In recent memory, perhaps the most overused and ‘under’-understood term in the world of hospitality is “disruption.” It is nearly impossible to read about our industry today without some reference to the impact of “disruption” or “disruptors” on our lives. Technology breeds evil disruptors, competition breeds evil disruptors, and it certainly would appear that any perceived threat to our peaceful existence now falls into the category of “disruptor.” In fact, you have even read about disruption in this space too, back when we discussed OTA’s and their place in the market.
But as we read and talk about this buzzword for our industry, a bit of perspective is important. Let’s take a look back in history to see some examples:
--Retail travel agencies developed in earnest in the 1920’s. Over the course of nearly 100 years, many of these agencies have developed into important partners and promoters of our industry. Are they disruptors?
--As recently as 30 years ago, a major global hotel brand (who shall remain nameless) adhered fearlessly to its policy of not paying commission to third parties that wanted to book Group business into their hotels. The rationale of this brand was that if its sales organization was truly doing its job, no Group customer would ever need to talk to a third party about booking its programs. Needless to say, this hotel brand eventually changed its ways. Are third-party meeting planners disruptors?
--In May of 1981, American Airlines was the second airline (Texas International was first) to introduce the concept of a frequent flyer program to reward the loyalty of its returning customers. Today, loyalty programs earn and cost the travel industry and its customers billions of dollars. Are loyalty programs disruptors?
The list goes on and on, but the point needs to be clear. When we speak about disruption in the travel industry, we need to appreciate the fact that there are numerous examples of disruption that have made our industry far more successful and far more profitable than it could have been remaining at the status quo.
What is the point of all of this? It’s actually quite simple; disruption as a concept is not negative, and is not automatically an impediment to the continued success or growth of any industry. As long as we accept the fact that disruption is a not-too-distant cousin of innovation, there will continue to be dynamic and exciting things that come our way via disruption.