Will Pinterest be the next major travel distributor?
The visual social network, which enables you to "pin" images to your pinboard and Facebook Timeline from around the Web, and share them with your friends and others, has become an emerging force and was the subject of a brief discussion during an Association of Travel Marketing Executives panel on 2012 travel forecasts in Manhattan today.
Will droves of travelers one day do their travel planning, sharing inspirational images, on Pinterest, and will it provide leads to airlines, hotels, cruise lines and online travel agencies?
After ATME chairman Henry Harteveldt asked the panelists about their take on Google, Facebook, Apple and Pinterest entering the travel arena, Dennis Corrigan, vice president of sales and revenue management at JetBlue, noted that "a lot of our customers are Gen Y and we want to be where they are."
Corrigan noted that Google+ recently introduced corporate pages "and as Pinterest starts to go down that road, we'll be there, too."
JetBlue is playing catch-up in the mobile arena -- Corrigan hinted that a mobile app will be forthcoming -- and apparently has its eyes on Pinterest in the event that it gets some real travel juice.
A Pinterest blog post states that "people use Pinterest to plan their vacations, redecorate their homes, and create menus for holiday dinners."
By some accounts, Pinterest is larger than Google+ and people already are strategizing about how companies can use it as a marketing vehicle.
Other ATME panelists (from left: Scott Hyden of Travelport GDS; Terry Dale of USTOA; Greg Brown of Choice Hotels; Dennis Corrigan of JetBlue, and Joe Byrne of Tourism Ireland) discussed the emergence of new travel gatekeepers, as well.
Joe Byrne, executive vice president, North America, of Tourism Ireland, said he looks as these social networks, search engines and Apple as "important shopping windows and secondly they are distributors."
Google wants to be part of the transaction in travel, which already is a low-margin business, Byrne said.
"That distribution cost, which doesn't exist today, is troubling from my standpoint," said Byrne, who also expressed concerns about "more fragmentation."
But, Scott Hyden, vice president of sales in the US and Canada for Travelport GDS, argued that travel agencies are split on Google's travel efforts and aren't necessarily having nightmares over the prospect.
"Some people feel, just bring it on, bring on another competitor if they can provide another qualified lead," Hyden said.
"For every FairSearch member there is, there is another competitor who isn't scared," Hyden said, referring to the Google opposition group.
On other tech-related matters, Hyden recalled how Travelport partnered with Worldmate on an itinerary management service in 2010, but said "it didn't take off as much in corporate travel as we expected."
He said these types of services have potential for business travelers seeking to pay a bag fee and for other services while they are in transit.
"But, until we get to the place that there is real booking capability, the itinerary management stuff has settled out," Hyden said.
Both Greg Brown, vice president, loyalty, Choice Hotels, and Byrne of Tourism Ireland spoke of the importance of geo-targeting.
"Today's retirees are not your father's retirees," said Brown, adding that they are more "digitally inclined."
"This allows you to be a lot more personalized, a lot more targeted, a lot more direct," Brown said.
Tourism Ireland, meanwhile, is allocating more than 40% of its marketing budget in 2012 for digital marketing and has identified 15 US cities as its "honey pots," Byrne says.
The tourism body is trying to "focus on the right people" in these select markets, Byrne says, adding, "if you live in the 16th city you don't see us."
Unless, of course, a Pinterest user from that 16th city pins a photo of Kilarney, Ireland, and shares it with friends.