From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea: What I’ve Learned From PWC19 Europe

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The irony with music (and, for the matter, art in general) is that, once a band reaches its zenith, it often gets artistically paralyzed by its own success. You can always draw a before-and-after line in the history of a band. In 1992, iconic band The Cure published Wish, follow-up to that ’89 gloomy masterpiece that was Disintegration. The album received mixed reviews, ranging from “lazy” to “criminally underrated” but, in retrospect, the only, unforgivable flaw of Wish is that it comes after a record that defined a genre. The title of the piece you are reading it is a homage to a song of this unfortunate record: From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea. That is probably how the band felt at the time: over the edge of a new phase of its career, perhaps not better, but not necessarily worse.

Our industry, today, is in a similar post-Disintegration situation: after twenty years of consolidation, it reached a tipping point and it is, actually, on edge. What will happen next is yet to be written, but we know that it won’t resemble what it used to.

iGen and its Influence in Travel

That’s why I found the tagline of this year’s PWC Europe so fitting: Empires on Edge. Once I entered the breathtaking Beurs van Berlage building in Amsterdam (venue chosen for PWC19), in fact, I could feel it in the air: something is changing in our industry. Quite properly, the event opened with a selection of innovative travel tech startups battling for the best, disruptive product.  One of the most interesting moments of day one, furthermore, is dedicated to the iGeneration: in a little over five years from now, these kids born from 2010 to 2025 (a.k.a. Generation Alpha or Children of the Millennial) will account to two billion of the global population. According to science & technology journalist Susan Fourtané, “[they]were born along with iPhones, iPads, and applications. They don’t know nor can imagine how life was without them”.

Some analysts already refer to the iGen as the “most influential generation of the 21st century”, and this trend is confirmed by Expedia Media Solutions‘ custom research, Generation Alpha: How the World’s Youngest Generation is Already Influencing Travel. As stated by EMS, the iGen already plays a significant role in influencing family travel decisions, from destination selection to trip activities. And, even though they “may be young”, Expedia maintains, “they are informed, have ideas and opinions, and are already establishing their role and influence in the family”. EMS surveyed over 9,000 travelers with iGen children or grandchildren and what it found out is extremely interesting: although -obviously- Gen Alpha is not -yet- financially independent, it already plays a crucial role in the organization of family travels.

According to the study, over 80% of travelers consider planning a trip as a collaborative, family activity. What is most valuable for iGens’ parents and grandparents when traveling is keeping their family entertained (almost 100% of people surveyed) and getting travel budget under control (89%). Even though these families are more sensitive to price, however, choosing safe and family-friendly destinations remains the most important variable. This may explain why around 80% of accommodation providers chosen are hotels and resorts, rather than vacation rentals (16%). Moreover, Expedia continues, iGen families take over three trips a year together, making them a very interesting market. iGens and their families are, in a few words, demographics worth keeping an eye on, but with very specific needs, habits, and expectations that need to be understood and fulfilled.


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Smart-Working and Gender Parity

Women’s Leadership Initiative debuted last November in the US, and it examines how crucial the role of technology is to fight gender inequality in the travel industry. During the panel, women leaders (or leadHERs, as they prefer to be called) shared their experiences. According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology,  “having women in leadership positions is associated with better team dynamics, stronger financial performance, and greater productivity”.

A recent PhocusWright survey proved that, amongst the main obstacles to overcome, the hardest is not (as one may think) the management bias (a little over 50%), but the lack of a mentorship encouraging new talent (76%). I had a long talk with Francesca Benati, Senior VP Online Travel WEMEA at Amadeus, who told me that, as she comes from a “very matriarchal family” (Benati’s mother was a famous Italian journalist), she never suffered from the effects of gender inequality until she had her first son.

Discrimination, back then, came under the form of the management taking away a good portion of her job, reassigned to other (mostly male) employees. Benati’s story is, anyhow, a happy-ending one: “When I gave birth to my second child, a few years later”, she told me, “things were way different: thanks to smart-working I could continue to do my job remotely and did not feel disconnected from my workplace”.


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How Europeans Travel

One of the highlights of the event is the European Traveler Preferences Insight, presented by Maggie Rauch, Senior Director, Research at Phocuswright. Europe’s travel world, Rauch says, -even if not at its best- is not so gloomy as it may seem. In 2018, in fact, travel bookings increased by 2%. It is not an extraordinary number, but it is growth nonetheless.

Travel, Rauch suggests, seems to be indifferent to the global European economic uncertain situation. Last year, 3 out 5 adults in France, Germany, and the UK traveled for leisure. What PhocusWright found out, though is that European travelers spent less last year than they did in ’16. They took more trips over the year, but they are literally watching their wallets when traveling.


Other interesting insights are that the last 12 months saw an increase in visits to non-EU destinations and that 90% of European travelers participated in some sort of travel activity during their last trip. When it comes to distribution, it is undeniable that OTAs did a remarkable job in bringing travel’s fragmented contents online, and this led to a major shift in consumer behavior, especially in the French market, where the percentage of travelers who book on OTAs nearly doubled in less than five years.


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So, are Empires on Edge? Is our industry suffering from post-Disintegration disorder? PWC19 left me with an open question. A bunch of them, actually. But what I like to think is that travel is, as Maggie Rauch put it, “resilient”. There may not be another Disintegration record, but -as you’re reading this- lot of new, young bands are currently playing music in their basements. Maybe not better, but not necessarily worse. Simply, different.