This article is also available at Prospect.
Last week I presented at the World Youth, Student and Educational Travel Conference over two days in Manchester. In a particularly difficult climate for all aspects of the travel industry, it was reassuring to see so many delegates at a conference aimed at investing in new ides and innovating our way out of the situation.
The keynote speech was by Lee Crockett, writer and commentator on the effects digital technologies are having on businesses and society and how they are changing the behaviour of individuals en masse. Lee also highlighted a major barrier to innovation being an organisation’s inability to question itself and it’s preconceptions and practices, coining ‘TTWADI’ – That’s The way We’ve Always Done It.’ It’s a stretch as an acronym, but his anecdote about a NASA launch failing because measurements were based on something as arbitrary as the width of two horses (this span is the standard gauge for railways too) highlighted that while standards are fine, not questioning things for 2000 years has consequences.
Lee’s tactic was to entertain, scare, scare again and then finish with a joke. A lot of people walked out of the room worried by the realisation that their difficulties didn’t just exist in the immediate issues of high oil prices and low expenditure and growth, but much stronger groundswells of customer behaviour.
This was reinforced by the opening panel, who emphasised the importance of user-centred services as the key to survival. In an age when feedback and word-of-mouth on the performance, user-friendliness and effectiveness of a service can be circulated round the world almost instantly, a brand can be built or broken overnight.
The second day was packed with seminars ranging from an excellent discussion on sustainable tourism chaired by Lelei LeLaulu. He is an entrepreneur who has worked in humanitarian and development roles for non-profits and the UN. His talk covered innovative marketing and the harnessing of technology to reduce the environmental impact of travel and tourism, which LeLaulu explained as ‘the best system we have for distributing wealth and knowledge around the world’.
I presented an overview of co-creation and service design as a way for the travel industry to innovate its way out of a difficult environment. This was alongside a presentation by Jason Fulton who described how his work for Nike had turned consumer behaviours into new branding offers. Jason’s talk runs from 00:00 to 23:30, and mine from 23:30 onwards.