we are currently working on”. – Ksenia Mukhina, lead author of the study.

ITMO University instagram travel technology

Visualisation of Saint Petersburg residents’ favourite places, according to analysis of public and geotagged Instagram posts, versus those of tourists. Photograph: Ksenia Mukhina et al/ITMO University

Is Authenticity Permanent?

Travellers’ quest for authenticity brings about an interesting philosophical question. At what point does a sight or destination lose its authenticity? The whole notion of ‘off the beaten track’ is that it’s a tourist-free zone, a place where locals get together and do locals things. Do technologies such as the one developed in St Petersburg threaten to undermine the authenticity it helps tourists to discover?

The answer is not straightforward. Take a quiet church or a secluded park. Part of the magic of these little-known destinations is their secrecy and their atmosphere. A horde of tourists would quickly see both of those things dissipate.

And this kind of phenomena could happen on a much bigger scale. We’ve recently written about issues with over-tourism in cities such as Barcelona and countries like Iceland. Although there are many factors at work in both examples, part of the issue is that locals feel like they are being crowded out, like their usual places are being overrun with tourists.

It’s a fact that authenticity can be damaged, if not lost completely, by too much tourism. A key for technologies such as that developed in Russia is to find the right balance: to give travellers the local experience they seek without putting locals off themselves. Arguably this is just a case of simple numbers. But it’s also about education. These technologies don’t only have to locate secluded spots. Maybe they can also advise on how to behave like a local. Maybe don’t take selfies in that peaceful church? Or don’t play music out loud in that pretty park only the locals know about?

After all, blending in is as much about how you behave as the language you speak.

The Power of Community-Driven Content

We’re big fans of community-driven content here at Travelshift. But the technology described above is slightly different to what we usually specialise in. Our marketplace platform gives sellers the ability to invite locals with expert knowledge to blog and contribute to a thriving community of influencers.  As well as boosting SEO with bundles of unique, informative content, travellers can learn from authentic stories, hints and tips.

The notion of passively filtering Instagram data is not one we have considered before. But this study shows how it can be done to effectively make every Instagram user a participant in one enormous content community. By tracking hubs of activity in real time, tourists will never be far behind the latest trends and popular locations.

The Trump Effect is Real: US Travel Industry Slump in Numbers

When Donald Trump became president of the United States back in January 2017, plenty in the travel industry were making predictions about how the radical shift in American politics would impact upon tourism to the country. This was due to a number of factors. Not least the new president’s xenophobic rhetoric and his intention to adopt policies restricting the rights of people depending on their country of origin and religion.

This, as we’ve pointed out in previous posts, is an example of just how incongruous Trump is with the modern travel industry. It was always going to be fascinating to observe how an industry based on openness, tolerance and community would respond to the new America.

And now we have some data to work with. It appears as though there’s been a significant Trump slump. Since the reality TV star came into office, international tourism to the States has dropped. Here are the details…

The Trump Slump?

Despite some positive noises coming out of the U.S. Travel Association in recent months concerning the expected number of tourists into the States from abroad, they have now put forward a “substantially more pessimistic assessment” of travel into the US. They’ve gone so far as to put out a warning of “major storm clouds for the inbound international travel market.”

According to the latest Travel Trends Index, a revised analysis of recent inbound travel suggests that “international visitation—initially found to have grown consistently this year—actually declined in four of the seven months for which data is so far available.”

The contractions were most apparent in February (-6.8 percent) and March (-8.2 percent). Travel economists have suggested that even the slight uptick in April is likely down to the Easter holiday falling in that month this year.

 

For the TTI, as in many similar indices, a score above 50 indicates growth while a score under 50 indicates a decline.

 

U.S. Travel Association Senior Vice President for Research David Huether said the results were in line with what the organisation expected.

Read more: Trump Travel Ban Hits USA Tourism Industry Hard

“We kept projecting drops in international visitation, and they kept not materializing,” Huether said. “However, we recently were able to access new data inputs for the TTI to give us an even more comprehensive picture, and sure enough, the international travel segment has been far weaker than what was initially shown.”

In case you’re wondering how accurate the data is, the TTI is prepared for US. Travel by the research firm Oxford Economics. ‘U.S. Travel and Oxford routinely seek to identify available data sources that add to the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the index. The data sets added to the latest TTI calculations came from IATA, OAG and other tabulations of international inbound travel to the U.S., and resulted in the downward revision of TTI results from earlier in the year.’

Currently, travel and tourism are responsible for one in nine American jobs. Inbound international travel is actually the No. 2 overall U.S. export. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the head of US Travel believes the American economy can’t afford this troubling downward trend to continue.

“The international travel market is ultra-competitive, and the U.S. is falling behind,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “Fortunately, there are levers the Trump administration can pull to help right the ship—continue the Brand USA tourism marketing organization, and protect policies that enable international travel to the U.S., such as Open Skies aviation agreements and the Visa Waiver Program.

“Inbound travel to the U.S. already went through one ‘lost decade’ after 9/11,” Dow said. “It took a sustained national policy effort to return to the pre-9/11 level of travel exports, which only happened last year. If we don’t want to give back all of that progress, the time to act is now.”

In the statement from the U.S. Travel Association there is no mention of the reason for the declines in international visitors.

Interestingly, domestic markets for business and leisure travel are performing well and seeing growth from last year.

Read moreHow Will President Trump Affect The Travel Industry?

“Upbeat consumer attitudes and solid labor market conditions continue to support the domestic travel market,” said Adam Sacks, president of Oxford Economics’ Tourism Economics group.

“However, stagnant wages and the recalibration of expectations regarding the Trump administration’s campaign pledges pose risks to consumer and business sentiment. Additionally, the President’s continued rhetoric and policies weigh heavily on the international inbound market outlook.”

donald trump usa travel decline

It seems as though international travelers don’t identify well with Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric – much like plenty of his own citizens.

International Tourism into US in Decline: In Numbers

According to USA Today, it’s estimated that 700,000 fewer international tourists arrived in the U.S. during the January 2017- March 2017 period compared to same period last year.

As you might expect given Trump’s rhetoric and attempts to enforce a Muslim ban, the steepest drops were from the Middle East and Africa, regions that sent almost 25% fewer visitors than just twelve months before.

European arrivals were also down by around 10%, with 2.6 million visitors representing a 300,000 decline during the first three months of 2017. Again unsurprisingly, arrivals from Mexico were down 7% -nearly 300,000.

Overall, the 15.8 million international tourists during the first quarter were down 4%, or 697,791 visitors.

This decline has hit US business, too. That many lost tourists represent a $2.7 billion reduction in spending, according to an estimate by Tourism Economics of Wayne.

Read more: Why Tourism and Politics Go Hand in Hand

This is About Atmosphere, Not Just Legislation

It’s impossible to pinpoint how much the decline in international visitors to the USA is because of President Trump. But we can safely assume that his rhetoric and actions have played a part in the market contractions.

Some of the President’s attempted legislation, such as the Muslim ban, had a marked impact on business travel into the US, as we reported back in February. However, consistent decreases in international tourist numbers are likely to be the result of atmosphere, not failed legislation.

Trump led a divisive campaign that caused controversy among liberal Americans, minorities, and travelers the world over, including smears at Mexicans and disabled people. And his actions in office have done little to repair the damage. The USA is as divided as it has been for decades, and the resulting atmosphere is not one that international tourists are keen to engage with.

The sense of a nation in turmoil has similarities with scenes in the UK, where the Brexit vote has led to a change in tourist attitudes on the European continent. According to research published by Travelzoo, a third of travelers from Germany, Italy and Spain – and a quarter from France – confirmed that they would be less inclined to travel to the UK in the event of a Leave vote. Four in 10 respondents from EU countries also worry that Brexit could make UK holidays more expensive.

The latter has not quite turned out to be true, since the plummeting pound has actually caused a boost to the UK tourism market. However, the feelings of Europeans is clear: Brexit, just like Trump, suddenly made the UK seem like a destination that was unwelcoming and less appealing.

Why B2B Travel Technology is Vital to the Industry

Depending on who you speak to, there are different definitions of what constitutes travel technology. As a travel marketplace provider, we certainly see that definition in a different light to a transport company like Uber or an OTA like Expedia. Our job as a (mostly) B2B service is to enable operators to reach as many travellers as possible. We provide the travel technology and work in the space in between operators and customers.

But it makes sense that, as technology becomes more of a feature in our daily lives, travel companies of one sort or another will utilise different aspects and become a part of the ‘travel technology’ family. A case in point is Skift’s Travel Tech 250, which includes everything from deal sites like GroupOn to rental platforms and price comparison websites.

Travel Technology Now Comes In Many Forms

From looking through Skift’s map of ‘250 travel tech companies’ shaping the modern day travel experience, it’s clear to see that travel tech has an extremely broad meaning. It spans marketplaces for travel, transport and accommodation. There are also B2B services covering distribution, booking engines and even travel industry marketing specialists.

As Skift writes, “We recognize that the travel industry is in constant flux, with new brands and disruptors coming on line all of the time. The design we chose for this visualization is exactly that – a snapshot of what the industry looks like today.”

Sure, we might be biased, but we think we deserve a little more recognition here. Not in terms of being included, although that would be nice. But in terms of the significance of what we and other booking engines do. The Skift image is just a snapshot of the industry as a whole, so let’s try to explain why what we do is so vital.

As more and more travellers research and organise their trips online, having a web presence is becoming a prerequisite to winning bookings from international tourists.

But that’s putting it mildly. Having an online presence is a pre-condition to attracting tourists in the same way that having a warm pair of socks is needed if you’re going to climb Mt Everest. There’s a lot more to it than that. There are some serious marketing challenges facing small travel operators that we’ve outlined again and again.

The first – and most important – is being discovered. An online presence is worth nothing unless people can find it. Only once your products are found can you begin actually selling them. This is getting harder by the day for two reasons. First, a small number of B2C travel industry giants dominate search engine results. And by dominate, we mean that you’ll be lucky to get a look in. They’ve got more content than you, more backlinks than you, and you can bet that their marketing budgets far exceed your own.

The second challenge to getting noticed is increased competition from other smaller operators. As they fight to take traffic from the big guys, many smaller travel startups are making life harder for each other.

But it’s not all bad…

But there is a silver lining. There are two, in fact. The first is that once they get over the hurdle of being heard, smaller operators are in a unique position to concentrate on a single niche. They can then easily build brand awareness and customer loyalty around that target market. By definition, smaller travel operators can be lean, more flexible and highly specialised. That’s the personal touch that many travellers want, not a mass tourism package trip churned out by an industry giant.

With specialised knowledge comes a specialised service. And with that comes a trip that travellers remember for all the right reasons.

travel technology - our marketplace platform

Why True Travel Technology is an Enabler

In our view, true B2B travel technology is tech that helps startups in the industry overcome the challenges mentioned above. True travel technology is empowering, breaks down conventional barriers and gives the small guys a fighting chance against established dominance.

Sure: all of the companies listed above under ‘Travel technology’ are, according to Skift, “shaping the modern-day travel experience”. We don’t deny that Uber, Secret Escapes and Trivago are all offering valuable services that the industry couldn’t do without. Yet the key word for us in that Skift definition is ‘experience’.

Shaping the Travel Experience for the Better

Here at Travelshift, we firmly believe that smaller operators are in a much better position to give 21st century travellers the immersive trips and personalised service they’re looking for.

As we’ve mentioned before, there is a fear that the combining forces of big data and seamless integration will leave the largest technology companies in the best position to dominate the travel industry – even more so than the current industry giants. There is no telling what kind of impact even more dominance in the hands of a few major players will have on the traveller experience.

That’s why we are remaining firmly in the corner of the little guys, enabling them to compete with travel industry giants with our unique, feature-packed marketplace software. We hope that the result will be a greater number of specialised marketplaces, catering to their chosen niche and providing the best possible experience to travellers – right the way through from booking to returning home.

Our Travel Technology Gives Smaller Operators The Platform They Deserve

As we’ve mentioned, setting up in the travel industry and offering your expertise to tourists is only the first step on a long, difficult journey. Many fall at the opening hurdles, and many more follow suit soon after that.

That’s why we put our heads together before launching our first platform in 2014 to produce the perfect solution: A travel marketplace that brings together small operators and allows them to reach a larger audience than they could ever imagine when working as individual suppliers.

Take a look at the impact our platform had in its opening few years when combined with the Iceland tourism boom.

Guide to Iceland growth timeline, proving our travel technologyThis goes to show that a small but dedicated (and talented) team can achieve great things with the right travel technology in place. Our aim is for the same platform solution and techniques to be used to develop partnerships and niche marketplaces all over the world.

The result will be the growth of smaller travel operators, as they each benefit from the support and association of a marketplace that’s purpose-built to drive traffic and sales for niche travel sectors. More success among smaller operators promises to shift the travel landscape, provide tourists with more authentic experiences and bring back the concept of ‘loyalty’ to an industry that has lost its personal touch.

All of this takes us back to the title of this post. So why are B2B travel technology suppliers so vital to the industry? Simply put, we support startups and breed innovation. We make things happen.

More Than Just Another Booking Engine

Earlier in this post we compared having an online presence in the travel industry to having a pair of socks at the base of Mount Everest: It’s only the beginning. And the same can be said for having a travel marketplace that aggregates operators in your chosen niche.

Building a marketplace is only half of the challenge. You still need to market it properly, to streamline its systems and drive as many sales as possible.

That’s where Travelshift’s technology comes in. Our marketplace solution has been honed over time and proven in practice. It’s complete with localisation features, built-in SEO tools, flexible inventory systems and much more besides. Most important of all, the Travelshift platform was built and designed to bring in as much relevant traffic as possible.

To do that, we’ve combined a smart, flexible SaaS travel marketplace solution with unparalleled content marketing capabilities. But the key is where that content comes from: The community. By encouraging locals and tour guides to contribute article and blog posts, our platform allows you to amass a huge social media following and drive significantly more traffic into the marketplace than operators can manage independently. With our tools and no shortage of hard work, you can quickly become the leading producer of content in your field.

Community-driven content is a foundation of our success, and we’re convinced that the model can be applied to any number of travel niches.

Trvaelshift marketplace software

Feeling Inspired?

We’re always on the lookout for new partners, exciting startups and talented individuals to work with. If you’d like to be considered, all we need from you is a discovery letter. In the letter, you should indicate as concisely as possible the following elements of your proposal:

  • Define the market. What are you trying to aggregate?
  • How do you plan to bring in suppliers and/or access inventory?
  • What is your preferred form of partnership (joint venture, revenue sharing agreement, etc)?

You can send your discovery letters to info@travelshift.com.

The travel industry is an exciting and thriving sector with a seemingly endless amount of business opportunities and prospective ventures. We love to team up with intelligent and creative people and enjoy receiving new proposals. Get in touch with us today!

The Challenges of Mass Tourism in the 21st Century

Working in the travel industry, it can be easy to forget that our responsibility extends further than just the people and businesses we sell services and products to. The bigger picture stretches beyond travellers, encompassing residents of popular destinations, natural ecosystems and, of course, the sustainability of the industry in general.

That’s where the challenge of mass tourism rears its head. In our increasingly connected world, access to certain destinations is easier than it has ever been. Budget airlines, currency fluctuations and the sharing economy have made trips more accessible to more people. Countries like Iceland and cities such as Barcelona have effectively gone viral. There are no secrets anymore.

A recent Skift documentary took a closer look at the escalating situation in Barcelona, where locals are growing increasingly frustrated at the quantity of tourists flocking to the city. The Catalan capital has become the third most popular city in Europe, after London and Paris.

A growing number of residents are concerned that the high concentration of tourists is pushing up house prices, negatively impacting their lives and well-being and rendering parts of the city overcrowded and uninhabitable.

skift documentary challenges of 21st century tourism

Skift’s latest documentary: Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Over-Tourism

And this feeling is coming to the surface all over Spain, which has traditionally been one of Europe’s most popular destinations. The number of visitors to Spain hit a record high in 2016 of 75.3 million, according to the Minister for Energy and Tourism, Alvaro Nadal. Last year was the fourth consecutive record year, as tourist numbers were boosted by security concerns in the Mediterranean from Turkey to north Africa.

Frustration with tourism has not come out of the blue. In a protest in Barcelona in June, one demonstrator held a banner that read: “Tourist flats displace families”.

Protest group Arran has carried out events in Valencia and the Balearic Islands in recent weeks. In Palma de Mallorca, protesters smashed windows at a restaurant and set off smoke bombs before raising a banner declaring in English that, “Tourism is killing Mallorca”.

anti tourism protests in barcelona

Lluis Gene, AFP | Protesters at a demonstration in Barcelona on June 10, 2017 against what they claim is a lack of control by the city’s tourism management.

A similar demonstration is planned in foodie capital San Sebastian on 17 August, due to how tourism represents “precariousness” and “exploitation” for the young.

Are these mass tourism numbers sustainable?

Although mass tourism has come to represent a significant amount of income for cities like Barcelona, there is little doubt that its detriments are felt by locals. Areas such as the iconic Las Ramblas and the Sagrada Familia are no longer what they used to be; years of culture are being crowded and eroded by tourists eager for a quick selfie, by those looking for entertainment rather than something to appreciate.

Read more: In Depth With Barcelona’s Foodie&Tours

Aside from overcrowded public areas and pressures on transport and infrastructure, accommodation is arguably the single biggest concern for residents in cities like Barcelona. A thriving rental market for short term accommodations has led to gentrification and higher long-term rents for residents.

The concern was so grave that in 2012, residents in Barcelona voted in a mayor whose main promise was to curb the rise in tourism. Whereas before there was little regulation regarding the set up of tourist accommodation, Ada Colau introduced a register and required online platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com to sign up their apartments.

The key is to find a sustainable solution. The Skift documentary speaks to one boutique hotel owner who set up a hotel but opened the ground floor as a bar and restaurant, effectively redeveloping public space for locals at the same time as opening new rooms for tourists.

Could more community-focused travel companies like this be a solution?

Iceland: Another Example of Over-Tourism?

Much closer to home for us, Skift has also conducted investigations into the Icelandic travel scene, particularly looking at the growing number of visitors to Iceland and the sustainability of its booming tourism industry.

Just like in Spain, the boom in tourism to Iceland was predicated by the global financial crisis, which made visiting the land of ice and fire a lot cheaper than it once would have been and resulted in a surge of visitors keen to take advantage.

“Tourism is the factor that got us out of the recession and placed us where we are now,” said Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board. “We couldn’t foresee this tremendous growth in interest for Iceland. That is also coupled with the fact that, in the last five years, the world has gone out of a recession. People are travelling more and more.”

There are also parallels in terms of the public reaction to increased numbers of tourists in Iceland and Spain. Both countries can partly attribute their recoveries from the economic crash to tourism, but locals are beginning to worry whether or not the benefits of the influx are being felt by all. Or if the detriments are worth it.

Increased tourism has led to a high demand for short term rentals, to the point where capacity is not enough. The result will be as familiar to locals in Reykjavik as it is to residents in the Catalan capital:

“There is a massive shortage of housing, There is a massive shortage of hotels,” said Sölvi Melax, founder of Icelandic car share startup Cario. “Renting long-term is getting more and more expensive. And that’s because people are going [with] short-term rentals.”

Of Iceland's three main industries, only tourism has increased in value over the last five years.

Iceland’s rising tourism, from Skift’s report into travel in Iceland

Huge changes over a relatively short period of time have perhaps caught city officials on the back foot. After all, it’s hard to encourage a blossoming industry at the same time as keeping things sustainable and under control.

Read more: In Depth With Zen Resort Bali

The public’s perception is partly because tourism is an industry like no other. It’s brash and in your face; there’s no escaping it. “We are just realizing what tourism is. It’s a totally different industry from all others,” said Atladóttir, comparing tourism to fishing:

“You can go out and fish, and you go and get your fish, and then come back. There’s somebody in the factory that prepares it, and then it’s sold. That, of course, is a tremendous economic impact, but then everybody goes home. The fish aren’t bothering you out in the streets asking where the restaurants are, and aren’t using your buses or utilizing a lot of the public goods. They aren’t sitting in your swimming pools.”

Just as in Barcelona, creaking infrastructure is struggling to meet the demands of rising numbers of tourists. To the point where government officials are considering airport entry fees, road tolls, and other types of taxes to fund improvements.

There could eventually be a cap on the number of visitors per year. While that may seem like a dramatic move, part of the allure for visitors to Iceland is the opportunity to see the natural world at its finest. Instead of being known for cathedrals (although Reykjavik has a spectacular one) and architecture, Iceland’s popular sights include glaciers, the northern lights and volcanic landscapes.

Preserving these for future destinations of tourists and residents is understandably a priority. Keeping Iceland’s nature intact is vital to any tourism going forwards, not just an ethical necessity.

Read more: Our Deep Dive into Sustainable Travel

Changes are required at a national level to deal with mass tourism

If there’s one thing we can take from the situations in Spain and Iceland, it’s that this kind of problem requires solutions at a national level.

Despite the fact that increasing tourism has brought with it prosperity and development to both countries, there is a lingering sense that residents’ best interests are being overlooked in the pursuit of industry growth. This is reflected in rising costs of living, rapid changes to what were once established communities and iconic sights being overrun with tourists.

The challenge is to develop sustainable tourism practices that bring the same benefits but welcome international travellers in a more harmonious way: putting in place sensible sustainability measures without putting off tourists. Finding the right balance is vital, especially in countries that have quickly seen tourism grow to be a crucial part of the economy.

Taxes on tourists in the form of entry visas; caps on visitor numbers every year; quotas and ticketing on certain landmarks; more investment in under-pressure infrastructure… all of these are steps that local authorities could take to effectively deal with the problems that come with high levels of tourism.

There’s also a need to keep residents onside by educating them about the benefits that tourism brings and giving them tangible access to those benefits.

Perhaps putting limits or taxes on tourism in the short term is the best way to solve problems around infrastructure, capacity and resident’s concerns. Just as fishing quotas in the 1980s helped return Iceland’s fish stock to sustainable levels, maybe something similar could be done with the booming travel industry. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back and readjust your path to move forwards in the right way.

sustainable tourism in barcelona and iceland

Some of Iceland’s most enticing sights could be at risk as mass tourism becomes the norm.

But what can travel operators do in the face of mass tourism?

Let’s not kid ourselves: the primary motive for the majority of travel service providers is to make a profit from tourism. That can lead to a situation where short term growth and dollar signs are put ahead of sustainability.

However, travel operators would do well to take a step back and think about the long-term impact of mass tourism. In cities like Barcelona, excessive tourism threatens to overrun the local culture that makes it such an enticing destination in the first place. But this point is perhaps more significant to destinations popular because of nature. In countries like Iceland, sheer footfall could have a detrimental effect on the natural sights that make it so popular.

With that in mind, perhaps operators can shift to focus on smaller, more upscale tour groups with more focused itineraries. That way the heavy footfall of budget tourism can be reduced without necessarily hitting operators’ bottom lines.

It’s up to governments and travel operators to work together to ensure that tourism remains sustainable. Without progressive measures, some of our mose treasured destinations could lose the heart and soul that made them popular in the first place.

Amadeus Report: Four Potential Futures of the Travel Industry

The world is a complex place and we are living in particularly complex and tumultuous times. We’ve looked on plenty of occasions at different trends from the spheres of technology, sociology and politics. We do this in an effort to predict and outline how these trends are going to impact the travel industry. Then we think of ways startups can adapt to meet those challenges.

However, we’ve never looked at the big picture and tried to pull all of the different strands together. Fortunately, that’s been attempted for us by an Amadeus & A.T. Kearney report, titled ‘What if? Imagining the future of the travel industry’.

The report identifies several risks and trends that the travel industry should heed over the next decade.

It even goes as far as to offer four possible world scenarios that could come to pass, outlining how the travel industry would have to adapt to each. Sounds interesting, right?

So let’s get into it.

What are four possible futures for the travel industry?

So let’s start at the beginning. The report argues that there are four global scenarios that travel companies need to start preparing for today. If they want to maximise future growth, that is. These are named after famous artists:
– Picasso
– Dali
– Bosch
– Warhol
The four possible scenarios that travel companies should start preparing for.

The four possible scenarios that travel companies should start preparing for.

As you can see from the graphic above, the report suggests that changes in the travel industry landscape hinge on two separate battles.
The first is the battle between personalised experiences and mass market opportunities. There is no doubt that in the future, advanced technology and artificial intelligence will enable the aggregation of consumer data on a huge scale. Companies will never before have had so much insight into market trends. They should, therefore, become more and more adept at appealing to the masses. But on the flip side, all of this data could be applied on an individual basis, removing the need for the traditional one-size-fits-all approach.
The second conflict is between seamless travel versus increased fragmentation. Freer movement and more open borders will require huge political and social changes. Even on a small scale, governmental cooperation and data sharing between businesses will be needed, from airports and airlines to destination services such as hotels, restaurants and ground transportation.
With a more connected world technologically, it can be done. However, it will have to be done against a rising tide of populist nationalism, security fears and anti-free movement sentiment.
“Technology has never held more promise for the travel industry”, says Alex Luzarraga, VP of Corporate Strategy at Amadeus IT Group. “But the status quo is being turned on its head. There is widespread mistrust and populism.”
“Things we used to take for granted, such as the right to travel across Europe without passports, for example, may be less likely in the future. It is important to evaluate and understand those issues that will continue to confront and disrupt the industry in the coming five to seven years, so we can as an industry be better prepared to deal with those issues, and also stimulate economic growth and success as a result”.

Four possible futures laid out by the Amadeus report

The vast chasm between these possible travel industries of the future reflects how pivotal the current moment in time is. It feels as though we are at a crossroads; faced with huge challenges: climate change, mass migration, rapidly advancing technology, economic inequality, terrorism, populism, isolationism, scepticism over open borders. All of these issues will shape our relationship with travel in the years to come.

Read more: How Will President Trump Affect the Travel Industry

And there’s no telling how things are going to end up. Although we can rely on the continued advancement of technology, we have no way of knowing in which ways it will be applied. Will it lead to seamless travel, a more personal approach and reduced security fears? Or will it be deployed to restrict travel and shepherd the mass market toward a common theme?

Here are the four futures, based on the conflict between seamless travel, fragmentation, personalised opportunities and mass market groupthink.

The Picasso scenario

The Picasso scenario is the closest world to the one we are currently living in. Things are fragmented; the world is marked by the rise of populism and by heightened security concerns. Think Trump’s America, but on a global scale. This has the effect of making more travel destinations off-limits and limits data sharing. Even so, most parts of the world enjoy economic growth.
With more travel restrictions in place and less global insight available to travel companies, there’s less choice for customers and companies will be driven to invest in innovation to reach them through mobile channels. This interaction enables businesses to provide more sophisticated personalized offers.

The Dali scenario

The Dali scenario is arguably the ideal future. It assumes that social attitudes and economic prosperity will create a more favourable environment towards the sharing of data. In turn, privacy laws will be relaxed alongside borders and regulations, which could allow for the ultimate personalisation of travel.
In this model we can expect to see an increased influence of data and technology giants, who have all the insight they need to cater for travellers’ needs.
The dream of the Dali scenario is that travel becomes faster, cheaper and safer. People benefit from lighter security controls at borders, while developing technology will offer real-time information about unexpected events such as flight delays.

The Bosch scenario

In the Bosch scenario, increased fragmentation will force costs up for travel industry operators. Complying with legal, tax, labour and data protection laws across different companies and continents will be a struggle.
We are confronting a fragmented world based on protectionism and distrust. In the face of Bosch’s political environment, it’s likely that travellers will seek comfort in trusted brands and book directly with well-known travel providers. There’s isn’t much room for gambling.
More regulations and security will mean that, despite advancing technology, technology giants will not have as much influence as they would in a seamless world. Smaller travel agencies will still be valued.

The Warhol scenario

The Warhol scenario is characterised by seamless and not personalised travel that considers the implications of strong economic growth in Asia and stagnation in the west. As travel prices become more restrictive and a growing middle class in Asia comes to the fore with less spending power, travellers will tend toward low cost, mass-market trips.
Asian travellers’ tendency towards group travel will also reduce the market for personalised options, even in a world free of barriers.

Will Tech Giants Have a Big Role to Play in the Travel Industry of the Future?

tech industry giants travel industry

Could companies like Google dominate the travel industry of the future?

One interesting result of the Dali scenario is the assumed influence of technology giants like Apple and Google and Facebook. In a seamless world dominated by innovation and integration, they seem like likely candidates to monopolise the travel industry.

Google, in particular, has already stepped into the travel space to an extent with a series of investments in flights, hotels and destination services. So how worried should traditional travel agencies be? Will the current ‘gatekeepers’ take an even bigger chunk of the pie as their role in travel sales increases? Will they take over transactions and become super travel agencies?

According to the founder of Innovation Strategies Miguel Fernandez Diaz, the answer is no, probably not.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that stepping into selling travel packages will lead to technology giants directly competing with their own customers. After all, travel providers struggle without ranking highly on search engines and popping up on social media networks.

The gatekeepers already make a fortune by charging travel operators for various types of marketing and general exposure. The financial gains to be made by stepping directly into the market may be undercut by the lost advertising revenue from companies put out of business.

Second, moving from being the gatekeeper to actively putting together and selling travel packages adds a layer of complexity and responsibility that can be off-putting. Selling travel packages brings with it liabilities and a duty of care to customers – new burdens that might not be appealing.

In sum, it’s unlikely that the incentives outway the drawbacks for the world’s technology giants.

But that doesn’t mean that they won’t grow more influential in the travel industry, even if they aren’t moving into direct sales. That’s because the way things stand, giants such as Google hold the fate of many travel operators in their hands. If you’re not ranking highly in search engines for your chosen market, it’s going to be difficult to get off the ground.

In the future, the increased role of artificial intelligence and personal assistants, such as Google Home, Siri and Alexa, will present the real challenge to travel agents. These personal assistants will know ever more about our lives, our taste, our habits, our finances and our calendars. It’s easy to imagine a world in which our free time and holidays are planned out by these increasingly influential assistants.

The challenge for travel operators then will be to connect to these platforms as efficiently as possible; to, as Skift says, “look for ways to complement the tools that technology platform giants provide consumers, whether that’s providing richer travel content or marrying data sets to provide more personalised service during the booking process.”

One interesting consequence of tech giants venturing into the travel industry could be the loss of neutrality from search engines. If Google Home is planning your trip for you and offering suggestions based on your history, the function of the search engine has evolved and will be significantly more intimate and personalised. Sure, that’s a good thing, but is it fulfilling the promised function of these engines? Would it be giving you access to all the possible options, or just assuming the right ones?

As we become more open to technology and the integration of information, the power of tech giants and their assistant features will become increasingly dominant. So it’s perhaps not the case that travel operators should be fearful of a direct rivalry. The fear should more be about 1.) getting left behind as travellers save time by going through virtual assistants and 2.) not being able to connect efficiently and appeal to these new mediums.

Nobody can predict the future of the travel industry

As we’ve explored in many of our past articles, the travel industry is very much at the whim of emerging trends in technology, economics, geopolitics and society in general. For that reason, it’s impossible to say which of Armadeus’ future worlds will come to pass.

However, some things are clear and some challenges are inevitable. The growing influence of technology giants in the travel process is one of the obvious ones. While it may not come to pass that these ‘gatekeepers’ actually sell their own travel packages, there’s little doubt that they stand to become more influential regarding travellers’ purchasing decisions.

While no travel operator can predict what the future holds, one thing they can do is prepare for a more technologically advanced world in which customers are better informed and better connected. There may not be an appetite for a complete one stop travel shop that tech giants could create, but providers should seek ways to best complement smart assistants, search engines and other tools to stand the best chance of succeeding in tomorrow’s world.

Searchmetrics Study: Travel Industry SEO & Ranking Factors

The battle for search engine ranking is as fierce as it’s ever been. Particularly in the travel industry, where a handful of enormous operators tend to dominate most online travel searches. In fact, many of these operators are themselves becoming the keywords that are searched for. That’s not SEO, it’s just unfair!

So what can travel startups do in the face of such challenges? How can they gain traction and move up search engine rankings? Are there any industry-specific trends that travel hopefuls should be looking to jump on board of?

Travel Industry Search Ranking Factors

New research from Searchmetrics has brought to light some interesting (and no doubt significant) travel industry-specific search ranking factors. We expect that no matter what field you’re in, whether you’re a travel agent, airline, hotel chain or related brands, improving visibility in Google searches will be a priority.

So here’s a summary of Searchmetrics’ key findings…

  • Travel brands rank higher by giving searchers a highly browsable experience

In many ways, this is standard SEO practice. A ‘browsable experience’ is arguably just a fancy way of saying that it’s easy for browsers to move between content, from one page to another. So this will include easy to navigate menus and, we assume, plenty of internal links.

  • Travel brands rank higher by offering easy to gather and compare information

There’s be more detail on this below, but this key point encompasses the usefulness of a particular post or page. Customers are searching for a reason, after all. Easy to gather and compare is arguably referring to having a high quantity of content as well as high quality, as well as pointing out that how it’s formatted is significant.

For example, there are always plenty of list articles and ‘top X’ pieces towards the top of search engine rankings.

  • High ranking pages cover topics comprehensively, using more words and more large images, even if this means pages load a little slower.

This is interesting in one sense, because it suggests that page speed isn’t necessarily as important as it’s made out. Plenty of SEO posts will tell you that too many HQ images will impact upon your page loading speed and lower your ranking in Google search. Apparently not.

Read more: The Changing Trends of Travel Industry Marketing

Covering topics comprehensively, with more words, is again to emphasise the quantity point. People want information, and Google’s best way of gauging how informative an article is is to look at its length. There are obviously other factors, but the number of words will always be significant – they are the table upon which all the other SEO factors are served.

Now let’s get into the detail. The press release included a few interesting quotes from the team at Searchmetrics.

“Google now more accurately determines searchers’ intentions by analyzing the keywords and phrases they enter in the search box,” said Daniel Furch, Head of Content Marketing at Searchmetrics.

This isn’t really anything new, but we assume that the algorithms are getting smarter…. Ah, here we go…

“It knows the context of individual searches – including whether they relate to travel, retail, finance or other verticals – and ensures that results reflect the characteristics that meet the needs of searchers. For travel marketers, as for marketers in other verticals, this means they can no longer focus solely on generalized, universally applicable rules to drive the best search performance. They also have to take account of specific factors that are important in their specific vertical.”

So this suggests that Google is increasingly understanding context when you type something in. If you search for two related terms it may well point you in the direction of the missing link you’re looking for. So perhaps keyword stuffing is officially dead. Google will now pick up on synonyms, related phrases and words in the same lexicon?

The Searchmetrics team put plenty of time into the latest study. They carried out an analysis of the top 20 search results on Google.com for over 6,000 typical travel-related search terms. So these are terms like ‘airline tickets’, ‘vacation rentals’ and ‘budget rental car’.

The team then filtered the results to find the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these travel results. They took a closer look at how they differ from a separate, broader Google ranking factors study, which analyzed the results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.

Read more: How Travel Startups can Compete with Established Marketplaces

5 Key SEO Points for Travel Industry Professionals

Below are five main points from the analysis. These are the things that travel sites should consider when planning their content and SEO strategy. As you can see from the infographic below, the top 5 ranking factors were word count, the number of internal links, number of images, overall content relevance and the number of bullets per list.

Make ‘browsability’ a priority

Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to be more browsable. Essentially this means that they included more internal links. These allow site visitors to easily navigate between relevant content and is basically the opposite of a high bounce rate.

People want to stay once they’ve arrived, which is a great sign for any search engine. This translates well to the travel industry (and makes a lot of sense) because travel searchers are likely to be keen to compare different views and options, and more generally just gather related information about an operator or destination.

So what about the figures? How important are these ranking factors? The study found that travel-related pages ranking in Google’s top 10 results have around 23% more internal links (compared with general results that rank in those positions within its broader ranking factors study).

The number of internal links on a travel page and how highly it ranks were also found to show a high positive mathematical correlation of +0.21. Or, the more internal links on the page, the higher it ranks.

But let’s not get carried away. Having a high number of links isn’t a silver bullet here. Sure, that helps travel pages to rank well, but the priority is to have an intelligent internal link structure, using the menu, sidebars and content – all in a way that guides visitors intuitively through the website.

“Travel-related brands need to ensure their web pages intelligently link to related content throughout their site, so searchers can easily find relevant content and background to help them compare and decide on their travel plans,” said Furch.

Intuitive browsing is especially important when you’re a traveller looking for information, bookings or last minute deals.

“This is not surprising as planning a vacation, for example, involves so many details – from flight times and luggage allowance to insurance, car-hire, and seasonal weather patterns. Searchers want to be able to find answers to all those questions as painlessly as possible.”

Include plenty of large images

As we mentioned above, page loading times hindered by big images didn’t seem to be a factor. In the world of travel the visuals are all important. That potentially explains why search results in the industry prioritised those with big images over those without.

Pages that rank in the top ten Google results for travel-related queries use around 38% more images over 200 pixels per page. Using more larger images can increase the file size and slow down page load times, and Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel-related pages listed in the top ten results have a 40% larger file size and take almost 3 seconds longer to load (travel pages take 10.6 seconds to load on average, while the average across all industries is 7.8 seconds).

So the conclusion we get from this is that Google search is getting smarter. It now knows that travel industry searchers are keen to see higher quality images, not just a streamlined site that loads quickly.

Be comprehensive – Longer posts are good

Here at Travelshift, we’re no strangers to long, wordy posts (sorry). We do it because we like to be comprehensive, but also because we are well aware that long posts tend to rank better on Google searches.

Travel-related pages that rank higher tend to carry more text than other high ranking pages. In fact, Searchmetrics’ analysis indicates that travel results that make it into Google’s top ten results average over 2,500 words per page (yikes!), which is 57% more than in the company’s wider benchmark Google Ranking Factors study (the average across all industries is 1,633 words per page for results that rank in the top 10). This suggests travel marketers should be comfortable using longer copy to go through destinations and topics and in plenty of detail.

We don’t need to tell you that 2,500 words is a lot of content. The challenge for travel industry marketers is to produce copy that hits that word target without being repetitive, boring and uninformative. Challenge accepted.

Longer lists

This is a running theme that goes way beyond the travel industry. Google’s search ranking seems to favour posts that include lists. This is likely because they are deemed to be as informative as it gets. There’s no room for fluff with bullet points. Pages that rank in the top 10 results for travel-related searches have longer bullet point lists – nearly four more bullet points per list than pages in the general results published in the benchmark study. As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to

Pages that rank in the top 10 results for travel-related searches have longer bullet point lists – nearly four more bullet points per list than pages in the general results published in the benchmark study. As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to

As with the need for longer copy and links pointing to related content, this finding suggests travel sites need to prioritise satisfying searchers’ hunger for detailed information. After all, using bullet points makes it easier to assimilate details.  everything from hotel descriptions to holiday packages and car-hire terms.

Think about where in the travel industry you’ve seen bulleted lists before: hotel descriptions, holiday packages, room services, car-hire t&cs. They’re everywhere. If you can master them and tailor them to your niche, you’ll be on to a winner.

Don’t stuff keywords

For a long time in SEO, the aim of the game was to stuff as many keywords, over and over again, into your content as possible.

This largely led to hard-to-read web pages that were nowhere near as informative or entertaining as they should have been. It was also just an easy way for people to cheat the system, and for search engines to return results that were high in keywords but not high in relevancy. Thankfully, as we’ve seen, the system is getting smarter.

Travel pages that rank in the first two pages of Google use the searched-for keyword or phrase far less frequently in the text than other top-ranking pages. The study found that travel results included the searched keyword on the page around half as much as search results on the first two pages for general searches (travel pages in the study mention the keyword three times on average versus 7.4 times for general search results pages). Keyword matching is a simplistic, outdated SEO technique and it seems even less effective in travel, where brands need to be focusing on creating relevant, informative, comprehensive content that addresses the searchers’ needs.

So what’s the lesson here? Keyword matching is a simplistic, outdated SEO technique and it seems even less effective in travel, where brands need to be focusing on creating relevant, informative, comprehensive content that addresses the searchers’ needs.

seo search engine ranking in the travel industry

Looking further down the list of SEO factors

There are a few other important factors that we’d like to draw attention to. These are headings, external links and URLs. All of these can seem like such an afterthought when creating posts and pages for travel industry websites. Putting in headings can seem like such an afterthought, but wow – who knew!

We’re constantly guilty of overlooking the importance of headings especially. But this research shows that it really is the little things that make a big difference to rankings.

External links are another example. Used another article or post as inspiration, or have a page you’d like to share with readers? Do it!

Another important factor in travel industry ranking appears to be the length of the URL. Not too long, not too short, with no filler words – that should do the trick.