Critique on Scowsill’s departure from the WTTC

An excerpt from our monthly People-in-Travel report. As this is a subscription report, the following item is not from the current edition.

David Scowsill, before his sudden departure as head of WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) last June, made a sort-of valedictory — presented as an outlook for the future.

Although he personally did not move WTTC towards the future — just managed the present business — the WTTC and some of its partners are well informed on the travel business, and thus should have provide some good insight and foresight for Scowsill.

Given the elevated status of WTTC in the market, we expected better. Some (edited) comments (may have been paraphrased for editorial expediency):

[] Some developments since I joined WTTC in 2010 — Arab Spring; rising populism; rising-number/changing-nature of terrorist attacks; growing economic power of China and India; rise of the sharing economy; move to mobile; wide awareness-of and almost complete acceptance-of the urgency with which we need to address climate change.

[Presumed reference to US President Trump’s climate scepticism.]

[] Despite uncertainty, vulnerability, unpredictability, travel growth has remained at around 4% a year. New business models such as [no-frills-airlines], Trip Advisor, online hotel aggregators, sharing economy, have changed travel.

[] No large brand name has gone bankrupt, even with competition and the global financial crisis. [Presumed 2008.] This ability to adapt to market forces, respond to consumer demand and adopt new technologies is what I believe ensures the future of the [travel business].

[Scowsill mostly uses the (meaningless) term ‘travel and tourism’, sometimes ‘tourism’ and occasionally ‘travel’. We do not know if these are different to him, but we have changed all to our preferred terminology, the ‘travel business’ abbreviated from hereon to TB.]

[] AI, machine-learning, robotics, will certainly affect TB jobs over time. Many jobs will become redundant, but others will be created. Service delivery in the TB relies on people contact. People ultimately define the travel experience.

[We would want something bolder in a valedictory presentation, not motivational notes suitable for someone applying for Scowsill’s job. When? What is ‘many’ — 10%, 90%? We can see 65% of jobs being replaced with technology. Although there can be no argument about people ‘ultimately defining’ the travel experience, what happens before the ‘ultimate’ — ie, the final? Is that 10% or 50% of the travel experience?]

[] VR and AR movement will be phenomenal, but it will enhance the TB not compete with it. The opportunities are huge — training [travel] workers to spot potential terrorists, engineers to learn how to diagnose problems, a terminally-ill person to visit the world from their bed .

The debate on online communications wiping out business travel is 20-years-old. We see Skype, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, Facebook, video conferencing communications, merging over time on communication devices, for business meetings and leisure experiences. But people will still travel to see the world, business travel will grow because the human contact required for deal making will never disappear.

[Much of this is debatable. And ‘human contact required for deal making will never disappear’ is wrong. Already many deals are done without human contact — buying an airline ticket, for instance. Scowsill would doubtless argue this is not a ‘deal’, but we believe it is, and presume he means ‘big’ deals. If that is the case, he should provide a level.]

[] Travel websites will be replaced by apps on mobile devices.

[] The [TB] needs to firmly establish its credentials as a force for good. The economic and social impact of the sector is significant everywhere. But a lot of work is needed to ensure that travel growth is inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for making and monitoring change. All participants should engage with the SDGs and show how their activities are aligned with them.

[This glosses over a lot. What is ‘significant’, ‘inclusive’, etc? How to measure ‘firmly establish’ — which has actually been one of Scowsill’s tasks — or that travel is ‘inclusive’ and the probably-impossible ‘environmentally sustainable’? The UN’s SDGs are a (huge) wish-list that are unlikely to be achieved, even if everyone were ready to pay for implementation. The SDGs are used by organisations such as WTTC to switch the responsibility to those rather than the culprits — in this case, travellers and the TB.]

[] Although government recognition of the TB has come a long way since WTTC was formed in the early 1990s, the TB is often too low down the list of priorities. Policymakers must understand that travel contributes to sustainable development, and is committed to growing this contribution.

[How to measure? What was government recognition then and what is it now? How can visitors scrambling over Angkor Wat and the Galapagos ‘contribute to sustainable development’? How can an inanimate ‘travel’ be committed?]

In these disruptive times, knee-jerk responses to threats — whether from terrorism , climate change or immigration — can impact travel disproportionately. This affects the bottom line of businesses, and has a direct and often devastating effect on the 292mn people whose livelihoods depend on travel.

[Another anti-Trump comment. Above, however, Scowsill says travel counts have been unaffected by disruptions. So which is it?]

[] The TB — from the CEOs I have represented to ministers I have worked with, to the 1.2bn people who travel each year — must together ensure that travel continues to improve lives, protects the planet and is a force for peace, security and understanding.

[We find it ironic that Scowsill’s last words as head of WTTC misinterpret the most basic data. There are not 1.2bn people who travel each year. That is the visitor-arrivals total, produced by at most 1bn travellers. Even if this may not seem a great difference — although it is 20% — such a mistake from the head of such a body is surely a serious error? Is that the figure he gave all those ministers he worked with?]