EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit

May 2019, London

Europe's biggest event for commercial and digital travel execs

Accor, Ryanair, Best Western, Booking.com et al to have their say in May

In London next week, EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit gets underway. Here we identify what is likely to dominate the conversation

“Travel companies everywhere are working to embrace the changes resulting from digital transformation in a way that drives new business and keeps customers happy. This isn’t always as easy as it looks but we are expecting attendees in London to go away with plenty of food for thought as well as practical insight for their business,” says Helen Raff, EyeforTravel’s chief product officer.

In the run up to the two-day conference (May 21-22), EyeforTravel conducted numerous research calls and interviews with companies from across the travel spectrum  - from hotels to ground transportation, OTAs, airlines, tours and activities providers and many more. Here is a round up of what was said and where that might lead us in London next week.

  • AI, personalisation, blockchain…it’s time to get practical

Everybody agrees that the travel industry loves a buzz phrase and that maybe in some instances this has been overdone. In London, expect to hear practical examples about how travel brands are implementing new technologies that go beyond the hype. For example, Esamatti Vuolle, Product Owner at Finnair, for one, will share more about how his team is using an agile development methodology to move in the direction of ‘development by experimentation’.

Finnair has sights set on Asia. Not surprising given that Ctrip (also speaking in London) finds that In 2018, according to Ctrip, the number of Chinese tourists who booked trips to Nordic countries rocketed by 82% compared to the previous year, and Finland was the most visited!  

What is clear is that data is central to the innovations taking place in travel and those that find the best way to use it will win. However, the public’s battle for privacy could continue to hamper progress.

  • Brand clout many not be enough, it’s time to diversify

Containing costs in an environment where OTAs wield a lot of power is something that hotels are looking to address. Groups like Best Western Hotels & Resorts understand this and are looking to diversify their offering for independent properties that have come into the fold. In an interview for a white paper published earlier this year, Rob Paterson, CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, explained that the group was developing and acquiring software to provide to hotels as part of their offering. The aim is that properties no longer just have a brand name to hang on the door; they also gain access to a wide range of technology that helps them to run more efficiently and to generate more revenue. Paterson will be speaking on the opening keynote panel alongside executives from other major hotel brands Accor and Millennium Hotels & Resorts.

  • Partnerships in the era of the API

As Bas Lemmens, former CEO of booking.com and now of Meetings.com, it is the era of the API. Building the right partnerships and plugging those into your brand will be crucial to success.

Chinese online travel agency Ctrip understands this. Next week Amy Wei, head of TrainPal and group general manager of international train ticketing at Ctrip, will outline how key partnerships are helping them to tackle the “huge potential” of the European market.

In a recent interview, Wei told EyeforTravel: “Ticket sales in February 2019 grew nearly 100x compared to when we first soft-launched the app (in late Feb 2018).” So, they must be doing something right.

On Day 2, also addressing the subject of how partnerships can unlock revenue are David Adamczyk, Director of Strategy, Transport Division, Booking.com and Marc Hofmann, Chief Executive Officer, of CheckmyBus. Hofmann may even outline his enthusiasm about the future of autonomous vehicles. In December last year, he said: “I believe that combining this technology with dynamic networks, where users are picked up when and where they demand, will soon bring a revolution in mobility”.

  • Changing consumer behaviour and how best to tackle it, especially in business travel

Consumers are fickle, they have more choice then ever and they are exercising that. The only way to compete, says Tom Mcloughlin, Director, SEO Travel, a digital marketing agency, is to deliver a high-quality level of service. “In today’s world of online reviews there is no scope for poor service delivery if you want to keep recurring business and stop disappointed customers sharing their experience.” In this smaller brands may have an edge, if they react quickly to changes taking place in different channels.

Where changing consumer behaviour is really making an impact is in the business travel arena. Andrew Jordan, CTO, CWT, a keynoter on Day 2, is keen to explain why the customer experience can no longer be clunky for business travel’s road warriors.

  • Google, the threats and the opportunities

Mention Google’s foray into the travel market and the responses vary widely. It depends, of course, on whom you talk to. In the hotel space, Gopakumar Menon, VP – Distribution & Revenue Management, Highgate Hotels, who is speaking on the afternoon of Day 1, told EyeforTravel that: “Google is probably by far the only making one strides to make the independent hotel bedroom relevant.”

Meanwhile, McCloughlin from SEO Travel, a company serving SMEs, sees Google's continuing foray into the travel market as a “big issue”.

“Most recently, hotel search results have had the Google treatment, but this is moving into more and more more spaces making it increasingly challenging for independent businesses to get visibility. It means businesses have to think more laterally about how they get found by customers,” he says.

But it’s not all bad news. He adds: “The opposite side of the coin is that as Google becomes more challenging there is more scope to take interesting approaches and uncover new opportunities quicker than the competition. There's no doubt that there is still plenty of scope to use Google to attract customers in big volumes.”

No doubt, the audience will be hearing more about this from Rob Lawson, Global Partnerships, Google in the morning of Day 1. 

  • Brexit, a boring reality

As much as we’d like to say that Brexit isn’t an issue, the fact remains that the continued uncertainty is holding back some firms from investment. Unsurprisingly, nobody wanted to go on the record about this but some of the views expressed include: “It’s a potentially massive problem for the travel industry, which is sensitive to economic trends”; “It is keeping us and our clients [small to medium enterprises] awake at night”; “Continued uncertainty means that whatever the outcome, it will have had an impact”; “Firms are looking for places to cut spend and as consumers hold off booking their holidays this is getting increasingly challenging”; “Brexit is the most stupid thing in ages”.

Enough said!

With just a week to go, don’t delay in signing up for EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit which takes place in London next week 

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