Interview with Gloria Guevara Manzo – the new President & CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council

What are your aspirations for the WTTC since “taking the helm” and are you doing differently to what was done before. 

As you probably know well, I started in August and one of the first things I did was to ask the members for their priorities as their priorities change over time. We had a very good response. With almost 80% of our members we had the chance to talk one-on-one with the CEOs and understand the main challenges they are facing. Based on those challenges that the industry is facing and our members are facing, we defined three new priorities. One of the things that I am doing a little bit differently is that the WTTC has been very successful communicating the value of travel and tourism, working on advocacy with the different industry stakeholders and governments. In the past, I think the priority was to work more on the message and the impact, as we wanted to make sure everyone knew who we were as we represent the global private sector. Now, based on the requests from the members, we are working on more tangible actions, trying to influence the agenda for the benefit of the sector in a different way. Let me be more specific. One of the challenges that our industry is facing is of course the topic of security. As we have seen over the past five years, we have seen a number of events that impacted the tourism in various destinations, and every government is concerned about the safety of their citizens. They appreciate travel and tourism and the benefits that our sector brings – the ten percent of GDP as you know, and the amount of jobs that we create, and it’s almost 300-million jobs around the world. As you know, we monitor and quantify the economic impact of 185 countries every year, and we are seeing especially in developed countries, as well as some developing countries, they are concerned about security. So one of the initiatives we have is that the WTTC is working with other key players within the sector to lead an effort to define a global standard that could work by using technology – in this case, biometrics, to make the life of the traveller easier, to increase security, and at the same time increase travel facilitation. I don’t see, to tell you the truth, how we can grow 50% in the next ten years, or by 2030, as is estimated by UNWTO, when it still can take hours getting through airport security checks. But the technology to solve this is already here. One of the priorities is to have something more tangible: “How do we engage in a conversation? As you probably know, I worked in the government for three years, was the minister of tourism for Mexico, so I know well how governments think and how much information they share. But when the initiative comes from the private sector, for example as happened with the transfer from manual ticketing to electronic ticketing in the aviation industry, that became a new standard. It was very successful. It was painful. I remember the migration, which was painful at the beginning, because of all the changes that needed to happen. But at the end of the day it was very successful, because it provided the opportunity to grow, made it more efficient… and that standard came from the private sector. Today, every time you travel, you generally need to give the same information: name, date of birth, your passport, and so on, and that information is provided to the governments. I am probably jumping ahead, but what I’m trying to explain is that I think there is an opportunity for us in the private sector to work together and come up with something that is a standard across the board. Then we can engage with the governments to use our standards. They’re currently using information received from the airlines so they can receive that information in advance and have an easier and better process for the passenger at the airport. We believe that by leveraging technology we can increase safety and security and at the same time we can have more travellers and we can have more jobs. So yes, WTTC is working on more tangible things and that’s just one example.

What is your vision of the current state of the industry, what are the biggest challenges, and how is the WTTC addressing these?

The first is of course, “How do we increase the number of travellers, with a better experience, while increasing security at the same time?” That’s the challenge. And the answer is technology. The second challenge is “How do we learn from past experiences, and how do we manage more practically, and get involved not only in the recovery, but also in preparation and during crisis?” There are a lot of crises out there, of many kinds, and it’s not so much a matter of what, so much as when. Here, the challenge is how to better prepare ourselves and help the governments as well so that we can minimise the impact of these crises. That’s something where the WTTC is taking an active role working with different stakeholders. When the private sector is engaged early on in preparation for a crisis, then the recovery after that crisis is much faster. That means fewer jobs are impacted and those destinations get back to business really fast. So, we have to learn from the past to be able to prepare ourselves better for the future.

One of the key issues that is increasingly rearing its head is that of “overtourism”. You recently commissioned a report on this. Could you tell us a little more about that?

Indeed, the third challenge we have identified is sustainable growth, and this encompasses the issue of over-tourism. But that’s not the only problem. We also have climate change and a number of other challenges. If we talk specifically about over-tourism, we commissioned a McKinsey report a few months ago and the findings are quite interesting. There are three main components. The first is that we need to ensure there is a long-term plan. Most places only have short-term plans, made by the local officials and local governments. Unfortunately, because they tend only to worry about short-term results, they will lack the long-term vision and long-term planning. These are crucial for every single destination, for the benefit of the destination and the citizens. The second point is that we need to make sure that the right stakeholders are engaged and involved in this planning – not only the government at the three different levels, but also the private sector and the community. It is fundamental to include the community, because at the end of the day, they live there, they are proud of the ecosystem, they are proud of the destination and they should be part of the plan and the solution. Another critical factor in planning is that of infrastructure. If you have a good plan and there are large volumes of tourists, then you have to plan how to manage those flows. You might need to develop new products so that you can move people from one area to another area, or you can use technology to monitor queues or volumes, so you can influence the traveller, by telling them there is a big queue in one location, and send them to another location. That is going on right now – influencing the traveller so he or she can have a better experience. At the end of the day, just what is over-tourism? Over-tourism becomes an issue when local residents are impacted or alienated, when the traveller is not having a good experience because of the overcrowding or queues that are too long, when tourism is impacting or damaging the nature, the culture, the heritage… and that the infrastructure can’t keep up with the growing numbers of travellers. Taking all these factors into account you have to look at the possible solutions, and the report is very clear. It’s very important to point out that there is no “one size fits all” solution. Every single case is different. It is very important to do an assessment in every case involving the private, the public and the community – the “PPC” as I call it – and make the best decisions for that destination. For instance, in Barcelona, the decisions might be different than in Croatia, or Amsterdam. But if we know that some have been very successful using technology and spreading tourists more evenly with regard to seasonality and geography, and also, they’re investing in infrastructure, then those solutions may be included in the execution of a new plan.

Technology is an interesting topic, as you have personally been quite involved in this. What key factors coming out of technology are going to influence tourism the most in coming years?

Indeed, I have a degree in Computer Science, and I’ve been involved in technology for many years… The technology that places the traveller in the centre at the end of the day is the one that is going to get the largest adoption and the best use. Biometrics is a technology that’s been around for several years and I believe that the stars are aligning, and I believe that if we get this right, we will see broad adoption in our sector. In the financial sector it’s already commonplace, and even smartphones leverage this technology. So, it’s been around for a while, but it is about time, that the private sector in the travel industry should start using this technology to the benefit of the traveller. Another one is Artificial Intelligence. It has been around for a long time. Even my thesis in college was going to be about that. But in the past, it was very hard to connect the benefits with its use on a daily basis. Now when we see what’s going on right now and we see that in 2020, the Internet of Things will really start taking off with 50bn devices that will be connected around the world, then the use of AI is going to be really very important. We know 70% of corporations this year are going to be using AI somehow, so at the end of the day, again it’s for the benefit of the traveller – of the user – so if you can capture the preferences of the traveller in the most effective way, and use AI exactly for that, I think companies are going to be very successful and it will make the experience much better.

Then there’s AR and VR – augmented reality and virtual reality, where we have already seen some advances in the past couple of years. In our case, virtual reality will allow you to position yourself in a destination that you haven’t been to before, allowing you decide where to travel, giving you a little teaser or taste of that destination. It will not replace the travel experience, but it will help you decide between destinations. Augmented reality will be very useful for places where there’s a lot of culture; cities that are living museums. It’s going to fascinating to use your phone or your iPad and see how there were before. For instance, I took my son to the colosseum a couple of years ago. He was ten years old, and he wanted to see the gladiators. In his mind, he was hoping to see the colosseum as it was before. Thankfully a company I knew that was developing AR had created a virtual tour, and I had it in my iPad, so I could show him exactly as it was before with the gladiators and so on. That greatly improved my son’s experience of the place. I can imagine this kind of thing in Chichen Itza with the Mayans! So, AR will make travel an even better experience, and VR will help you to see and decide before you get there.

Then there are other technologies. For example, self-driving cars… that’s going to impact our industry. It’s going to be interesting. There are several others that are going to be impacting our industry. And then of course, we have the changes in demographics. As we know, in two years, 75% of the workforce are going to be millennials. And what is interesting about millennials is that they love to travel and they don’t want to wait until they retire. They want to travel now, and many times, which is wonderful. They are the best allies for the travel and tourism industry, because they also care about the destination, the culture, the nature, sustainability and all of that. And on top of that, we are seeing a large rising middle class – especially in Asia – who are travelling internationally for the first time. So, there are a lot of demographics moving around that will impact our industry, for whom we will need to be prepared, primarily through the use of technology, so we can keep up with the volumes that we’re going to be seeing.

What are you most looking forward to in the future?

What’s amazing in tourism is that despite all the challenges, we are going to continue growing. Despite natural disasters or geopolitical situations, we continue to grow. This sector is, to my mind, the best partner governments can have to create jobs. 100,000,000 jobs will be created in tourism in the next ten years. The question is, “Do we have the right skills out there?” Are we prepared so that our industry can absorb and hire these people that we are going to be needing in the next ten years? That’s the interesting challenge. We need to work together to ensure the skill sets are developed; that there are no gaps between what the schools produce and what’s needed in the industry. What’s nice is that our sector allows a lot of mobility. You might see someone who was a concierge do a year’s training and come back as GM of a hotel. In other sectors, you don’t see that so much. For instance, someone who is a nurse today would not be doing brain surgery in five years’ time. In airlines, cruising or hospitality, you can start at the bottom and move up through the years, crossing over industries at will within the sector.