Why the GDPR will have a significant impact for group travel organising

Data challenges could herald change for travel trade marketplace

Why the GDPR will have a significant impact for group travel organising

We live in a time of increasing controls and responsibilities placed upon individuals and organisations in what they can and can’t do, and the approaches they must follow in dealings with others.

Health and safety, employment, financial services, human rights and equalities and civic obligations and rights are all now carefully codified in law. Most recently, the explosion in digital activity has added data protection and information handling to the list and this has now become a very significant issue.

I remember the conversations that took place within the group travel community some 28 years ago when the UK implementation of the EU Package Travel Directive was on the horizon. Matters like financial protection of customers’ money, insurance, and the responsibilities for delivery of travel and leisure products and services to the specifications advertised and booked, became subject to a great deal more detailed scrutiny than before. It changed significantly the requirements on both travel trade suppliers like tour operators and transport providers as well as on individual GTOs as either customers of other companies or activity organisers in their own right, and the shape of the marketplace.

It seems that something similar is underway in respect of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force in the UK on the 25th May next, and also the result of European Union requirements. The fact that the UK is leaving the EU won’t change that impact as the Government has said that the GDPR will still form part of UK law.

By its very nature, organising on behalf of groups requires a significant amount of personal data – just to run a group travel programme means people have to ‘sign up’ and arrangements for particular activities mean lots of personal requirements and preferences have to be documented.

Suppliers obviously want data themselves both to target products and services to the right potential buyers, and to meet the needs of customers when invited to do so. As a publisher and event organiser, Landor Travel Publications has its own responsibilities and I know my colleagues have been carefully learning what the new GDPR requirements add to our existing processes and obligations under the data protection law.

Travel trade associations have been helping their members to get their heads around these changes, and individual companies and GTOs have been preparing for the new law coming into effect. We’re pleased that Groups Direct has been willing to share their experience and approach in our recent article. Obviously, the role of the Group Travel Business Forum (GTBF) itself has not included such detailed analysis, but we felt it was important to provide a starting point for any further discussion that group suppliers and their customers might like to have at forthcoming GTBF meetings.

Without joining a discussion now on the detail, I would like to observe that these new regulations could have quite a significant impact on the framework for group travel organising, buying and selling and who takes on the responsibility of getting authorisation for and protecting the data of individuals.

In the digital world we’ve had to get used to effectively signing away access to our data in making enquiries and transactions online – sometimes without much clear indication of what we are being asked to agree to – not to mention the tracking of our behaviour with cookies and the like.

The online companies, which, after all, are businesses, love to know exactly what we do, where we go and what we like so they can make a pitch for further business from us. It is generally felt that the ‘younger generation’ take all this in their stride and sometimes seem to take the line that it is impossible to resist, sharing other personal information freely in the social media world. Not everyone is so happy.

This area of public and citizen expectations and supervision is one that may not have played out its full script yet. Although the implications for GDPR in travel are only part of a very big equation, it could be that the landscape of the sector and the relationships between sellers and buyers – and even between buyers as members of groups – will be subject to more scrutiny and will give rise to new issues for those working in travel and tourism and how they do business.

This article was originally published in issue 277 (January 2018) of GTO magazine.