This year’s Institute of Travel & Tourism Conference was held in Split, Croatia between 10th – 12th June. As travel marketing professionals ourselves, Adido CEO & Co-Founder, Andy Headington, Co-Founder, Alex Othold & Strategy Director, Kherrin Wade headed to the 30+ degree, sunny & picturesque conference location full of enthusiasm to meet fellow travel industry professionals and hear from some inspiring speakers. And the conference didn’t disappoint!

The focus of the conference was ‘The Opportunities of Change’ – a theme which each of the nineteen conference sessions addressed in a variety of ways from showcasing opportunities via sharing insights from their businesses; to challenging mindsets by empowering us to think differently and to take risks; through to exploring new avenues with technology and innovation. Here I'll share just a few notable highlights...

The greatest enemy to innovation is success

Most people will be familiar with the statement: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ which implies that you won’t change (until it’s too late) if what you’re doing is working. Why should we change something that is giving us suitable returns? However, our world is rife with organisations which have failed due to a lack of innovation (Blockbuster, Kodak, Toys R Us…)

For those nervous of what the future holds, Mooly Eden, chairman of the University of Haifa gave credit to Alan Kay’s phrase “the best way to predict the future is to invent it!”

Eden, from his contemplative talk entitled ‘Will we be replaced by robots?’ challenged us to embrace the exponential growth of technology (or disappear). Whilst Louise Davies, Customer Experience Director for Travel at PA Consulting, provided 5 clear steps to help organisations be more responsive to change

  1. Centre on the customer
  2. Speed up time to value
  3. Design for simplicity
  4. Build to evolve
  5. Liberate your people

Changing perceptions in travel

This was another strong theme of the conference, as illustrated by these two examples from the cruising market & an emotive tale from a blind guy who likes to travel.

Andy Harmer, Director of CLIA UK&I, Antonio Paradiso, MD UK&I for MSC Cruises and Lucia Rowe, MD UK&I of A-ROSA River Cruises took to the stage in a panel discussion to share their thoughts on how the cruise market is changing perception and appealing to a wider & younger audience.

Key themes involved engaging with cruise ambassadors to breakdown misconceptions; empowering travel agents to sell their cruise holidays by giving them a flavour of life on board through events and invitational experiences; and the power technology can have to elevate the customer experience (without removing the human touch).

When we launched @MSC_Cruises_UK Bellissima in Southampton earlier this year it was the perfect opportunity to show people in the UK what cruising today is all about” (Antonio Paradiso, MSC Cruises)

When Amar Latif lost 95% of his sight at the age of 18, he knew it would be the end of everything as he knew it. But undeterred from people telling him he couldn’t, he went on to study a BSc in Mathematics, Statistics and Finance, became an accountant and eventually Head of Commercial Finance for BT. Growing up he was always passionate about travel, and the realisation that he would never ‘see’ the world spurred him to study in Canada for part of his degree, before embracing his travel bug and throwing himself into travel in a whole new way.

From a hair-raising jungle endurance expedition across Central America with 10 other disabled people for BBC2 documentary series ‘Beyond Boundaries’ to launching his own travel brand to cater for independent blind travellers, TravelEyes, Amar has turned an unpromising tale of loss into a truly inspirational achievement.

His charismatic, witty delivery and awe-inspiring personal journey brought the conference to a standing ovation which was both well deserved and very emotional to witness. To read more about Amar visit his personal website, Traveleyes or listen to Travel Weekly’s podcast.

Be inquisitive and prepared

Professor Jo Delahunty QC encouraged us to have a willingness to listen and learn rather than assume you have heard or seen. When engaging with someone, be genuine and authentic and take the time to understand and listen to them.

She stressed listening is as important as talking, and whilst you shouldn’t be unprepared, you should allow your peers and customers to tell you about their business / story / opinion rather than diving straight in with your sales pitch.

Delahunty encouraged us not to underestimate the power of an enquiring mind. Curiosity is a skill you can harness in all walks of life to improve communication, become more persuasive and deliver a superior output.

More opportunities to gain experience wanted

Five extremely bright rising stars of the travel industry took to the stage on Wednesday afternoon to share their experiences of getting into the travel industry. From students at Leeds Beckett University, to the now Commercial Sales Manager of Interhome (& ITT Board Member) Danny Waine, this panel gave us insight into how the industry is still struggling to successfully attract candidates and engage with non-graduates and apprentices.

Their advice was for businesses to show the depth and variety of roles within the travel industry. Even if you can’t offer a placement year or graduate scheme don’t shut yourself off from getting involved in other ways via mentoring, being a guest lecturer, giving a speech to students at schools and universities – the possibilities to engage are more attainable than you may realise.

Further information can be found in TTG’s write-up of the session: ‘Offer us more work experience’ students urge travel industry

Finally, I just wanted to take this opportunity to share a few thoughts as a newbie to the ITT travel conference. It’ll be the only time I get to do this as after this year I intend to participate a lot more in this welcoming, vibrant and knowledgeable community!

Both Alex and myself had never attended the annual summer conference, and whilst Andy gave us the heads up from his time in Sicily last year, his information didn’t do it justice. From the moment we arrived, to when we said goodbye to new friends and connections, the experience was brilliant.

The boat trip to Hvar on Monday gave us the opportunity to chat (and enjoy or hide from the sun) to people working in payment provision and media, to travel operators, automation providers and those aforementioned Leeds Beckett students in a relaxed and informal environment.

For those nervous or apprehensive of networking, this shared experience opened up further conversations during the conference and made you feel more part of the ITT family. So, if you get the chance next year, definitely sign yourself up to an excursion early on!

The welcome party, gala dinner (and closing party which we unfortunately didn’t attend but not sure our livers would have survived a 4th night) provided further opportunities to meet new people, strengthen relationships and add some fun into the proceedings.

Finally, the conference sessions themselves offered a range of talks which catered for a diverse group of travel professionals, so whilst not all 19 sessions will be worth sitting through a hangover for, there will certainly be some nuggets to take away and apply to your organisation or career.

Just one thing left to say…. thank you ITT & all the sponsors (#ITT2019), and see you next year!

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Meet the author ...

Kherrin Wade

Strategy Director

Kherrin works with clients to develop effective marketing strategies, whether that's introducing brands to digital for the first time or pushing the boundaries with more ...