All of the 30-plus presenters at the Phocuswright Travel Innovation Summit this week were craving the acknowledgement of their peers, with an award to be presented to the overall winner.
But, in the meantime, just for fun, I came up with my own list of awards. Some of them will not necessarily result in the popping of corks by the companies mentioned.
The "Most Rapid Fire Live Demo Award"
Mujteba Naqvi can talk as fast as a Westin Kierland Hotel valet guy can drive a golf cart (I saw a woman hit by one on Monday - fortunately she wasn’t badly hurt), but his hands on the keyboard for running a live demo were moving even faster than his mouth.
At least the internet connection was fast enough to keep up with him. The Bonvoy message of “plan, book and split” to illustrate their all-within-Facebook group planning and booking tool was a different angle on the common theme of itinerary planning that many other presenters were talking about.
If there was a most enthusiastic presenter award, Mujteba Naqvi would probably tie with Adam Goldstein from Hipmunk for that as well.
The "Best Sales Pitch Award"
I don’t know if he will get a look in for the official innovation trophy, but if any one of the presenters is likely to leave Scottsdale with the most new leads, I’m guessing it will be Frank Grasso from e-channel search.
In the critics circle afterwards Frank was taken to task for not putting his impressive ROI claims at the front of his presentation, but somehow I doubt he’s too concerned.
The "VC Groupthink Award"
Groupthink amongst venture capitalists is not a new concept, but this award from the Phocuswright conference goes to Sophie Forest from Brightspark Ventures – she wasn’t even one of entrants in the Travel Innovation Summit, but now it is judge the judges time.
Forest sat on the Critics Circle and was impressed with Gogobot on the basis that they had raised some serious money from high profile names in Silicon Valley. The people in the audience I was sitting between were both somewhat less impressed.
On my left was a woman who runs an established competing site, and she was telling me that Gogobot are doing some, err, creative social mailing by contacting all of her users suggesting they open accounts with Gogobot.
At dinner last night one of my guests told me he had received as many as four similar dubious invitations from Gogobot. But with founder and CEO Travis Katz pushing his MySpace credentials, maybe this is not too surprising.
As online personalization expert Greg Linden wrote back in 2006: MySpace "had a database of 100 million email addresses" which they hit to announce their launch.
The "You Don’t Need to be a Travel Industry Insider to Have A Good Idea Award"
One of the criticisms of Gogobot from people sitting around me was that they knew social, but didn’t know travel.
Just to prove that this is not always a limitation, you need look no further than Adam Goldstein from Hipmunk. Almost everyone I spoke to was impressed with this company, although when I was talking to Adam after over a beer at the Tnooz Appy Hour he did mention my previous article on Tnooz about Hipmunk – with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek he mentioned that a printout of that article was being used as a dart board in the office!
The "You Really Know Your Target Market Award"
About half way though the presentation from Peter Sullivan of Vacation Relation I was losing interest, doubting whether people planning a vacation really wanted to meet unknowns via a social network prior to arrival.
And then he mentioned that Vacation Relation was working with a company called Studentcity which is apparently one of the largest companies in the Spring Break market. And then he started talking about working with DMOs like Las Vegas and Atlantic City and talking about potentially working worth MTV.
It reminds me of WAYN moving into the travel dating scene – there is so much money in online dating, so if anyone can merge that concept with the single traveler party scene then I am sure there is money to be made somewhere.
The "I Was Expecting Nothing But Left With Something Award"
This award is a tie between two players in the hotel space: OffandAway and Tripalertz. Maybe I was expecting nothing because I don’t follow the online hotel scene that closely, but OffandAway’s model of paying $1 to put a 10 cent incremental bid on a luxury hotel suite is something I would never have thought of - but in a strange way it might have legs.
If I pay my own money it is closer to gambling, but if the bidding dollars were offered as a part of some promotional tie in then I could see it becoming very addictive.
Tripalertz are aiming to be the Groupon of the hotel business. By bringing a group buying dynamic that does not require travel on the same dates as your friends to online hotel booking is something that really deserves to succeed.
The "I Was Obviously Expecting Too Much Award"
Or maybe I should call this the I was expecting something and left with nothing award. This one is a tie between Everbread and Vayant. As I said to the airline executive sitting next to me during the Everbread session, “everyone wants a piece of online shopping.”
Based on some of the press I’d been reading in recent months, I was expecting one or both to be the hot new thing that might make the incumbents look passé.
But just as the Simon Cowell of the Critics Circle, Rod Cuthbert of Viator criticized Amadeus for talking down to an educated audience of travel professionals, I felt that neither Everbread nor Vayant really let me see under the hood to understand what was so innovative about their approach to online shopping.
Success is going to need a lot more than just split ticket recommendations. Vayant illustrating this by combining a business class international fare connecting with a European LCC just seems like a totally unrealistic option to me.
What happens with a disruption or a schedule change?
[NB: Disclosure - both Everbread and Vayant are competing with shopping products from my employer, Amadeus]
The "It’s Not Me, It’s You Award"
Also known as the "I Just Don’t Get It and Neither Does Anyone Else I Asked" award. Maybe I’m being a little harsh, so I made the effort to go up the stand of Corporate O and talked to the staff to find out exactly what their product is and does.
Now I get it – it is kind of like the original Yahoo hierarchical search engine of 15 years ago, but with pictures instead of text. Apparently these guys only got accepted into the Travel Innovation Summit on the week prior to the conference and they were not even listed in the official program, so they were starting with a major handicap.
In the horse race that is who will win the official trophy from Phocuswright, I’m calling Corporate O as just one race away from the glue factory.
The Collings Critics Circle
So there you have it – for what it is worth, that was the good the bad and the ugly from the Innovation of the Phocuswright conference.
I didn’t cover the companies presenting social media metrics, analysis and semantic search tools, nor the companies based on frequent flier points (Usingmiles and Mileblaster) nor each one of many companies trying to gain a foothold in the travel inspiration and trip planning space.
That said, there is no doubt that sitting through so many pitches in one day really gets the creative juices flowing.
Despite some of the harsh comments above, it does takes a lot of nerve to get up and present your innovative ideas to a critical audience like the one at Phocuswright so I’ve got a lot of respect for all the presenters that gave it a go.
There is no doubt that those such as myself who sat through the Travel Innovation Summit walked away richer from the experience.