World Travel Market: Interview with William El Kaim of Carlson Wagonlit Travel

Today is the first day of World Travel Market, and we’re talking with William El Kaim, who
is speaking at 14:30 in the WTM Knowledge Theatre GV750 event show floor, North Hall, East Entrance.

William is the Marketing Technology Director, Innovation Global Marketing and Enterprise Strategy, for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT). His responsibilities include developing CWT’s position on “Managed Travel 2.0” and driving key areas such as digital marketing, web 2.0, mobile, social, advertising, big data, open API and xCommerce.

YUDU sat down with William ahead of World Travel Market and asked him some thoughts about the nature of e-tourism and its future in an increasingly mobile-led world.

1) In your opinion, what are the best examples of digital publishing in the travel industry?

I have to admit this is an area where I believe there is still room for some real innovation. Looking outside the industry I would say that products like FlipBoard or Pinterest are more visually appealing than any digital travel publishing that we have in the industry at the moment. I think the idea of customisation is at the heart of future innovations, with consumers able to adapt and personalise their experience.

At CWT, we are constantly looking at ways to innovate, and personalisation is something we expect to see more of in future. The use of gamification and real-time data are also some things we are looking to evolve further.

2) What do you envision for the future of the travel industry?

Business travel has changed dramatically over the last decade. In the past, business travel could be seen as regimented and fixed, but now we have to see each client journey as fluid. Every element of the journey is changeable and shifting. The information, the technology and the support we provide has to be as mobile and agile as the traveller. In the future, I believe travel will be shaped by the following key areas:

1) The economic growth of emerging countries in the next 10 years and their cohort of new travellers. The new Asian middle class will start travelling, domestically first, then outside their countries. Asian business travellers prefer face-to-face business and are also more likely to extend their stay for leisure (known as ‘Bleisure travel’), so it’s a major opportunity for the whole travel industry – both business and leisure.

2) Online booking will become the norm, with the only exceptions being some countries where internet access is not so readily available or the labour cost is lower than online. Transportation companies will continue to sell direct and try to own the customers’ journey, with low-cost airlines, intercity buses and trains benefiting the most from this trend.

3) Smartphones generate a constant stream of data, as they record what a user does and their habits and travellers should consider their mobile devices as an extension of their digital identity.

4) The wall between business travel and leisure will disappear. Consumers will ask for the same tool to do both. This is a huge evolution if you consider the current landscape.

5) Mobility management will become mainstream. The travel industry will have to offer an omni-channel and seamless door-to-door experience for travellers. The door-to-door search engine will offer multiple modes of transportation (air, train, bus, bike, and walk) for going from one place to another, along with time schedules and pricing. Once booked, door-to-door will become the overall trip control centre.

6) All future travellers will have to be supported 24/7 by human and virtual agents; failure to support could lead to complaints and brand damage on social networks. To increase customer satisfaction travel companies will have to invest in predictive analytics and anticipate their needs or trip disruptions. They will then need to collect data (with the consent of travellers) to be able to take care of them. This is a ‘Big Mother’ approach (and absolutely not a “Big Brother” one).

3) What they hope to see/ achieve at WTM this year?

This is my first year at WTM, so I will mainly listen and learn in conferences, network, and look for innovations and future possible partners.

4) What do you think is the biggest enhancement/most transforming thing seen in the travel industry this year?

Online access and the ability to compare travel choices, followed by the “sharing” capability. Anyone can create digital waves that will ripple all around the world. Look at TripAdvisor with reviews or Airbnb for renting.

5) How important is digital in the travel industry?

Our world has changed and the digital revolution is forcing all business and brands to reinvent themselves to stop their business being disrupted. This is true for newspapers and the music industry, but also for the travel industry. We are now living in a world where reasonably new companies (less than 15 years old) such as Airbnb, TripAdvisor, and Google, and products like Apple’s iPhone are all affecting the industry, because they’re digital.

In the travel industry, everything is digital (from e-tickets, to flight schedules, to in-flight entertainment) unlike the retail industry which has to manage physical stock. Demand is volatile (mainly season-based) and the offer is pervasive and growing every day, due to the lateral power of hundreds of people selling their own tour activity or renting their house or acting as a chauffeur with their own car. The travel industry is the perfect industry for “Software to eat the world’ (like Marc Andreessen said). As an industry we have an enormous advantage across all the others, and we should embrace that advantage and share knowledge.

6) How are digital enhancements helping consumers?

The volume of data we can capture or process with our brain is constantly increasing. Scientists recently found changes in the human brain, showing a beginning of evolution to cope with the data deluge. We are now part of a new species: the Homo Connecticus. Any business (travel or non-travel) should invest in processes, products and tools that digitalise, capture, aggregate, or curate data, and learn or invent how to generate value from each consumer. Digital will also enable a “mass customisation” approach where each consumer is individually segmented.

Digital enhancements will also be more frequently offered through dedicated devices: watch, wrist, glasses, etc.

7) Any other thoughts or ideas you’d like to share?

In the entrepreneurial age we live in, innovation takes only one form, which is that of a new and valued consumer offer in a mass market, through the development of a new business model and sustainable digital ecosystem.

If you’d like to get in touch with us about our publishing solutions for the travel industry, please contact us through email and we’ll be happy to assist.

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