and what an conference it was. Under the very appropriate theme
The Perfect Storm
applicable not only for the travel industry but the global economy itself, which despite the turmoil it is undergoing now and for some time in the near future will produce innovative winners, close to one thousand participants gathered in Hollywood and it became clear right from Philip Wolf's opening speech, that for the next few days this was the focal point of the global travel industry.
All the major players were there and as is custom, represented by their CEO or senior executives. The action and conversations were non-stop, the deal making permanent across the venue. Having myself participated in a dozen of these events, this set the new standard for travel conferences in terms of quality of production value, quality of attendees, session planning and overall organization and execution. I readily admit my bias, but my own opinion was confirmed time and again by other participants.
This year a new event was added,
with 32 companies, chosen from many more applicants, presenting their innovative ventures to a critical audience who voted on the presentations with hand held rating devices to decide the six finalists with the opportunity to present on Center Stage to the main audience later in the conference.
The presenting companies could roughly be categorized as providers of technology solutions for vacation rentals, mobile travel and trip planning tools. Of particular interest to me were the latter as this is an area of web based travel I am most interested in.
Helps people to find out what to book not how to book which is the easy part. Statistics show that 35 sites are visited before booking. That can hardly be voluntary! There is too much content on the web to make a sensible, easy decision. There are 1000 reviews for the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel alone! They are a search and filter engine not a site that creates new UGC. Not flights based but any transport mode.
UpTake has Top Google ranking for many of their destinations. Very deep database for local attractions. Aggregate / Analyze / Filter based on semantics "sentiment extraction" from data based on ontology. This helps them to get the top ranking on the search engines.
Discovery is not search! Every trip starts with the planning. Preference based selection, including rankings.
1200 destinations. Map based presentation of selections. Integration of external data like YouTube, photos etc.
Live feed for events. Travel reviews from TripAdviser. Facebook application for friend preferences and suitability of possible travel companions. Collaboration engine for different personal and group profiles. Ultimately it makes the user decide which destination is most suitable.
95% happens before the booking! How true, and up to now most of the online travel industry has focused on the 5%.
Site looks like a magazine. Inspirational. Where & What. Excellent functionality for saving trip related information including external search results. They have added a travel widget for third party site placement. Uptake is one of these sites. Items can be drag&dropped into the travel plan and can be viewed by all trip participants. Friend's input & research can be used and added as well. Excellent tool also for travel partners.
This Canadian based venture is aggregating content and adding relevancy and personalization. Local travel experts are providing most of the content. Data display is based on ranking by reviews. Personal profile allows for differentiation in the results presented. Booking integration and restaurant reservations are another feature.
Your Tour.com (still in closed beta)
This is a preferences based system with a price calculation engine. Reality: Manual itinerary creation even in web 2.0. Their system is a "virtual travel agent" for mass-customization based on B2B licensing. It lists DMOs as partners with hotel chains Booking.com and content provider Lonely Planet.
Demo of beta version included multi-destination, dynamic packaging. Starts with a build me a tour screen. Includes activities for each day, maps based. Slider based preferences ranking. Reminds me of the EuroVacations model! True dynamic packaging.
Personalized travel recommendations. Customized destination guide with current and relevant information can be collected and printed as a PDF. Content, search, and booking are integrated. Lots of cool tools including reviews for accommodation and restaurants, all map based. Slider based activity selector. In addition to PDF they will have an iPhone delivered guide in Q1-09
These are all innovators in what TravelMuse correctly calls the 95% of the process that happens before a leisure trip that has largely been neglected up to now by the major online travel companies who are all focused on the remaining 5%, where the transaction takes place.
It remains to be seen how many will survive as the pressure to produce revenues is huge and at least the immediate prospects uncertain. What is certain, technology will continue to provide the tools essential to make the DREAM - LEARN - PLAN - GO process more integrated, less time consuming and even fun. It should be possible to monetize it to make these sites a commercial success.
In a later post I will discuss the issue of the effect these developments have on the role of DMOs in this process as they traditionally have played their role here and not in the transaction of travel. It's clear that the industry moves in the direction of integrated services delivery to consumers. The perfect storm indeed!
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke
This quote somehow reminds me how far we still are from making the travel planning - researching and buying process on the web truly an easy and enjoyable experience based on the technology understanding and correctly interpreting customer needs and preferences. It's certainly far from being magic!
This is a great video by Nova Spivack of Radar Networks on this topic still often misunderstood. I agree with his definition of the terms web 1.0 / 2.0 / 3.0 being about time periods in the development of the web. We're now just about at the end of the second decade (2.0) and will enter the next (3.0) around 2010.
There will be definite implications on travel and the customer experience of researching, planning and purchasing travel. Before there will be dramatic changes, however, the pendulum will have to swing back to the front end or user experience focus, which he predicts will be the case in web 4.0 or more than ten years out, as web 3.0 deals more with the back end or the data.
In the meantime there will be new initiatives that will introduce semantic web tools into travel as we have seen with Uptake and TripIt. The latter is actually shown in one of his slides.
One of his comments I liked a lot is that we should talk about "artificial stupidity" rather than "artificial intelligence" that is required to eliminate humans from having to deal with the mundane, or stupid tasks, and let us focus on the intelligent ones. Couldn't agree more.