One of the big trend – and opportunities – in the travel industry is the rise of the so-called New Age Traveller, who is driving growing change in the travel and tourism space in disrupting traditional ways of searching for, buying and using travel services.
As a result, the industry is seeing a wave of new entrants using technology smartly to make tourism more inclusive and travel cheaper, and helping more people explore the world in new ways. One of these start-ups, AirStudent, came about from dorm room discussions when students Ndabenhle Ntshangase and Lwanda Shabalala figured out that the idea of communities clubbing together to buy groceries in bulk to get better prices could be applied to air travel.
New Age Travelers aren’t just younger travellers, like students. Increasingly, they’re small businesspeople, the person in the street and even government groups looking for ways to travel more cheaply, and have a better customer experience while doing so.
“The cost of travel is just one of many barriers that South Africans face in their quest for higher education and opportunity,” says Ntshangase, co-founder and CEO of AirStudent. “If you live in KZN, but study in Cape Town, travel is an expense that takes away from other areas where you could spend. Or worse, it blocks the opportunity to study at all.
“If we can use technology to break down barriers, we’re creating opportunities and experiences that go way beyond buying the cheapest flight or bus ticket that you can find.”
Lwanda Shabalala, co-founder and chief operations officer, said what sets New Age Travelers apart is their savvy use of technology and social connectedness.
“There are a couple of reasons why this is important for the industry,” he says. “For one, social media and peer pressure significantly influences their travel decisions. They tend to look for fast responses and instant gratification. They’re not brand loyal: they want the best price. To understand and service this market, we must lean heavily on technology, which will open up access to the tourism industry even more.”
Ntshangase and Shabalala had an initial aim of enhancing the student travel experience. By pooling students into larger groups, they found they were able to negotiate preferential deals with airlines to enable more affordable travel and a better overall experience.
They have since extended their services to all travellers – and that’s not just a win for cash-strapped travellers themselves. It’s also a boon for airlines and travel agents, for whom distribution remains one of their biggest costs and headaches.
New Age Travelers, they say, aren’t just younger travellers, like students. Increasingly, they’re small businesspeople, the person in the street and even government groups looking for ways to travel more cheaply, and have a better customer experience while doing so.
Says Ntshangase: “Technology is allowing new players to enter the market in other ways to serve the New Age Traveller. It isn’t just making it possible for small businesses to get a foothold in the tourism industry: it’s helping to break down barriers by enabling the development of new products and services.”