Overwhelmed about where to focus your efforts in the coming year? Excited by the possibilities, but know that in this fast-moving, fragmented sector, you need to do much more than simply play for time?
NB: This is a report by Pamela Whitby, editor for EyeforTravel.
With the rise of big data, mobile and other digital trends, there is plenty to keep online travel executives awake at night but are you fresh and ready in the morning to tackle them?
To help you out, let’s take a look at some of the issues that should be top of your to-do list.
1. Mobile is no joke: it is the future
Mobile and tablet searches are fast catching up with – and could soon overtake - the desktop, says Nigel Huddleston, Google’s head of travel for the UK.
That is particularly true for last-minute travel but it is growing on all fronts.
"People just reach for the device that’s closest to them and quite often this is when they are at home."
So mobile isn’t necessarily just for people on the move. Huddleston isn’t naming and shaming anybody, but he says there are still some big names in hospitality, which have not yet optimised for the mobile world.
If you haven’t you should be very worried about whether you have the right person heading up your IT strategy or making your investment decisions, he says.
2. Metasearch is maturing but where does Google fit in?
Consumers today don’t just visit one website before booking a trip.
One Expedia study says travellers visit as many as 38 websites in the 45 days before booking and research from TripAdvisor says they may read as many as six to 12 reviews before making a decision.
Hence the rising popularity of metasearch services like Kayak, Trivago and Skyscanner which given the end user a range of direct and indirect options to choose from.
Not only is it good news for end users, it’s been good for hotels too.
Carl Michel, executive chairman of Generator Hostels, says: "Metasearch gives hotels the opportunity to stand alongside the OTAs like booking.com and Expedia and offer a differentiated product."
While we are still a way off metasearch being a fully accepted and user friendly experience if brands do "have a good direct connect product, then it is then possible to become more visible," he says.
What remains to be seen is how Google will wield its power with Google Hotel Finder and Flight Search.
While Huddleston insists that Google has no intention of processing transactions, he says the travel industry is still an evolving space and its still an incredibly fragmented market.
"If you look at this market in five years time some of the big players won’t exist, some will have merged and there will be a whole bunch of others, especially in mobile space that we haven’t even heard of yet."
3. Anticipate the inevitable: having a hyper-local approach will help you stand out
From lowcost, low energy iBeacon technology, Apple Carplay to hyper-contextual maps, travel brands are recognising that there are many potential upsell opportunities shortly before and particularly during a trip.
To date few brands have fully grasped the opportunities to sell tours and activities at a time when people really want to purchase – when they are actually travelling.
As Parkdean Resorts, sales and marketing director, Richie Jones points out, the mobile device presents huge opportunities to make real-time suggestions that ease the journey – such as what to do with the children on a rainy day in the UK.
Airlines, too, are making moves on this front.
At Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic is pilotingiBeacon technology for high-end customers. Passengers who have opted in to the iPhone app will be sent push notifications about, for example, a commission free deal when in the vicinity of currency exchange provider Moneycorp.
For Virgin’s upper class passengers, beacons could automatically opens their electronic boarding pass to save fumbling at security. American Airlinesis another that is investing heavily in this technology, to deliver more accurate and relevant data, as well as offers, to customers rushing to a connecting flight.
4. Spot that gap in the market, but don’t differentiate purely on price
Every firm is different and today it really is about knowing who your customer is and how you can:
- give them what they want
- surprise them with something different/extra
- also respecting their privacy.
For example, OneTwoTrip
, a Russian-headquartered OTA, books flights but has now taken its first steps into hotel bookings.
It’s not difficult to see why: Russia’s outbound travel market was worth $43bn in 2012 but it’s still served mainly by traditional tour operators.
"If people want to go for a city break and they want to combine flight and hotel there isn’t really one provider," says Bob Rogers, the co-founder of DealAngel, a firm recently acquired by OneTwoTrip.
"True dynamic packaging is something we are working hard to address and there is an opportunity here."
Generator Hostels is another that has understood its own customer base – that that of so-called "flashpacker".
"We recognised that there was gap for people who wanted value but not grungiest experience. We are definitely positioning ourselves as a lifestyle hostel brand, rather than just a basic hostel."
5. Big Data and analytics: it isn’t hype and it should be central to your organisation
One thing that comes time and again is that all departments must stop working in silos and collaborate more.
In a recent interview with Barbara Pezzi, director analytics and search optimisation at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, she said that marketers sometimes reject new propositions from the analytics/optimisation team because they contradict the chosen creative strategy.
But this "can prove to be a damp-squib in the quest to improve product offerings".
In this respect, Skyscanner’s Ewan Nicolson, a senior data analyst, believes it has an edge.
At Skyscanner, the analyst team is centrally situated and deals directly with other departments to hear people’s problems firsthand, which can then be solved as quickly as possible.
7. Be hospitable, go the extra mile, stand out
Last and certainly not least, be hospitable. You can get the researching, looking and booking stages in ship-shape with a digital first approach, but if the experience at your destination fails to deliver then, frankly, you’re wasting your time.
"This is, after all, the hospitality industry and the key to success is to be hospitable. Anybody who focuses on the end user and helps to make the journey simple and easy will do well."
NB: This is a report by Pamela Whitby, editor for EyeforTravel. It appears here as part of Tnooz's sponsored content initiative.
NB2: EyeforTravel's Travel Distribution Summit takes place in London from May 22-23.
NB3: Threats opportunities image via Shutterstock.