‘Digital travel firms must not forget the customer.’ Ian Taylor reports

Digital businesses can display a “lack of responsibility” and it’s time they were regulated and that the travel industry developed guidelines, says the chief executive of Travelopia

Andy Duncan, who was head of National Lottery operator Camelot, chief executive of Channel 4 and worked at the BBC before joining Travelopia just over a year ago, said: “Digital incumbents’ lack of responsibility is typical.

“Take the media – [where] you have Facebook and Instagram. There is a lack of regulation and a lot of controversy – inappropriate news coverage, inappropriate use of data, inappropriate content.

“It has taken these companies a long time to wake up to their responsibilities. Even now they are only doing it because they are pushed to by governments and the public. It’s not in their DNA, and that sometimes reflects on digital start-ups. They come up with a great idea and have venture capital backing, but they are not close to the feelings of the customer.”

Duncan will be a keynote speaker at Abta’s Travel Convention in Tokyo in October where he will speak on the convention theme of ‘Brave New World’, addressing the speed and scale of change in travel.

He said: “It will be interesting to see whether people will be reluctant to go with companies with a digital-only background. Just because you have great technology does not mean you don’t have responsibility. Some businesses have great technology and the way they deal with issues is professional. [But] some are not taking responsibility.”

Duncan forecast: “It’s going to become a big issue.”

However, he said: “I don’t think we should start with regulations in travel. There is a strong argument for regulation in the media, particularly around the use of data, because these businesses have had a long time to get their act together and they have not.

“Travel is different. It would be right for there to be industry discussion and guidelines, [but] regulation should be a last resort.”

He argued: “You can get industries to raise their game if you have the right forum for it.” Duncan added: “The travel industry is going through a lot of change, there is a lot more to come and not every business is ready for that.

“We went through the digital revolution in my time in the media. I launched [digital TV service] Freeview at the BBC, and at Channel 4 we launched the world’s first online broadcast platform. Travel is only partially through that journey.

“There are some very significant digital travel businesses, but also some significant legacy businesses that need to adapt to be successful in the modern world. [Yet] there is a degree of resistance to change.

“Another big change is in competition – you not only have to compete in the traditional market, but there are disruptors coming in and you have to think about who your competitors are.

“Taking a company in the right direction is a challenge in a world full of change.”

The Travel Convention 2019, October 7-9, Tokyo.