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The Future of Travel

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For all its epic history, Asia tends to be a hugely forward thinking region. There’s a famous Chinese saying that translates as “a good horse does not eat the grass behind it”.

Nobody can predict the future with unerring accuracy – despite the claims of Asia’s legion of fortune tellers – but it’s a safe bet that sweeping changes will continue to alter the tourism landscape in the region as infrastructure and technological advancements, coupled with consumers ever increasing appetite for excellent service and an understanding of their personal needs will continue unabated.

How these will manifest in reality is as yet unclear, but the pace of change is so fast that standing still in today’s travel sphere is effectively going in reverse.

EXO, like other industry leading players from across the travel spectrum are not resting on their laurels and are looking to the future now.

Leading flight comparison search engine Skyscanner, cites technological advances, shifts in political and economic power and changes in culture and climate as likely major drivers in how the travel industry will develop within the next 10 years.

“Trends and technology of 2024 and beyond will make the travel experience intuitive and easy. Rather than pushing data to us, our social media networks will use our data trails to anticipate our needs, travel plans and hospitality desires. They will be able to determine everything from the hotel room we will like to the kind of drinks we would like to find in our mini-bar.”

In its report entitled ‘Future Travel Tribes 2030’, travel technology firm Amadeus expands on the theme of the travel industry becoming a truly customer-experience driven sector. It concludes that travel providers who are able to appreciate the behavioural motivations of travellers and merchandise according to these motivations at each stage of the traveller journey will be in a stronger position than those that don’t.

This sentiment is echoed by EXO as we have always prided ourselves on being pioneering in what we do, from being the first foreign company to be granted a tourism operating license in Vietnam, to being the largest DMC in Asia to be awarded the Travelife Certification for sustainability in three destinations.

While understanding the tectonic shifts that are happening at a macro level, it is absolutely fundamental to never forget that travel is a sensory experience and that infrastructure and technological advances will no doubt elevate the customer experience greatly, but it is the sights, sounds and cultural interaction at a personal level that drives the customer’s curiosity.

While keeping up to date with current travel trends and imagining future ones is a necessary part of the remit for any travel company, equally important is the work carried out on the ground to ensure that their experiences are kept as vital as possible.

For EXO, it is as much about unearthing new and unique experiences in every destination as it is key to staying ahead of the digital curve.

“We approach product development from the air (macro) and on the ground (micro). From above we imagine future trends, identify market demands, and strategize with our partners to ensure that we continue to be product pioneers, but on the ground is where the real work begins and this all starts with our product managers,” explains Richard Ludwig, Director of Product for EXO Travel.

“They are the ones working the streets, discovering that hidden hutong promising mouth watering treats like a spit-grilled leg of lamb and a chilled bottle of Tsingtao beer. They are on the tracks riding endless kilometres of rails to find that perfect stretch. They are training guides to deliver excellence on the ground. They are EXO’s trailblazers.”

All of the Product Managers at EXO Travel are based in the countries for which they are responsible. This familiarity engenders a range of enormous benefits. By living and breathing a country on a daily basis and striking up relationships with local communities and suppliers, they can better conceptualise unique and creative new experiences.

There has undoubtedly been a shift towards travellers seeking authentic experiences in recent times and that is expected to continue. Having real insiders living and breathing everyday life means that product offerings are imbued with both in-depth knowledge and passion.

Whether it is riding a local e-tan tractor through spectacular rice paddies on the way to pick freshly ripened fruits from the nearby orchard, or learning the history behind Jamu and Becak while exploring the less chartered backroads in remote areas of Bali and Java by bike, travellers are seeking immersive adventures to unveil the very essence of destinations.

The immersive theme is also apparent in expert guided journeys around sites of huge natural or historic significance. Destinations such as these abound in Asia, encompassing big-hitting attractions such as Halong Bay in Vietnam, The Great Wall in China and the temples at Angkor in Cambodia.

The huge popularity of these world renowned sights, along with others of their kind in the region provide a different set of challenges too.

The more the world is explored, the more worn the path. Therefore, it becomes extremely important to provide exclusive experiences, which cannot be found elsewhere.

While almost everyone who visits Angkor watches the sun rise over Angkor Wat, not everyone thinks to explore the lesser-known wonders of the complex by bike following a champagne breakfast away from the crowds.

By the same reasoning, trekking along more remote sections of the Great Wall, along the way delving into local Chinese culture, offers a far different takeaway than arriving on a coach and snapping a bunch of images before leaving again.

It is vital that travel companies remain ready to adapt to the technological advancements that are disrupting industries the world over, but it would be fatal to forget that these technologies should be harnessed to enable greater, more engaging, immersive experiences rather than attempt to replace what it means to travel.

With the world undergoing huge upheaval on what seems to be a daily basis, people are uncertain of the present – let alone the future. The only thing we can say with any certainty is that the future is now and it’s not going to wait for any of us.

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