A SAIT alumni's firsthand perspective of digital transformation in tourism

From a SAIT Travel and Tourism grad to working for Booking.com — Luis Alves talks digital transformation in the travel industry
From a SAIT Travel and Tourism grad to working for Booking.com — Luis Alves talks digital transformation in the travel industry

Luis Alves graduated from SAIT’s Travel and Tourism diploma (now part of the Hospitality and Tourism Management diploma) in 2010 and has since landed in the pinnacle of tech and tourism. Starting with Booking.com in 2013, Alves has worked his way up to senior account manager with the global brand where he’s seen his fair share of transformation.

The proud SAIT alumni shares his expertise about what trends he’s seeing in his industry and how his SAIT education has prepared him to work for one of the world’s largest travel booking sites.

How has your time at SAIT set you up for success working with an industry disruptor like Booking.com?

In so many ways. The mix of hands-on and theory has demonstrated to be key for my career development. I would also like to add that the diversity of courses within the program really helped to shape my holistic approach to business. Learning concepts that ranged from sales to accounting to ticketing and entrepreneurship really helped to cement that foundation for me. And the state-of-the-art facilities and faculty were also a huge plus!

When it comes to digital transformation in travel and tourism, what kinds of changes have you seen?

When I joined Booking.com back in 2013, we still had paper contracts — in fact, we even accepted reservations by fax! All of our front-end information used to be filled out on paper, and we had an operations team responsible for the manual input of that data into our system.

Today, everything is digital, and there is a massive shift towards mobile bookings. When I started at Booking.com, around one in five reservations would come from a mobile platform. Now that number has increased to roughly two out of every three bookings. Needless to say, we now live in a mobile world, and the industry needs to pivot towards this change.

The social media revolution has completely changed our industry as well, allowing tourism businesses to diversify their customer acquisition strategies, share content, generate engagement and market their products basically for free. Most recently, the evolution of how payments are processed and contactless interactions and transactions have definitely had a big impact in the industry. There is a lot of potential and opportunity with this trend as we become more global by the minute and need to cater to all different types of guests and buying behaviours.

How have you been able to adapt to those changes?

At Booking.com, change is part of our culture. Almost every day requires you to learn something new as the online travel industry is extremely dynamic. Fortunately, the company is heavily invested in upskilling their employees, and I’ve been able to benefit so much from the culture of continuous learning and development.

We really believe that knowledge is power, and getting a degree or diploma is just the beginning. If you want to stay competitive in your field, you need to stay up to date with industry trends — otherwise, it’s easy to get left behind.

Where do you see the hotel and accommodations industry headed?

I know the pandemic has cast a big shadow in the industry and also highlighted several blind spots that we were not necessarily aware of. That being said, the future is so bright! With developed and developing countries ramping up their vaccination efforts, there has been a clear shift in demand since the second quarter of 2021. The U.S. is already seeing amazing numbers, and Canada is coming a long way from the 2020 numbers as well.

We see clear signals about some shifts in travel as well with more people working remotely. More and more companies are allowing employees to work from home, including different provinces and countries — this trend will likely change the business travel industry in both the short and long term.

People have also saved up a lot during the pandemic, and still have an appetite to experience the world. I think seeing the crowds during the EURO cup and NHL playoffs, as well as record breaking numbers during Canada Day and Fourth of July celebrations are clear indications that leisure travel is on the mend. Therefore, my forecast is that there is still tons of opportunity, but businesses still need to keep a finger on the pulse on what the consumer needs and make sure they are ready and willing to pivot to meet those demands.

What advice do you have to current students who will be entering into the travel and tourism industry?

You already nailed the first decision of going to SAIT. Travel and tourism is one of the most exciting industries out there, and if this is really your passion, you are going to have a lot of fun. There are so many job opportunities opening up as the world comes out of the pandemic, and I only think it get better. That being said, I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should never stop learning and upskilling — it’s what will set you apart from the competition. Additionally, you may want to consider how mobile you are, as opportunities may be a bit scarce close to home, but if you look around, there will be no shortage of awesome roles to fill all around the world. Stay resilient, and travel on!

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