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Interview CON-X 2022 | Dr. Wouter Geerts Director of Research, Skift


Dr. Wouter Geerts Director of Research, Skift will participate as a speaker at the upcoming CON-X 2022 conference. Geerts, as a big data specialist, will talk about changes we have experienced in recent years, and some predictions ... although as he says, "he doesn't have the crystal ball", he will help to understand some perspectives through data. 

What does it mean for you to participate in CON-X in Mallorca with the TravelgateX technology team?

I’m really looking forward to joining the TravelgateX team and all other attendees in Mallorca. It is my first time at Con-X, but if the event is anything like TravelgateX, it will be high-quality, inventive, and innovative. It is so important, after being locked down for the past two years, to be able to meet in person again and let the creative juices flow. And a bit of sunshine won’t hurt either!  

What changes should we foresee for tourism in the coming years?

That’s a really difficult question to answer. I sadly don’t have a glass ball. We have seen some major changes over the past year, induced by the pandemic. Whether these will last and continue, however, is an important question.

The past years have been about shorter booking windows and more domestic travel, all due to the greater uncertainty around travel. These trends will continue to be important in 2022, but the latest data is already showing that booking behaviours are reverting back to pre-pandemic levels, with lead times lengthening and international trips seeing a strong uptick.

A few areas we are really focusing on at Skift are:

1. The changing nature of business travel: Expect less ultra-short trips across the Atlantic, as Zoom is a proven alternative for many meetings, and carbon emissions are becoming an increasing focus for many companies. But with more companies dispersed around the world, company gatherings and retreats will become more common, and so in actual effect the pandemic has opened up business travel to a much larger part of the working force. This offers ample opportunities to the travel industry.
2.We talked about bleisure, now it’s really here: Our surveys show that still about a third of people in the U.S., UK, and Australia work from home while they didn’t before the pandemic. This offers greater flexibility, and digital nomadism is often mentioned as a major trend. While packing up and living somewhere else for 6 months is not for everyone, we can definitely expect that people will be able to combine business and leisure better during their work trips.
3.The merging of different accommodation types: The pandemic saw a big increase in people staying in short-term rentals, as they tend to offer larger and more secluded spaces than hotels. While the travel industry has always treated hotels as separate from rentals, and hostels, B&Bs, serviced apartments, and campgrounds were all put in their own box as well. To the traveler the lines between these types of accommodation is blurring, and platforms are increasingly offering hotels and rentals next to one another. Accommodation providers are finally catching on as well, with for example Marriott launching its Homes & Villas brand. Expect more brands, as well as backend technology providers to start spilling over into other sectors. We might finally see the breakdown of some of the persistent siloes in the travel industry.


Why are analytics and data important in the tourism sector?

Data and analytics are of course important in every industry, but the tourism industry is unique through its international nature and the fact that it really is a collection of separate, siloed industries: aviation, hotels, short-term rentals, car rental, tour operators etc. These siloes have always hampered the effective sharing of data and insights.  But the importance of doing exactly that is clearer now than ever before. The pandemic has once again shown that the unexpected does happen. Gut feelings are no good when going through an unprecedented situation which completely reshuffles the deck.

We have seen demand for travel drop steeply in 2020, and since then come back with major fits and starts. Having good data and analytical technology to help decipher, preferably on a daily basis, where demand is coming from can make or break travel businesses in these uncertain times.