ITB 2017 ended in slightly ironic fashion, with half the world’s travel industry scrambling to get on a flight out of Berlin after airline strikes were announced.
For those of you that have managed to make it home, we’ve rounded up some of our key insights from the event - read on for our top five learnings from the world's biggest travel trade show:
IT’S TIME TO GET PERSONAL
Hoteliers large and small are keen to capitalise on the personalisation game. Ever-larger data sets are making it easier than ever for hotels to provide a tailored service to each guest, whether on their website or in the lobby.
It feels like hotels are looking to move on from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to marketing - especially when the data reveals just how much business is being lost that way. Sojern’s Stephen Taylor presented an illuminating case study of ‘Eric’, a real visitor to a client’s website who visited 451 travel touchpoints in the five months that he spent planning his trip.
We saw that Eric was someone who books in advance - but also last minute; who likes to save money - but sometimes makes big splurges; who is loyal to the client - but will shop around with the competition. Your customer wants different things at different times, and targeting them with relevant messaging could be the difference between a direct booking and a booking lost to the OTAs.
In all the buzz over personalisation, though, we noticed that what many people were looking for from their marketing strategy was actually segmentation - for a guide to the difference between the two, check out our post here.
BOOKING ENGINES - ALL CHANGE?
About a third of the hotels we spoke to at ITB had either recently changed, or were in the process of changing, their booking engine. The speed of digital transformation and the importance of direct is driving a desire to experiment with all kinds of new technologies, with booking engines being something hoteliers are increasingly willing to shop around for.
The right booking engine is the foundation to a successful direct booking strategy, so it’s great to see hotels making sure they’re getting the best fit.
Spreading the love for Direct Bookings
AI IS THE NEW BLACK
Artificial Intelligence was everywhere at ITB. Almost every talk we attended had some mention of its possibilities for the travel industry: from flight booking systems you can have a conversation with (Skyscanner) to metasearch engines integrated with Amazon’s Alexa (Kayak), it was clear that the industry sees AI as a true game-changer.
We thought we’d do a quick breakdown of AI’s three main initiatives, as we often heard the terms interchanged or confused. When people say ‘artificial intelligence’ with regards to the travel industry, they’re mostly referring to Machine Learning: programs deployed to collect and analyze search, booking and experience data by individual travellers and across similar people.
Natural Language Processing is the area of AI where Google and Skyscanner are currently focusing their energies. NLP is the ability of a computer to understand human speech as it is naturally spoken - allowing you to give commands like “book flights for the weekend of ITB, and book me the hotel I stayed in last time” to your phone. The third initiative is Deep Learning, which focuses Machine Learning techniques on one specific activity - the best example is Google learning the game Go.
One panel at ITB revealed that only 7% of hotels currently feel willing to integrate AI, though that could be due to a kind of cultural misunderstanding of AI’s true definition. The technological capabilities of the likes of Google, Kayak and Skyscanner, however, are clearly light years beyond what is achievable for even the most digitally up-to-date hotelier.
While it’s easy to feel that an ever-widening gap is opening up between the smallest travel players and the largest, you don’t need to feel outfaced by the futuristic leaps of Google et al. Instead, look to the exciting innovations that smaller tech companies are coming up with in their wake. B2B travel tech is flourishing, and it’s getting easier to access and learn from your data - ignore the hype, seize the advantage and look for tools that allow you to get back to doing what you do best: giving your guests a great experience.
THE FUTURE IS MOBILE
Not only are hotels focusing on curating their mobile presence, they’re also continuing to invest heavily in mobile technology for the in-room experience. From mobile keys to room service apps, we saw a whole host of tech companies looking to bring the hotel experience into the pockets of its guests.
Many of these ‘B2B2C’ companies, such as SuitePad and hotelbird, provide both a hardware and a software component of their product, helping hotels to refine the bridge between their online and physical services. The best products improve guest experience while providing the hotel with analytics and insights into guest behaviour, allowing you to better tailor your service and learn from your customers. Reputize’s Alexander Krustev spoke about the link between in-room interaction and direct bookings, suggesting that guest engagement should be the glue between all of a hotel’s strategies.
Reputize’s approach differs slightly from the comments made by David Turnbull of SnapShot at the Seize Opportunity in Disruption conference a few weeks ago. Turnbull claimed that if he were to start a hotel from scratch, he’d give all his distribution to OTAs “and just concentrate on the guest and their experience.” Mobile, in-room engagement tools allow you to focus on guest experience whilst collecting data and customer insight that simultaneously help you to drive direct bookings on your website. Prioritising guest experience doesn’t have to mean completely capitulating to the OTAs.
A quick glance around the travel tech stands revealed a prevailing belief that you can’t be taken seriously if you don’t make every part of your stand as tech-y as possible. Flashing lights, LED screens, robots - we saw it all. The electronic overload isn’t always necessary, though, as long as you have a compelling proposition and a strong brand.
The same is true for hotels. ITB was an amazing spectacle, and there were some incredible displays. What really caught the eye, though, were the stands full of animated conversation and run by people completely engaged with their brand.
We had some of our best conversations with hotels on the smallest of stands. Even the most extravagant of stalls can be matched by a couple of enthusiastic hoteliers and a willingness to do something just a little bit different with your display. Make your message simple, make it clear, and people will be interested.
At Triptease, we believe that Direct is Best. For more information on our Direct Booking Platform, check us out here.