05 May

Zooming Up

Did you buy Zoom shares at the start of the Coronavirus crisis?  I didn’t, unfortunately.  They were hovering around $70 until the end of January then started a steady rise hitting a peak of about $160 on 23 March.  I mention this as it is an indicator of how our lives have changed.  I don’t think this is a short-term change but will have long-term ramifications as we move to a new-normal.

We are becoming accustomed to video-conferencing both in our social lives and our business lives.  Information workers are also becoming accustomed to working from home.  I define an ‘information worker’ as a person whose work involves them using a computer and/or talking on the phone.  These people are handling information products such as financial services or travel.

As I have often mentioned, travel is purely information at the point of sale.  Yes, people eventually get on an aircraft or stay at a hotel but, when they book these products, they don’t exist.  Travel products at the time of booking are just database records on a computer system.  This being the case, why on earth would any traveller wish to see someone in person when they want to discuss their travel plans and make a booking?  The answer is reassurance.  There is great comfort in the familiarity of sitting face to face with a real person.  A holiday is often the most expensive purchase that people may make each year.  Talking face to face with a travel agent provides great reassurance.

However, given our new familiarity with video conversations then why would we need the additional comfort of walking into a travel agency?  After all, it is very inconvenient having to travel to the high street, waiting for a bus or trying to find a parking spot.  It is this very inconvenience that gave rise to the success of Travel Counsellors with their local travel experts willing to come to your home rather than you needing to travel.  How much more productive would Travel Counsellors be when their customers are happy to video conference rather than expect a personal visit?

So, I see a world where information workers work from home, using cloud communications, virtual call centres and video-conferencing tools.  Those businesses running large call centres will be able to scale back the size of their office premises.  Workers will no longer waste several hours each day having to commute to the office.  As travel is a low margin industry, there is a constant search for improved business efficiency.  Smaller business premises, less office costs, reduced high street retail presence - sounds good.  I would expect our industry to be at the forefront of the new home working revolution, still having face to face conversations with customers, but over video conferencing.  Out of a dire situation, I see the travel trade  rising again as a leaner and more efficient industry.