Düsseldorf Anyone who embarks on a journey into the future of travel wants to hear and see something. The former does not work at the first attempt of the conversation with Gillian Tans, the chairwoman of Booking.com, and Daniel Krauss, the co-founder and CIO of FlixBus.
So we change the travel platform, from Microsoft Teams to Zoom, and we’re in 2030.
Gillian, let’s start with a journey back in time to the year 2030. What will have caused the corona pandemic – the decline or the reinvention of the tourism industry?
Gillian Tans: Phew, you will start with the difficult questions right away. I guess reinvention. The internet has forced the industry to innovate for years, and this trend will accelerate the corona pandemic. Artificial intelligence, big data and stronger personalization will improve the customer experience, but at the same time shape their expectations. In addition: Since Corona, people have paid much more attention to health and safety on the one hand and flexibility and the cost-benefit ratio on the other. All providers have to take this into account.
Almost sounds like the pandemic is a boon for the industry.
Gillian Tans: No, I wouldn’t say that. The situation is far too serious for that. Nevertheless, even before the pandemic, we knew that change is never easy, in any industry, in any company. The better off are those who are agile, agile and flexible. Daniel, fast forward to the year 2030. What is your vision of mobility?
Daniel Krauss: That probably sounds boring now, but I agree with Gillian on all points. Leisure behavior will also change. The corona pandemic is creating a much greater awareness of how to use your free time. It comes as no surprise to many people that there is seldom a valid reason for a short business trip to New York – and just as little within Europe. We now finally have the proof: physical presence is by no means always necessary. This will cause huge upheavals in the entire tourism industry. Especially in aviation, but not only.
How does technology contribute to these changes?
Daniel Krauss: Around 50 percent at FlixBus. Even if we depend on a physical product – whether it’s a bus or a train – we are above all a technology company.
Gillian Tans: For us, technology is also at the core of what we do. Many people like to underestimate that: Yes, around 60 percent of all trips are still booked offline. And of course chatbots can never answer all, but always more, questions. Nevertheless, the tech aspect is absolutely essential in the entire customer relationship. According to surveys, everyone wants to minimize human contact points while traveling for health reasons. Only the Germans are behind. Are we a special people in this regard?
Gillian Tans: No, you don’t have to feel guilty. Let’s put it this way: Even in the current situation, the Germans prove to be quite traditional. Regardless of whether you are making cash payments or sharing personal data: You are simply very sensitive.
Daniel, can you confirm that?
Daniel Krauss: Absolutely, we also had to pay hardship. In Germany, around ten percent of our customers book completely offline, the rest via the app. In the USA, on the other hand, the proportion of offline customers is almost exactly zero percent. But let’s not kid ourselves, such changes take time and more than a travel platform. I will give another example. We have recently also been represented in Turkey – a huge country with a target group that is actually very online. But even there, trips are almost exclusively booked offline. You have to take these cultural characteristics into account.
Gillian, Booking.com is the largest European online travel provider with a market share of 67.7 percent. The EU Commission is therefore working on new forms of regulation. Right?
Gillian Tans: I have to make that clear first. In truth, our total market share is around 13 percent because so many trips are booked offline will. So the EU is already ignoring that. That leads me to the crucial point: we have nothing against regulation as long as it is fair. We are on the move in such a competitive market with so many providers – regulation doesn’t help here, it actually does harm.
Daniel, FlixBus has ceased operations in the wake of the corona pandemic, while your competitor, Deutsche Bahn, continues to send empty trains through the country and receive state aid. Your comment on this?
Daniel Krauss: If the federal government decides on restrictions, including bans on accommodation, we of course adhere to them – but of course that affects our business. At the same time, the state-owned companies receive billions in aid. Are innovations there, of all places? I would doubt that. The three most important FlixBus values are wisdom, sustainability and fairness. But that is neither wise nor sustainable and certainly not fair.
While we’re on the subject of competition. When will there finally be a single, all-encompassing platform on which we can book all our trips, from local to long-distance transport, from tram to long-haul flight?
Daniel Krauss: I hope never.
I beg your pardon?
Daniel Krauss: Of course I understand what you mean. But that’s the way it is: people need comparison, progress needs competition – otherwise there is no innovation. In addition, the travel industry is simply enormously complex, with all its tariffs, rules and regulations. The willingness to provide each other’s interfaces is not particularly pronounced, to put it cautiously.
Gillian Tans: Admittedly, there is still friction in the area of booking, or better: there are still many opportunities to make the booking experience easier for customers.
Before we get to the end, a quick game. Arrange the following terms according to their importance: convenience, price, sustainability.
Gillian Tans: Another difficult question. Often the customers themselves do not know what they are really prioritizing. All right, I say: price, convenience, sustainability. It is undisputed that the third term is becoming increasingly important. However, I believe that a cheap trip is still more important to most people than a sustainable one.
Daniel what do you say
Daniel Krauss: With regard to sustainability, I have to agree with Gillian. I would just swap the first two terms, so: first convenience, then price. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a Booking.com customer …
Gillian Tans: … heard heard!
Daniel Krauss: It’s not a shame. Why? Because the whole booking was always totally convenient – in this respect Booking was always a role model for FlixBus. Of course, a trip here and there was a little more expensive, but also less complicated. And that’s an essential part of free time: not having any stress.
Daniel, when do we finally take sustainability seriously when we travel, and how can technology help us with that?
Daniel Krauss: I firmly believe that technology will help shape the future sustainably, and we are doing our part.
Sustainable bus travel – is that possible?
Daniel Krauss: Even the most environmentally friendly long-distance bus cannot work entirely without emissions. Therefore, when booking online in our shop, customers can, for example, tick the option “Climate protection contribution”, then the CO2 emissions resulting from the journey are calculated to the exact kilometer and automatically added to the ticket price. We are also testing e-buses on long-distance routes and this year started a pilot project with solar panels on buses.
Gillian, let’s finally take another look into the distant future. Will there be experiments with virtual instead of physical travel?
Gillian Tans: In fact, we are currently trying out a few things. Will virtual reality (VR) completely replace travel? I don’t think so. No question about it, VR can help tremendously when looking for a suitable destination. Such a trip around the world is a real investment, so it would be nice if I could see where I am going beforehand. But real, physical travel opens up a new perspective and creates memories for a lifetime. Technology can never replace that.
Daniel, will your buses soon drive themselves?
Daniel Krauss: This technology is still in its infancy. We are currently working on other things: for example, when the travelers drive through augmented reality, they can see where they are, which places they should visit, things like that. But I admit: It cannot be completely ruled out that one day the bus drivers will sit at home and control the vehicle from the sofa.
Speaking of visions of the future – which problem should technology urgently solve?
Gillian Tans: Standing in line at the airport. I still find it unbelievable that you sometimes stand there for hours. It has to be easier.
Daniel Krauss: The search for information. There are no doubt many great apps out there. But when I leave my hotel in a strange city, I still ask: where am I? Where should i go What can I do there? Why is there no suitable digital travel guide? That could be what a start-up.
More: This text comes from the new ada magazine. If you want to understand tomorrow today, please stop by: join-ada.com.