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Travolution Summit 2019 - key takeaways

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

12 September, 2019: The Brewery, London

Sponsored by Amadeus, who seems to be making clear stake of ownership on the travel tech market by investing in numerous events also made clear through the focus on its innovation projects. This global company offers GDS, airport tech, travel agent tech, bought TravelClick for hospitality and through its Amadeus ventures scheme is sussing out the new space for breaking ground.

Amadeus is giving special focus to digital traveller identification to provide seamless end to end experience, incorporating video solutions which are currently undergoing heavy beta testing and the gimmicky Pepper the Robot who seems to be acting as a point of information and customer service - tested so far at train stations (is my understanding), Amadeus provides only the software to Pepper. It's certainly refreshing to see another company pushing RnD.

Travel Week's industry report identified a huge change in the way British and Italians book accommodation, moving from hotels to holiday lets - showing the impact that airbnb has had on the accommodation market. Having been 4 years since working in this market myself, but in the past year being introduced to an array of technologies and platforms for the holiday rental market (basically replicas of hotel tech), it is of little or no surprise, especially to Brits always looking to feel like they own their own little bit of land (heaven forbid sharing a space like a hotel! let alone Europe).

Personalisation was a key topic of the day, yet there are still very few businesses actually harnessing the true benefit - with still confusion of where and how the data comes from to provide the individualised experiences to travel bookers. With businesses like Amazon and Netflix capable of pulling on recent user interaction, travel businesses with their once/twice a year big ticket purchases are still having difficultly utilising the data to provide trends in the market.

It was mentioned that potentially the management capacity to deliver personalisation does not yet exist, therefore the midway point is to focus on averaging and heightened segmentation; ensuring there are clearer breakdowns of the customer journey with value attributed to each stage to allow the business to better define users and intent to purchase.

Yet Google knows more about any customer through ongoing interaction, which could potentially threaten businesses when they only shop once or twice a year for travel. Personalisation uses real-time data to measure intent of web visitor to predict their next steps - this is proving a difficult concept for marketers and ecommerce executives to understand.

One company mentioned it would only take 3 weeks for personalisation to take effect, while a behemoth of a travel company claimed it takes a minimum of 6 - 12 months to see real recognisable impacts from AI and ML. And, essentially requires travel companies to have the right infrastructure and platform to gather data with data science experts to act on the results. The key message, find a partner that can!

Matthew Prior accurately pointed out that growth relies on the right culture, but at the foundations its important to correct that strategic focus of the business - after which businesses need to look at what customers are doing to analyse demand. This requires a focus on changing just 3 - 5 things at a time, implement and measure by reorganising the team to set up delivery squads responsible for accelerating performance in a collaborative approach. The key message - businesses will be more powerful by focusing on referral business in the long run!

While Travolution is focused on digital and technology, conversation returned to the meaning of travel and the value we attribute to the sector as an industry. With one speaker raising the question - what is our responsibility? Particularly to travellers who expect travel to offer 1) a connection, 2) experiences, 3) memories, 4) learnings. Thus, regardless of which side of the consumer we are, we need to ask ourselves, what is our purpose in the travel eco-system.

Connectivity, another key theme raised throughout the summit; how do platforms interact, how do businesses work together and collaborate.

For better improvement of talent retention and acquisition in technology, it was advised that companies should focus in creating a "geek heaven". To focus on environment, not just pay and benefits, where geeks could be themselves and thrive on being geeky and successful.

Digital transformation was obviously an ongoing subject matter, whether looking at new technologies or referencing legacy systems. However one important point raised, is that for too long have companies transformed the front-consumer facing-end of their technology and totally disregarded the backend. In addition, new digital marketing technologies and data analysis have been favoured over optimising the performance of the CRM. There's too much filling of the Top of the funnel and not enough of driving conversion or value.

The head of Google Travel UK echoed this, making a point that marketers struggle to understand the attribution model, they're unable to collate and understand the data and are failing to get to grips with the lifetime value of the customer.

Next on the agenda was the role that website chats have in the future of the web, it seems to suggest the traditional self-navigating website may in fact be replaced by conversational engagement, that presents content relevant to the requests by the visitor. This means ditching the age-old site map and focusing on customer requests. I'm particularly interested in exploring how this will work, there's nothing I like more than the idea of full interactivity with brands - so do I have to say goodbye to content.

[This in turn brings up other interesting issues like; companies became the media but is this a shift back?]

Of particular interest is who is driving digital transformation, and several times it was mentioned that the CMO is shouldering the burden - having to convince CTO and CEOs of the implicit need to make change.

Whatever your place in the sales journey of travel, digital capabilities are broad and each part of the industry has their own challenges; whether its connecting and engaging the consumer, or delivering supply and service. Unfortunately with each working from different platforms and new systems entering the market each year, the more moves the sector makes to integrate - the more players there are to integrate with - making the finishing goal ever extended and potentially unachievable.

But I guess it will always give us work!

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