Thinking for the future

First published Monday, July 7, 2014

Once upon a time, when folks spoke of the ‘future’ and shared predictions on what that might look like, they were thinking ahead some 30 or 40 years or more. In the world of today the ‘future’ can be as close as tomorrow, given the pace of change, development, invention and more.

Last week, whilst attending the Graduation Ceremony for the class of 2014 from Pembrokeshire College, conversation over lunch touched on technology, how things have changed so quickly and more. As an example, when I was younger I remember watching a cartoon called The Jetsons, and whilst we’re not all living in space and driving round in little space rockets, we do now have intelligent fridges that will monitor the contents and create a shopping list for you when you run low on something. A quick skim across the various different App Stores/Google Play and others shows how many different ways there are to do tasks that in the ‘old days’ required use of pen and paper, planning, a journey somewhere and physical exchange of cash.

Whether we like it or not, technology is part of our everyday lives. Social media can make or break a reputation far quicker than we ever could before. TripAdvisor, love it or hate it, is in some ways the equivalent of a chat with a neighbour over the garden fence about your recent holiday, except that this particular garden fence spans the globe. Websites, once just a ‘shop window’ for your business, are becoming more and more interactive – you can watch a video tour of your proposed accommodation, hear from staff and guests in advance of your stay and more.

Interestingly, there are still a surprisingly high number of websites, whether for accommodation or activity providers where you can’t book on line. The owners will often have reasons for this – ‘it’s too costly’ or ‘I don’t have time to keep updating the diary’ are two of the more popular responses. It’s understood that there can be costs involved with providing an online booking service (depends on whether you are linking up with one of the big name providers or not), and again dependent on who provides the service, it may be that there is a need to spend some time updating the diary, however, this has to be balanced against the needs of the customer, the paying guest.

Over the Easter weekend, I took a few days off and went away. During a lunch break prior to this, I did as many do, hit Google, put in my search terms and browsed to find a break that met my needs and budget. Something like 12 businesses lost out on my business during that 20 minute search, simply because they did not have an online availability calendar and booking service. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind speaking to people on the phone, cross checking my diary dates with their available dates, but when time is short, I prefer to make use of that time in other ways (like eating my lunch!)

It makes no real difference what your business is. Whether you are a shop, a hotel, an activity provider, even a restaurant, being able to interact with your customer in more ways than one is becoming increasingly important. Online shopping is the answer to many a person’s prayer, removing the need to traipse round somewhere when there’s other places to be (yes it has a downside from the high street perspective, but that also brings opportunities to do things differently – something for another post!), being able to book your holiday from your sofa is great, why not add reserving your table for a dinner out to that as well?

The future generations, the kids in school and college now, and those that will follow, are already using technology in ways never thought possible a comparatively short time ago. Teaching is no longer based around the blackboard and a text book, it’s interactive, it’s online and it’s everywhere. There is absolutely no reason why a nine or ten year old in school right now couldn’t be the next ‘big thing’ having designed a product or service that will revolutionise another aspect of our holiday or shopping experience whilst playing on their tablet device during class or at home in the evening.

So, we have a choice, well many choices of course, but right now, perhaps the more important questions to consider in relation to our businesses are these: 1) How can I make selling my products/services to my customers as easy as possible? 2) Do I need to be tied to one location all day to be able to sell my products/services or can I use technology to free up my time more? 3) Can my customers access the internet with their devices quickly and easily whilst they are staying/dining with me? 4) How well do I sell my business on line?

There are of course more questions than that, but as a starter it’s something to think about. Thanks to the continual pace of development in technology today, it is probably possible to say that the boundaries and limits to thinking, to generating new ideas, are far fewer than ever before. Just because something has always been done a particular way, doesn’t mean that it has to be that way now. And so, if the kids are bored over the holidays, or when you’re having a brief break in the day (yes that may not be until October but still….!), why not get a blank piece of paper, or open up a new note on your smartphone or tablet, and let the ideas flow. Get ahead of the game, and see whether you can find something to add to your arsenal of products, services and interactivity that’s going to see you standing out in the marketplace, and making doing business with you even easier.

First published on The Pembrokeshire Tourism Blog

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