NB: This is a guest article by Rod Cuthbert, founder and chairman emeritus at Viator, and CEO at Rome2rio.
I have a few years of experience of the PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit under my belt - a couple as an on-stage critic and during its most recent outing as CEO of one of the competitors.
I confess a great fondness for the Summit - it has quickly become the must attend day of the wider conference, and I know many agree it has become a more compelling and entertaining spectacle than the venerable Center Stage talk-fest that follows.
This year’s TIS was certainly the best of all - entrants appear to have been selected against stricter guidelines, presenters were coached to a higher standard, the critics were excellent (yes, even better than last year!) and there seemed to be fine tuning of the format from top to bottom.
As a result the event was slicker, more entertaining and more relevant than ever before.
So what's the problem?
But it occurs to me that PhoCusWright now need to consider a fundamental change: one that addresses the somewhat jarring spectacle of entrants competing in categories that effectively lump apples in with oranges.
Here’s an example of what I mean: in this year’s Established Company category, TagMan, the eventual winner, competed head-on with Amadeus, which scored the Runner Up prize.
Amadeus is 100% focused on the travel industry, and demonstrated a novel approach to airfare display that uses retailing techniques to deliver highly relevant results in rapid time.
TagMan showed a very smart piece of technology that has a myriad of applications in industries beyond travel: it seems like great technology, but to say that it is somehow "better" than Amadeus is really an answer to a question that should not have been asked.
Simply put, if TagMan is an award winning apple, Amadeus should have been an award winning orange. But the Summit’s category guidelines see apples and oranges judged alongside each other. That’s a little like asking "What’s the best fruit?"
It’s just not the right question.
Companies focused entirely on travel should compete against each other, not against entrants whose focus is across multiple verticals.
That’s unfair on travel-specific entrants, who pay for their spot in a travel event and end up taking on all-comers, and also the judges, who can’t be expected to seriously evaluate entrants from non-travel sectors.
Is there a remedy?
One suggestion I’ve heard is to bar non-travel entrants altogether. It is, after all, a "Travel Innovation Summit" and not a "Technology Innovation Summit".
That makes sense to me, although I do enjoy seeing innovators like Tourwrist (the overall winner of the event) on stage, and it would be a shame to lose that opportunity.
Perhaps a re-alignment along product lines, with categories like "Search, Discovery and Inspiration", "Technology and Tools", "Bookings and Payments", and "Crossover Innovations" for cross-vertical entrants.
No doubt Tnooz readers will have their own ideas on whether a change is needed, and what categories might work in place of the status quo.
Any change will be a tough call, but the organisers have proven themselves adaptable, and I’m guessing they already have this issue on their radar.
The Travel Innovation Summit continues to gain deserved momentum, and provides the entire travel industry with a valuable, day-long opportunity to look into the future.
Having attained this success for the event, it’s perhaps a good time for the organisers to re-examine the founding principles to see if they still hold true.
My guess is that with some subtle tweaks the Summit will emerge stronger, more entertaining, perhaps more focused and certainly more equitable.
NB: This is a guest article by Rod Cuthbert, founder and chairman Emeritus at Viator, and CEO at Rome2rio. The latter was winner of the People's Choice Award at the 2012 Travel Innovation Summit.
NB2: Apples and oranges image via Shutterstock.