Full Keynote: Creating the Future of Travel – Travelport LIVE, Sydney, Australia

Below is a video of Ross Dawson’s opening keynote at Travelport LIVE 2017 APAC conference in Sydney, Australia on the future of travel and travel retail in a world driven by platforms, and the opportunities ahead for the travel industry

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Full Transcript:

Ross Dawson:

We live in the most exciting time in human history. The pace of change transcends our ability to cope with it. So how is it that we deal with that change when we’re looking at deep domains which are fundamentally shifting? Look at retail, how that’s changing. Look at travel, it’s fulfilling an innate human desire yet that is shifting in so many ways through technology, through new ways of moving and fundamentally the future of business.

We can look around and say, “How is the world changing?” And try to predict that, try to anticipate it but we cannot predict the future. What we, one of the reasons we can’t predict the future it is there to be created. The future of travel will be created by you individually and collectively together. We need to look at the future not in terms of trying to work out what will happen but try to work out what it is we can do today to shape the future that we want.

If we look at the changes and trends today across every domain of business, what we are seeing more than anything else, is that the gap between the best performing organizations and the least performing organizations is continuing to increase. That’s, we see that in all sorts of measures. In terms of the gaps in productivity. In terms of the faster and faster turnover of the largest public companies. In terms of the actual results from companies. We are seeing more and more bankruptcies. We are seeing more and more failures. Yet at the same time, extraordinary success.

This is very simply that as the world is changing, faster and faster, those organizations that are staying the same are being left behind. Whereas those organizations that are seeing the change and embracing that, are the ones that are at the upper pace of that curve. Now, many people look to me and the roles of futures. I work with organizations all around the world in being able to look to the future and work out what it is to do today yet I believe that everyone, every single one of you, you need to be your own futurist. To be able to think effectively about the future.

Martin Seligman the famous psychologist has a book which is about to come out called Homo Prospectus. What he says that it is fundamentally human to think about the future. We all think about the future. What might happen later on today and tonight. What might happen in our lives. What might happen in our businesses. Yet to think about that in a structured way, to think about that in a which enables us to make decisions today is the most important thing.

James Carse helps us think about that. He said that, “Finite players play within boundaries, but infinite players play with boundaries.” And that’s what we must do today. As we are seeing the shapes of the travel industry change. We’re seeing the fundamental nature of retail changing. We are seeing so much of business changing. We need to not just look to the past of where the boundaries were around industries, around organizations but look to reinvent that. To create that. To use our imagination to play with the boundaries. To see what is possible. To go beyond in creating the experiences and the possibilities of tomorrow in travel.

What I want to look through quite quickly this morning if first of all look at how the world’s accelerating. Go onto look at the interfaces between humans and technology. What are the fundamental aspects? Look at the structures that underlie that. And very importantly, the power of the platform as we’ll hearing about through these two days. Looking at retail, some of the fundamental structures of how retail is being disrupted and where value resides moving forward. Look at some of the many opportunities that are arising from that. And finally, the leadership that you can take in order to be able to create the future of your organizations.

Let’s begin by looking at the extraordinary acceleration we are seeing all around us in the world. That starts not least from the connectivity. Yes, all of us have now connected to the infinite information available in the world wide web from the travel to the traffic to the what our children are doing live on TV. But this is just the beginning. In the next three years, you can see from these charts, one and half billion more people will have be connected to the internet on their smartphones. Of which more than a billion will be in the Asia Pacific. Connectors ever poor, everybody having those potential resources. Beyond that we’re seeing data, the extraordinary amount of data we can gather from physical devices, tracking things which go things. Seeing people. Understanding their emotions as they’re walking around. Being able to track what people are doing. The explosion. We are literally millions and billions times more information available about people. But what happens is now what we can do with that data. Using these next layers of artificial intelligence and machine learning to go beyond that.

You would have probably seen that Google’s Deep Mine bought Beat the world’s best master in go. In alpha go just a few months ago. I like to see exactly the same machine, this Deep Mine, the Beat Lisa doll and others in go, is now playing this game called Breakout. What it’s done in this little game, what it’s saying, it’s just being shown move this around, try and to get as many points as possible. It’s not given any instruction. Just after a couple of hours, it’s able to bounce the ball back. It knows where to go. But going beyond that, it is able to discover for itself how to use this information. In what we’ll see in a moment, is it’s starting to bounce the ball around in the right way to be able to make sure that it’s going to make a little hole on the left hand side, bounce the ball around at that top and to be able to have all the work done for itself. That is in four hours of playing with no instruction.

That is what is possible with data. You give the data to machines and it learns, it discovers. With the extraordinary explosion of data that we have, this creates incredible opportunities to be able to build new services, new experiences, new possibilities on top of what we can do today. This machine intelligence and this is just tracks. I’ve been following this field for the last couple of decades and it seemed so slow for so long, the promise and the potential of artificial intelligence wasn’t being fulfilled. This little chart however just shows the last few years in terms of the ability of machines to understand the spoken language in a conversation. And you can see that it has gone from a 16% failure rate down to 5%. Basically the same level as humans. And it will get beyond that. And there’s many, many domains where machines are now better than humans including being able to understand spoken language in terms of being able to analyze photos. In terms of being able to respond to specific queries. These are the capabilities and pushing that beyond means that now we can have real time translation.

Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, had the famous Babel fish where you put something in your ear and whenever somebody spoke, it would be translated. That now exists today. This little device was just being shown demonstrated at the moment. Of course, we already know that we have translation apps. This is becoming higher and higher quality. More and more embedded into what we can do so that we can literally walk around, have conversations with people and to be able to understand what is going on. This transforms travel. This transforms our ability to connect. This transforms the potential for people to explore new worlds, new cities, new countries, new relationships with different types of people. This is all possible through this artificial intelligence.

If we look at these extraordinary machine capabilities the issue then is how do we interface? How do humans interface with these technologies to be able to create new possibilities? Of course, it’s a long time since we had artificial reality apps. Hover around and you can use that for travel, that’s not a new thing but we are just this year starting to get the glasses where we can start to see the world overlaid on us. The next phase, virtual reality is now, we’ve got the headsets on the market. Oculus has just announced a $200 headset. In glasses we are starting to see that. Anybody who wears glasses today will in the next few years see well there’s no good reason why I won’t have more information laid on top of what I see in the world around me. If you’re not currently wearing glasses you might wonder whether or not you’ll do that, that’ll take a little bit longer but this is something where again, decades in development and now is the time when this is hitting the market and becoming real.

Robots are not just things that do things these are actually things that we interact with. This is in Chabad in Amsterdam. It is showing people around. It’s able to be a guide. It’s obviously showing a human face. It’s starting to be engaging. We’re designing robots not just to be functional to be ones which we can actually provide service in different ways. We also have the new robots amongst other things in hotels and in retail. Being able to, in this case, just be able to wander around the halls to be able to deliver things as a room service. A lot of people are sharing this on social media, they like this, they find this engaging. These are some of the choices you’ll make. Is the degrees to which we will have robots and humans involved in customer service. In terms of what is functional, what is efficient, what is convenient, what people want. And we are discovering still the degree to which people will want humans relative to robot service.

We have chatbots where you can, Messenger is now grown, Messenger and Line and other messaging apps have grown far faster than social media. These are now the fundamental platforms. Webo and WeChat and others are all the fundamentals platforms for communication today. This is where we are putting artificial intelligence, where we can ask questions, we can have conversations. We can get answers about our travel solutions. In a moment I would like to show you some of where this is going. Where we are starting to see machine, where we had a gentleman in New Zealand who won two Oscars for designing the faces of the aliens in Avatar. Also the faces on King Kong, he is able to, he comes from the world of Hollywood and designing interaction and now he’s using that understanding of how we engage with human faces using that with technology behind him in terms of IBM Watson’s artificial intelligence to provide a chatbot. In this case it’s around a credit card recommendation.

I’d just like to show you this video for a moment.

Speaker 2: My current interest is helping people find the best credit card for them.
Speaker 3: Really? I’ve actually been looking into credit cards recently.
Speaker 2: What a coincidence. Really?
Speaker 3: Yeah, but it’s really overwhelming. There’s so many credit cards out there. So many offers, options. I don’t really know what to do.
Speaker 2: Oh chanteuse, I completely understand. It can be a lot of figure out. Would you like some help?
Speaker 3: Sure. I’m looking for a card with no annual fee, a low APR and something where I can get the maximum amount of points.
Speaker 2: Okay, so you’re looking for a points card. I can definitely help. Is this for personal or business use?
Speaker 3: Personal use.
Speaker 2: And will it be your first card?
Speaker 3: No, I actually have a few.
Speaker 2: Okay. Do you mind if I ask about your credit score? An estimate could help me narrow down the options for you.

Ross Dawson:

What you’re seeing there is the Edge. This came out, was taken at a conference in New York a couple of months ago at a finance conference. This shows in the next months even this will get better. We will start, not too distant future, we will not be able to tell whether it is a human or a artificial intelligence we are speaking to.

This is the boundaries of where we are seeing the interface. This is essentially the boundaries between humans and machines and how they are creating value. Overlaid on that, the fundamental structure of value in the economy is changing. This is risen in a connected world, we are seeing the rise of networks. We are seeing that happen in social networks is a very obvious way. But as the same network structure start to happen, the ways in which our neurons are connected in the brain, the way people to connected in social networks, the way that organizations are connected, the way that industries are connected and in fact, a lot of a natural phenomena we are seeing the same types of networks emerge.

What this has created is the rise of the platform economy. There’s many words that go around this. There is crowdsourcing and there is sharing economy, there is on demand. All of these phenomena can only happen through the platform. That which enables the people to connect. We have seen that through Uber. We have to remember that Uber began in terms of the Uber Black was the only service. These were the limos that took important people to airports and to events which had some down time in between them. They were happy to provide a service, they had some availability and they were happy to be able to go at less than normal rates. There were other people prepared to pay more than a taxi to be able to go in a black limo service. This was the first thing where this idea, this availability was there to be had, it only needed to be connected. That demand was there only to be had, only that needed to be connected.

In Uber, when Uber launched, three years after Uber launched, that Uber was bigger than the entire taxi market was before Uber started. The taxi market was still there. Uber was bigger. It created more demand. It created more opportunities to connect. This is the platform, the ability to create these opportunities moving forward.

Since the power of the platform is so fundamental to the value which travel creates and we will be seeing over these couple of days, it’s worth getting a little bit of a definition. A platform enables interactions to create value between others, between buyers, between sellers, between different people different markets. That has to based on a structure which customers on various sides can plug into and need some rules and some structure around that. That’s the fundamental value of the platform. There’s many different things that platforms can connect. Products and services and information and money and capital. There’s a whole array of platforms that we are seeing that are fundamental to the way value is created today.

The other fundamental thing here is that as you get more users in that, it creates more value for users which again feeds that back, building this positive feedback loop so you as a community as users of Travelport are creating value for each other. By the simple value of participating in that platform. Travel is a platform and we’re seeing that today and beyond there is a ways in which travel is enabled as a fundamental platform. It also happens as media. If we understand the changing world of media, the single thing that has happened is that media has moved from single channels, TV, newspapers, radio stations to now platforms, Facebook, Google, WeChat. These are the platforms that now shape what media is. Homes are becoming platforms in terms of the digital technologies which in terms of entertainment and information and monitoring around the systems, these are becoming platforms.

And indeed retail is a fundamentally a platform. In shopping centers and airports are retail platforms. That’s the best way to understand the airport retail center is a platform where you’re getting those that are travelers coming in and the retailers being able to on the other side in providing value in order bring those together in different ways.

Let’s look a little bit more at this world of retail. I do quite a lot of work in looking at the future of retail. What I’ll do is provide a bigger picture and look at how that is relevant to retail in travel. Those who are in the front line of people making those buying decisions on what travel they will make.

There are four domains where value resides in the future of travel. Experience, personalization, immediacy and community. All of these are continually evolving. All of these we are seeing that in the world of digital and online we are seeing greater and greater experience. We’re also seeing the competing in terms of this how do we create a physical space which has a stronger experience which entices people beyond their mobile phones or tablets? We’re seeing personalization again competing in the digital and the physical spheres. We’re seeing immediacy, in being able to bring things together and community in both an online and physical spaces. These are the domains where we are seeing the competition and the where value is created in retail moving forward.

One of the ways is simply creating experiences, digital interface experience which cannot be replicated by a phone. Full wall screens to be able to interact with. This is in fact taken from a museum in Cleveland Ohio. When we are looking at the future of retail, museums are fundamentally interesting. Museums are actually a deep part of the travel experience. Why people will travel. And also experimenting in extraordinary ways in how we interface in better ways. Just taking some examples. We have the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. We have MOMA in Hobart Tasmania drawing many people in and becoming it’s own tourist destination. The Arts Science Museum in Singapore. All of these showing new paths for how people can interact, have experiences, to be able to both be a track traveler is in but to provide these new interfaces to experiences beyond.

Virtual reality is transforming travel in many ways. This is just Lufthansa which has set up a space to allow people to experience what business class is on a flight to San Francisco. This is an intriguing aspect where more than ever before, and if we compare that to what these travel brochures with photos which all we had before to now videos and beyond that. People can actually experience what it is like to go through a travel experience, to be in another city, to wander around that and compelling thing is this is not a replacement, this does not make people say, “Ah, I’ve been in the virtual reality experience and so I don’t need to go there.” They say, “That I know now that that is where I need to go to actually experience the reality of being in this place.”

If we’re looking at this personalization and that’s really the nub of physical retail is how do you combine the digital? In the digital world we can have a rich profile in an online in an app or a web or browser experience, we can have a deep personalization of the experience. In a physical store that’s not possible. Through beacon technologies for example, can through opt in, allow people to identify people and create a physical experience where you are using the digital component. Bringing the digital and physical together is absolutely the future of physical retail. It’s not a competition, it is about how these things come together using these technologies to understand that giving greater insights to retailers around what they do.

This is applied in airports. What an extraordinary place to be able to use these technologies in being able to give people personalized navigation, this is from Houston airport, recently introduced. More and more airports using this as a tool for people to move around but also for retailers to make offers as people walk by. This is a fundamental aspect of understanding the individual. Providing the personalized offer with possibilities. Understanding what it is that they will respond to and be able to make a purchase.

A key part of this is what I would call these knowledge based relationships. I use the example of surfing to distinguish between knowledge and information. Knowledge is the ability to see the wave coming in. To be able to catch that wave and ride that in. Information is a book or a document that tells you how to surf. It doesn’t matter how many times you read it, it doesn’t give you the ability to surf. What all people in the front line of selling to their customers are doing is trying to give them the ability to make decisions for themselves, to understand what is going on. To give them greater knowledge. Give them greater capabilities enabling to create better decisions for themselves and this requires understanding the individual. This is a deep aspect of personalization and this is far beyond the capabilities of machines. This is a deeply human interaction in being able to build the possibilities of these people.

Immediacy is something where is manifested by Amazon today with it’s Prime service and what these selling all of these dash buttons where when you require some more tissues or laundry powder, you literally press a button once and it gets delivered to your door. That’s what we’re seeing is that every nature of retail we’re getting this drive to immediacy. Drone delivery, all of other ways in which we are getting things which are coming faster and faster to us. One of the ways in which this is happening which is in terms in travel is absolutely in providing convenience. From smartwatch check in as we’re boarding our planes to other ways in which we have instant information, instant service and ultimate convenience which provides us the ability to drive the experience that we want. The demands of travelers and particularly frequent travelers for this immediacy and this convenience is rising and rising all the time.

The fourth aspect is that of communities. This is not about single buyers but how people come together. How people can be brought together to be able to create value for each other. There’s many examples of this. We have for example, Audi which is selling cars to groups of people in Sweden so they can share the car amongst themselves. We’re seeing that with Nike which sells shoes but actually creates running communities of people who run together or bicycles shops that in fact are mainly communities of cyclists and they happen to sell them some bicycles as well. Community is a fundamental aspect of travel.

Just one example here, we have a Facebook group with over 370,000 members who are all sharing their experiences or sharing what is it they can do. Who are helping each other actively. What’s really interesting is that in the travel world all of these travel communities are being created by themselves. People connect together and be able to create their own paths. There’s is an extraordinary opportunity to be able to match people. Bring the people together. To be able to help share their experiences in new ways. To be able to create that new possibilities where this buying something is not going in and being able to buy thing but you become part of a community by the nature and retail travel agents in a particular locality can be enormous enablers of community in travel in global sense.

From all of this, comes some extraordinary opportunities. It’s up to your imagination as to what these opportunity can be. When we look at these technological changes, one of which is that we have video conferencing and my view since the very beginning of around almost 20 years ago I predicted that yes we would have extraordinary video conferencing capabilities and that would drive us to travel more. We start to interact with somebody. We have a good conversation. But ultimately we need to be physically in front of them. Exactly the same with virtual reality. We need to experience far more but that drives us to travel more. These are some of the uncertainties but I believe deeply that when we look at the vision for the future, there’s this opportunity of how is it we can tantalize people to be able to draw out that possibilities of traveling more. I believe just as the way that we’re all drawn to think about the future, humans are born to travel. In Asia Pacific, there’s far more opportunity for that moving forward than we have even had a glimpse of today. As you well know.

Next thing is the excellence and experience and that’s the fundamental theme of the conference today. People’s expectations are rising higher and higher and higher around their experience. Every time they experience something which is outstanding, they are not content with anything not as good anymore. This ability to be able to build experience, to be able to create new possibilities to be able to make it seamless, make it convenient, make it smooth but also make it compelling, make it strong, make it all aspects of that experience and that is not just in the travel itself but in the process of buying, in the engagement, in the understanding of the buyer as an individual. Who they are. What they aspire to. What makes them work. What will make their life better?

We see earlier that data is fundamental. We have so much more information and there’s several layers to that. One is the amount of data that we can about an individual in order to personalize the service. In order to create an offer for them for which they have not seen before. Which is perfect for them but which isn’t right for somebody else. We can understand individual before. If we do not use that to create more value for the customer, it is a tremendous loss. That experience, those better experiences can be founded on data. But another part of that is that what is described in this little diagram is what comes from the startup world.

Which Eric Ries described in his book The Lean Startup. Where essentially every startup today is based on a premise, we have an idea, we’re going to try something out and gather some information and based on the results of that information, we are going to change what it is we do. This idea of iterating, keeping on trying, learning new things so this idea of an A-B test. You one, two different versions. Which one do people like more? We have an idea, rather than spending $10,000, a million dollars or whatever it is to put that in place, is saying, “How do we experiment? How do we find out how people will respond to that? Whether people believe it is a better experience.” We have an idea, we try it, we see how people respond and we build it and we find that over time. That is what every startup in the world is doing and we are seeing many startups in travel and retail disrupting them. Every organization needs to do their own experiments to continue to get better based on the information they have from what they learned from their people.

In a world which is opened out, so many possibilities, the choice which people have, that choice that customers have is extraordinary. But at the same time that choice is a tyranny they need to be able to come back and be able to have a trusted relationship in every industry we’re seeing that. In finance, we’re seeing that in retail, we’re seeing that in travel, we’re seeing that in health. People are saying, “I need somebody at the center of my relationships that understands me.” That works with me. In a way the more choice that people have, the more competitors that are out there, the more important it becomes to have that central relationship. A platform such a Travelport provides that ability where you can be one relationship giving access to everything. To every aspect of what people might want in a world of travel. From the old established things like the hotels to the new sharing economy platforms and beyond.

The platform as an extended view of all bringing together all of the aspects of the travel world together give you the opportunity to be at the center of the relationship with your customers. And providing beyond that technology, that additional layers of value. That unique value. This comes back in a way to that boundary, that difference between machines and humans. Part of it is to be able to help your customers understand what it’s like to share your own personal experiences, to know what it is that relevant to be able to help them on their journey. To help them make the right decisions for themselves. To make them more knowledgeable.

This front line of being able to engage with that is something which the technology supports but the technology alone is not enough. It requires that ability to say, “You as an individual, for you only, we can create something which is an experience. We can create something which makes you better. Which makes your life better.” The technology and the platform fundamentally underlies that but now it’s going to those higher levels of value. Particularly in terms of experience, personalization, immediacy and community, connecting with other people.

Finally, looking at leadership. The leadership which you can show in your organizations and your industries in order to be able to create the future of travel and the future of retail in travel. The law of requisite variety tells us that only those organizations and individuals that are as flexible as their environment actually have any choice in shaping their future. If not, you’ll be part of that diverging paths, it’s really the gap between those that are flexible enough and adaptable enough to seize the opportunities from change and those that are static and are being left behind in a changing world.

A critical part of this is not just leadership of your organization and it doesn’t matter whether you’re the CEO or very junior, we all have the responsibility to lead our organizations forward, to lead our customers forward into understanding into new ways of working and the possibilities for them. But also importantly as an industry, what is it collectively that we can do together to create the future of travel? That starts with a vision. That starts with saying, I can see a world in the future which is compelling. Which is possible. Which is something that we want to work towards. That’s something over these couple of days that collectively you can think about. Where is it that you want to go? What is the future that you want to create? What do you see as a possibility for the future of travel? What will be required for that? What foundations? What platforms? What behaviors? What systems? What ways of working are required for that?

But you also need to recognize the roadblocks, the challenges. These include some, could be regulatory, they could be around health, they could be around competitors from outside the travel industry which are trying to take things in and understand those blocks. Look at what are the parts. How can we get from here to go around or over or through those roadblocks towards the vision that we create? Fundamentally, the collaboration, I believe that all of you and all of your organizations can collaborate, can work together in order to be able to create a future that will be more prosperous for everyone. This fundamentally, this collaboration and working together as a, is a necessary enabler in being able to create the future that you want. Finally looking at what action do you need to be able to create to take that vision of the future and make it real.

Joseph Campbell was a comparative mythologist. He studied the stories and the myths and the peoples all around the world on every continent. What he found is that stories of every people around the world is in fact the same story. It’s what he called the Hero’s Journey. The basically the Hero’s Journey goes that the people are in their everyday life and they are called beyond. There is something which pushes them out, that calls them beyond into a difficult challenging world where they encounter many challenges. They encounter people that help them along their way but finally they go and they take something and they create something and find something of value and bring that back to them. Their family, their community and those around them.

And that we are all on this Hero’s Journey in this extraordinary, yes it is a a most exciting time in human history and that means it is the most challenging time in human history. So we need to understand those challenges, use those challenges that calls beyond. To go on that journey to be able to, in this case, to be able to see and to be able to create the future of travel and the future of retail and travel in a rapidly changing world.

I’ve looked at how technology’s accelerating, the new interfaces between humans and machines. Looked at the structure and how platforms are becoming the center of our economy. Looking at retail in terms of experience, personalization, immediacy and community. The epic basis of where value will come in retail. Looked at just a few of the many, many opportunities you have in front of you. And finally some aspect of the leadership that can create the future. I believe that we are at the dawn of a new era in travel and in retail and travel and you are there to be able to create it. I look forward to seeing what you create. Thank you.

Ross Dawson is also an expert at virtual keynotes and
virtual strategy facilitation