What are the biggest issues facing the travel industry? Singapore's insiders weigh in

Brekke Fletcher, CNNPublished 20th May 2019
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(CNN) — What happens when 24 travel industry professionals sit down to lunch and delve into the trends that affect our business?
A lot of real talk and a passion-fueled conversation that runs the gamut from the impact of technology on currency, to the vagaries of intuiting what travelers really want.
My first visit to Singapore was long overdue. It had been on my list of dream destinations for years, but somehow, the timing never worked.
Finally, the opportunity to travel there arose in April, and upon my arrival, I was immediately overwhelmed by the island's beauty, ease, modernity and heritage.
I was able to immerse myself in a culture that so reflects the values of all travelers -- to walk and watch and notice and absorb and saturate myself in Singapore.
Toss back a Singapore Sling at Raffles' Long Bar (check). Walk along the river (check). Visit museums and parks, queue at hawker centers, drink at award-winning favorites Atlas and Native, eat at Michelin-starred restaurants Jaan and Candlenut and swim in the pool at Marina Bay Sands (check, check, check, check, check).
I shopped and marveled at the new Jewel at Changi Airport, admired the beautifully conserved architecture of the new Capitol Kempinski Hotel, toured the new Floral Fantasy attraction at Gardens by the Bay and spent my last night at the Crowne Plaza -- the best airport hotel in the world, in the best airport in the world.
When it comes to beautiful skylines, few cities can compete with Singapore.
When it comes to beautiful skylines, few cities can compete with Singapore.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

Travel industry challenges

The main reason for my visit, however, was not to be a tourist.
CNN Travel hosted an intimate luncheon with travel industry professionals and peers to discuss the issues of the day, from 5G and mobility to understanding the growing demographic of young Chinese luxury travelers, as well as the dos and don'ts of data.
Among the 20-plus guests were representatives from the Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore Airlines, Grab, Visa, Raffles Singapore (about to re-open this summer following extensive renovations), Far East Organization, Samsonite, Ascott, Pan Pacific, IHG, Hilton and more.
On the menu at Artemis Grill (aside from the epic Singapore skyline and delicious food), was lively conversation about our shared challenges and hopes for a world that seems smaller and smaller, at once totally connected via technology and disconnected because of it.
When the topic shifted to the onslaught of cashless payment options, we shared stories of those hilarious yet frustrating moments when only cash will do.
Talking about the increase of millennial Chinese outbound travelers, we wrestled with understanding this somewhat uncategorizable group of people and what they really want, from booking a last-minute getaway to planning the trip of a lifetime.
Loyalty, points and privileges were also a hot-button topic. How brands can reward their most frequent customers with perks that can't be purchased, and status that clears the chaos that can take some of the fun out of getting where you're going.
And balancing data with the value of human connection. When technology helps and when it hinders, and how we can all learn if we remember that behind every number, preference, purchase and demographic, there is a real person with real problems that we can help solve.
We talked about smart luggage, but not just the kind that can charge your phone or trail behind you in the airport, but a real problem-solver: wheels that roll friction-free over airport carpeting.
Sometimes, it's recognizing that solutions to real problems, be it analog or digital, big or small -- are the ideas that make for good business, loyal customers and a bright future for all.