A dominant theme throughout the two-day Advantage Travel Partnership conference was “trust” – not only in a dedicated session to the MICE sector, but also during a keynote from Sarah Smith, where the BBC Scotland editor drew on parallels between journalism and the travel industry.
She urged Advantage members to create a voice of authenticity, as she had done at the BBC. “Trust hasn’t vanished, it’s not disappeared, but it’s moving in a different direction,” she told delegates at the Hotel Valentin Sancti Petri, in Cadiz, Spain, last weekend.
“Trust used to flow upwards into institutions, regulators and authorities. Now it flows sideways. People trust their colleagues more than their CEO. They trust neighbours, not regulators.
“You can see how this trust transfer operates online. But if this was an era of total mistrust, nobody would be letting out their homes on Airbnb, no one would hail an Uber. People are prepared to trust people like me far more than those experts or the elite. They’re more likely to trust someone more like themselves, and it explains Trump’s success and the Brexiteers’ success in the EU referendum. Because we live in an age when feelings resonate more than facts.
“You all need to work out what that means when you market yourselves, how you talk to your clients. At the BBC, we now realise people value empathy over expertise. That’s something you might find relevant too.”
Meanwhile, moderator David Meade said there was a new heightened awareness of sustainability, and the impact of travel on the environment. “With travel becoming unpopular due to environmental issues, what can we do to become carbon neutral, and what impact will that have on perceptions?” he asked.
Speaking on a following panel, Steven Esom, non-executive chairman of Advantage, said it was the “biggest issue”: “I was in London when the climate change protests were happening. There were so many people on the streets taking direct action. And that’s the next generation of our customers. Who wants to be on the wrong side of that conversation as a brand? In travel, we’re probably not doing enough, not doing things fast enough.”
Meade then asked Smith if this was just a fad, or a real change in the way consumers think about travel. “This is real,” she replied. “You can see the impact the climate protesters had, and it would be getting more attention if we weren’t so consumed with Brexit. Anyone under 30 probably thinks it’s a scandal we don’t report more on the climate emergency.”