Travel on ‘threshold of new era’ Abta chief tells Travel Convention

The travel industry is on “the threshold of a new era”, with artificial intelligence (AI) set to have a “transformative” impact but rising temperatures “making many reassess future investment”.

That is according to Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer, who told attendees at the opening of the Travel Convention in Bodrum, Turkey, this morning: “The path the industry is on over the next decade will not be easy.

“The challenges we face are set against a background of international conflict and economic stagnation. The horrific images from the Middle East and from the Ukraine are a reminder of how fragile the world order is.”

Tanzer said the changes in work patterns following the Covid pandemic, the arrival of generative AI and intensified concern about climate change are driving change in the sector.

He told the Convention: “The term ‘paradigm shift’ is a cliché, but we’re at the threshold of a new era.”

Tanzer said that Covid “turbo-charged the move to flexible working patterns”, making the workforce “more mobile and migratory” and leaving travel “an uphill battle to bring new talent into our industry”.

He suggested AI would increasingly be used for analytical and creative work, increasing the emphasis on social or ‘soft’ skills and said: “We’re going to have to think very differently about how we attract and develop talent.

“I know from speaking to many Abta members that the biggest challenge they face is attracting talent. Abta and our members need to be more proactive in broadcasting travel’s employment potential.

“We need to communicate more effectively the opportunities we can give people starting on their careers.”

Tanzer also stressed adaptability, noting: “I can’t think of an industry so practised at adapting to change and to managing disruptions as ours. You have only to look at the tremendous effort put in this summer to deal with the air traffic control meltdown and wildfires.”

But he argued: “This year’s record temperatures in popular tourist destinations from southern Spain to the Alps are making many re-assess their future investment strategy.

“Aviation inevitably features heavily in the debate as, even though it’s reducing emissions, its percentage of overall carbon emission is likely to rise.”

Tanzer said the government “has a crucial role to play” in the drive to net zero, arguing: “Done wrongly through clumsy legislation or taxation, the risk is the industry will be severely damaged and holidays become increasingly unaffordable.

“Done sensibly with investment support for growth in sustainable aviation fuels and the modernisation of UK airspace, we’ll achieve our shared objective.”

At the same time, Tanzer noted “the continuing strong recovery” in the sector, with Abta research suggesting 64% of people intend to take an overseas holiday next year.

He said: “The potential to build the industry of the future is there. We need to grasp it.”

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