Interview with: Barry Downes from Imperium Tourism HoldingsMarch 4th, 2019 | | backpacker
The Byte caught up with Barry Downes, key player and gunning advocate for the adventure tourism industry, to get his insight on current events and concepts brought to the boil by the ever-changing times of our industry.
Barry is the general manager of the newly restructured Imperium Tourism Holdings, which is comprised of Adventium Technology, the Travel Freedom Group and a number of tour products and accommodation properties on the East Coast of Australia.
What’s in store for 2019? Can you sum up the key focus for Adventium Technology in one word?
“Usability. 2019 is all about facilitating trade. We want to help to build the industry with as many live products, and as much booking ease as possible, so that trade can just „happen”, there is no excuse for not streamlining in 2019.
Adventium was born out of the agency business and as such, we developed an agency-focused system to facilitate travel desk management. But the need for channel management systems and tools to assist operators has grown to be just as significant, our approach is more collaborative than it’s ever been and I think that will improve the usability of the system all-round.
The market demand is for functionality that allows operators to trade and transact how they want, and we’re very aware of that. We have the tools to aid this progression. We’ve listened to the industry and we’re committed to facilitating increased flexibility.”
And what about the agency groups?
“Quality. We’ve identified a movement toward quality of product among our market, and looking at longevity, we’ve recognised the value in providing this, as opposed to just pumping volume.
The Peterpans Travel Group was a great business, and the Travel Freedom Group will build on those strong foundations. Essentially, we have restructured the group, and just as Adventium Technology is now its own separately resourced company, the retail agencies and OTA’s now fall under the Travel Freedom Group umbrella.
Ultimately, our goal is to promote travelling Australasia, as something that everyone should do. We can only promote that if we’re delivering good quality. The backpacking traveller demographic is not immune to measures of quality. A budget should never mean lack of quality, the more quality operators there are in a destination, the better it is for the industry.”
What do you think will influence bookings and distribution in 2019?
“Consumers have more access to information than ever before. Digitalism, like any influence, has brought new industry requirements to the forefront.
It’s a natural progression that unassisted bookings are changing the industry but there has been a shift in the way consumers access information.
It is likely that, by the time you begin your travel planning process, you have been targeted by curated content. As curated content reaches you, via whatever medium, you’re given the illusion that you’re actively uncovering information, which isn’t always the case. No doubt machine learning and AI will impact the industry positively but as with all things, there are certainly counterpoints to consider.
This evolution gives power to players in destinations like Sydney and Melbourne, over those in say rural areas, or where the players are predominantly locally owned and operated – experiences that add huge value to visiting Australasia alongside seeing the major sites.”
So, you think the power of data may eventually be detrimental to the consumer experience?
“Not necessarily detrimental but there is no guarantee it’s all positive. I think there is the possibility of losing the quality of the product through paid ranking, which brings me back to why there will, or should, always be a space for bricks and mortar agencies. I think they will have the best potential for finding the right solution for the customer. The technology fuelling these platforms such as TravelDesk, will allow dedicated agents to work from anywhere in the world.”
What current trend patterns are you recognizing among travelers?
“I think there is a pattern that sees travellers wanting to move away from mass-tourism type product, and toward privately owned, “boutique”, and “travel with purpose” type operations. I think the advancement of technology has meant there’s less focus on the social side of adventure product, which leaves more room for focus on the quality of the product, for the traveller. In a strange twist of fate, needing to be “Insta-friendly” 24/7 is raising the bar of the products in our industry.”
How do you feel the recent changes to policies such as visas and tax returns have impacted the industry?
“I guess in any business, you have one-percenters, those tiny factors that impact the success of a business. Almost all will encounter setbacks that derive from changes to the one-percenters. It happens. But our industry saw changes to several at the same time, in recent years.
The abolishment of the opportunity for a visa, at the end of a trip to Australia, that’s a one-percenter. The efficiency of a business is affected when the ability to sponsor employees with invaluable knowledge and passion is lost, that’s a one-percenter. Customers no longer receiving a tax rebate for their ‘phase 2’ travel to the NT, SA, WA and so on – These are all issues that might be manageable if they arise singularly, but they didn’t.
These events have stimulated the need for quality products, for good service, and the goal of obtaining a higher value per customer. I really believe the businesses that will ride out the tough times are those delivering quality.”
What do you feel are the “underdog destinations” to watch in years to come?
“I think under-dog destinations will always be out there, it’s easier for people to travel underdog destinations now which is a good thing, although it sort of removes the underdog aspect from a concept-destination. What is a true underdog destination these days?
The concept of travelling Laos by yourself may have once been intimidating, whereas now you can book a hostel on your bus Wi-Fi, you can order an uber from one side of Bangkok to the other, you can turn up in Moscow and get from A to B without needing to interact with other people. Ultimately, I think this will only level out the playing field for underdog destinations.”
Do you worry about how that may impact safe, conventional travel in Australia?
What do you have to say about the negative perception of travel wholesale fees among agents and operators?
“Naturally, some businesses may have the time and resources to facilitate their own transactions, reconcile all of their own bookings, their own admin, manage their own distribution, balance their accounts, manually handle invoicing and payments, manage timesheets, their own ticketing and so on.
But, if you employ a technology platform such as TravelDesk to manage all of this for you, you can take comfort in knowing that there are 20+ staff members who maintain the system, procure the product and rates, understand its functionality and liaise with the industry. There is a cost to having a software system that does all of this so that you don’t have to.
I guess the same can be said for operators, but in light of what I was saying earlier about allowing operators to trade and transact how they want, we are working on a new model which is extremely transparent. Ultimately the market will always decide on the value proposition of a product or system, and we can only strive to be a business that delivers great solutions and end products.”
Barry will feature in a live Q&A at the Adventium Technology trade fair, which you can register for here:
Written by: The Byte