10 Lessons Learned at Enter 2009.
Travel & Tourism Technology Trends
Tuesday, 2nd June 2009
It seems I travel to so many of these conferences now that it is difficult to identify key take-aways from each one; the thing I enjoy most about these conferences is the collaborating and sharing that comes from an industry that is, in all other cases, extremely competitive. 

Here is what I learned from IFITT's Enter 2009 in Amsterdam:

1. Don't be afraid to try new things with social media.

Many of the sessions, including the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) ones included this theme. Social media permeates so many different aspects of the user experience that there is no real standard for how to integrate social media into a strategy.  What seems to be critical however is that it should be done in a way that is authentic, transparent, and increases relevance for the customer. 

Creating a Facebook application just for the heck of it, isn't a good reason.  Makes me ask why so many organizations were jumping into SecondLife?  Not to mention how much they paid for that advice.

2. Destinations must partner with industry to enable stakeholders.

DMOs and other marketing organizations should be looking at industry partners to enable technology rather than trying to build from scratch.  The bottom line is that industry is far more creative and innovative when it comes to the development of technologies.  Why? Because they have to be innovative in order to survive.  DMOs should be leveraging that innovation to enhance their mandates (to market their destinations and stakeholders) instead of becoming technology shops re-creating pre-existing technologies and solutions.

3. Think outside the box when looking for revenue opportunities.

Hotels and airlines should be looking to other segments of the the industry to find revenue opportunities.  For example, hotels could be partnering with local stakeholders to market and sell experiences around their hotels.  Airlines can promote local attractions and tours in order to encourage travelers to book to specific destinations. 

Local tour companies can partner with local restaurants and shops to encourage cross pollination of the traveler across multiple businesses.  This kind of cooperation increases the likihood that the traveler will spend money at the destination as well as increase a vendors potential commission revenue.

4. The industry needs to look beyond airfare and hotels.

I always enjoy sitting in on the e-Distribution sessions at these conferences.  The reason why I enjoy them is simple, I enjoy asking the tough question to the panel… "What about the other 95% of tourism business.  How do you propose distributing them?".  Ofcourse, they never have an answer.  In a room full of PHDs, I would have expected at least one, but alas there was none.  At least this still bodes well for Rezgo.

5. Mobile applications are redefining the destination experience.

I made the conscious decision to travel only with my iPhone to see just how well I could get along with a mobile device.  I have to admit, I had a blast with the iPhone.  Although the high cost of data roaming charges prevented me from using a lot of real-time location services, I did find an abundance of coffee shops with free wifi to keep me busy. 

Firstly I had created and downloaded my custom NileGuide for Amsterdam complete with all the sights I wanted to visit.  Secondly I downloaded and installed my WorldNomads Dutch guide to help me ask simple questions like "Where is the Toilet, Please".  Trust me, this is essential in any city, not to mention that fact that you should always carry change to pay the toilet attendent.  Everything else I needed, I could do with Google Maps. 

We are not very far away from a mobile travel guide that includes a maps implementation for real time directions and location based services.  Now, if only we can convince the mobile carriers to reduce their data charges.

6. Closed technologies may be evolutionary, but open technologies are revolutionary.

The example I saw of this simple concept was Google Maps.  While both Microsoft and Mapquest have had mapping technologies for some time, the proliferation of applications using both these platforms has been limited to companies who can afford to license them. 

The release of the Google Maps API has been revolutionary in that it has resulted in the massive adoption of mapping applications and the creation of geographically encoded data. The real revolution is the second part because now, every individual has the ability to geocode a variety of objects including photos, videos, products, and even people.

7. The future is about mash-ups.

There is no point trying to create an all in one website that does everything for everyone.  At the end of the day, any attempt to do so will result in a site that does nothing for anyone.  There are so many technologies out there that are very good at what they do that have XML or other APIs that can be integrated into a website. 

Let's not waste time, energy, or money re-inventing analytics, mapping, or even booking engines in order to extend functionality.  Look no further then a site like ProgrammableWeb to discover a world of APIs at your finger tips.

8. Look to other industries for best practices.

The travel industry is NOT unique.  As much as many of its practitioners would like us to believe, there are lessons to be learned from other industries that can be applied to the travel industry. 

Accounting practices, business operations, and management are cross compatible and we should be looking to e-commerce and retail for guidance on best practices.  How are other industries handling on-line transactions? How do other industries deal with on-line payment? These are all questions that we should be asking but currently don't.

9. The travel industry must focus on the customer.

Anna Pollock made a very good comment during the closing discussion that we, as an industry, need to focus on the experience of the customer rather than pinching every penny out of their pocket book.  Case in point: I stayed at the Qbic Hotel at the WTC (about 5 minutes away from the RAI Conference Centre).  It was the cheapest but still business travel focused hotel I could find with close proximity to the venue. 

I was very impressed with the service and the quality of the rooms, why? Because as a business traveler it met all my needs without the added fluff.  Believe it or not, there was no phone in the room, but free WIFI throughout the hotel (so I could use Skype).  This is an example of a hotel focusing on the customer's specific basic needs rather then trying to provide services just for the sake of it.  After my visit, I received a nice email from the hotel asking me to rate the hotel… the only hotel I have stayed at in over two years to do so.  Well done.

10. Stop arguing about who owns the customer because no one does.

Let's get this out now so there is no confusion.  No one owns the customer or the customer data, the customer does.  The sooner we all recognize this and accept it, the sooner we can begin serving the needs of the customer rather than focusing on who owns the most user data for marketing purposes.  As we move to a more interconnected model I think we will begin to see single sign-on technologies like OpenID or even Google ID become more popular with travel sites. 

The benefit with a shared profile is that the user information is shared at the customer's discretion with vendors with whom the customer chooses to patronize and with strict conditions.  The downside, to the industry, is that it will have to be creative in how it markets and serves customers' needs in the future knowing that access to private information will be much more limited.

Stephen A. Joyce has been working as a travel & tourism technology consultant since 1995. In 2005 Stephen and his company, Sentias Software Corp., began development on Rezgo.com, a next generation Web 2.0 tour and activity booking engine for SME travel suppliers and tour operators. In June of 2007, Rezgo.com was officially released and now boasts a user base of 650+ companies. 

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