There is a compelling argument that the travel industry invented ecommerce.
In the early 1960s, American Airlines started working with IBM to find a way to use the latest technology to automate airline inventory and reservations.
The first airline computer reservation system was launched and the travel technology industry was born.
Some 60 years later and the travel industry has grown to be one of the most significant ecommerce verticals.
The technology landscape comprises more than just the internet, but the web is the most obvious mainstream manifestation of the growth of technology – and there are more than four billion active internet users in the world, as of April 2018.
Travel is also a growth industry. Airline trade body IATA says its member airlines carried more than four billion passengers in 2017. But looking ahead it believes that in 2036 some 7.8 billion people will travel by air.
Estimates vary, but the consensus is that around half of all travel in the world is now bought on online. All IATA’s four billion travellers will have bought another travel component – somewhere to stay, an excursion, some insurance.
On-demand taxis and restaurant reservations also count towards the travel experience and are increasingly booked online.
IATA refers to air passengers, but there are many millions of people who travel by train, coach, car, ferry, cruise.
Big world out there
People travel for business, for leisure, for both. They book direct with the supplier, or through online and high street agents or call centres. They travel alone and in groups. They pay with credit cards or digital wallets.
Other consumer-facing tech innovations and trends are feeding into the growth of online travel. Travel is one of the most important revenue sources for Google’s search advertising business.
Facebook recognised it role in helping consumers decide where to go and launched dedicated products for brands and destinations wanting to get in front of a specific audience.
The emergence of the cloud as a viable, cost-effective and secure business environment is creating new businesses with new business models.
The presences of smartphones in our daily lives is often taken for granted, but it is worth stepping back to realise that the first iPhone came out only ten years ago.
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An ecosystem of technology suppliers has emerged as a result, comprising blue-chip enterprise giants as well as agile startups.
In a business-to-business context, travel tech specialists are also having to compete with enterprise software specialists.
Consumer-facing brands have never had a wider choice when it comes to partnering with tech firms. Consumers have never had a wider choice when it comes to destinations, mode of transport, accommodations.
Not forgetting that the travel technology industry is global. Businesses from China such as Ctrip and Travelsky are now active across the world, and there are innovation hubs in eastern Europe, Latin America and other parts of south-east Asia.
The mature online markets of North America and western Europe continue to embrace the new tech thinking, from blockchain to voice search, machine learning to facial recognition.
Travel technology is at a critical stage in its development, and is a case book example of a business school conundrum – how does a mature industry continue to serve existing consumers while acknowledging a lucrative growth profile, in the context of globalisation and with a constantly improving tech environment?
This is the commercial environment which has prompted Reed Travel Exhibitions to launch Travel Forward, a new travel technology conference, exhibition and buyer program, co-located with WTM London 2018.
The inaugural Travel Forward will take place on 5 – 7 November 2018 at ExCeL London.
It will feature speakers from well-known brands, B2B suppliers and experts from outside the travel industry, all talking about how technology will drive their business forward over the coming years.