Asian industry spirits remain high, but it's getting complicated!
Monday, 20th April 2009
Source : Don Birch & Ray Bigger
While management theory says that the best time to invest is during difficult times, the severity of the current downturn is testing the metal of all companies not the least those in the travel and leisure industry.
Courage was a frequently used word during the Eye for Travel Asia Summit and reflects the need for all industry participants to reformulate their view of the future, reflect on their current business model and rebuild around a world that is going to be significantly different.
Those acting with courage stand to reap the rewards of renewed and refreshed businesses and market share gains. The key word here is ‘Action' as so many very good debating points/ideas learnt from this year's conference risk staying in the ‘I'll just wait/think about it' filing cabinet. If you were at the conference commit yourself and/or your boss to just one or possibly two achievable ‘projects'. If you were not at the conference then you missed a first class mix of expert and thought provoking presentations.
Whereas up to now an online presence has been a should have, there is no doubt that now this is a MUST have and the quality of competition and the ever changing sophistication of the customer means that your online strategy and operational execution must be equally sophisticated.
This does not mean completely discarding the old in favor of the new, but rather developing the appropriate balance for each individual business model.  This is an especially difficult challenge in view of the non-trivial online start up and ongoing learning, maintenance, evolution and operating costs.  In times of constrained budgets, it takes courage to down size traditional sales and market spending in favor of a less certain electronic replacement.  Value comes from integrating the two capabilities.  Indeed, in some context the traditional vehicles such as travel agents and GDS remain powerfully relevant.
From the conference discussion, it is clear that OTAs are here to stay, as they provide the reach, the geography and the localization, which is available to few travel suppliers.  OTAs add value for both traveler and supplier, but demand a strong partnership structure, operational focus and discipline to execute well.  Meta search will also be an important component.  These additional channels will challenge price integrity, thus managing your price creditability with your customer must be a central plank of your integrated go-to market strategy and it will not get easier.
When investing in the online presence, there will be a push/pull between being true to the brand and compromising to serve the needs of Search Engine Optimisation/Marketing. While there is no clear answer, the imperative is for search engines to bring customers and for sites to keep them!  The 80/20 lives, your best customers are repeaters, use online to manage and build on this relationship.
It is more than ever possible to understand and interact with varied geographic and social segments and with the use of semi automatic language translation; no market is out of bounds.  Price is not everything and just like the physical world it is possible to desensitize price elasticity by doing a better job of creating customer value.
With so much choice; richness of content and customer usability was a strong theme and therefore the need to keep investing as technology and behaviors change.
User Generated Content is here to stay and will morph into a myriad of forms.  The best companies will successfully coexist with UGC to their advantage. Most products have always been surprisingly transparent to the customer, but with UGC the defensive layers are now very thin and with constant innovation are getting thinner by the day.  Be open, be honest, and be genuine!
Web sites don't have to be ‘cool'. With the integration of traditional and online marketing, they should reflect the essence of your business, as the customer does not want to see ‘differences' across channels and today the customer is poly-channel.
It is difficult for the small to compete directly against the big, but because of competition is more than possible to partner and this should be a major part of any strategy, just as it is in the traditional field.
Conversely once you have made the initial investment, it is relatively easy (and cheap) to experiment online and as success will vary from business to business, there are no obvious answers; so it pays to invest in ideas/innovation, but quickly learn from your mistakes and move on.
The Internet is generating unbelievable volumes of data.  Don't make the mistake of not investing enough to ensure that you professionally understand what is happening in your environment.

A final word – the conference was all about ‘Innovation Online'.  Just keep in view that your online presence must tie in and be in-tune with your overall Marketing and Sales Strategy and that means complimenting your offline plans.
For better or for worse, 2009 is going to be a very interesting year.  Good luck and we wish you successful distributing.

Chairman's summary of discussions from TDS Asia 2009
Authors: Don Birch, Managing Partner for China Opportunities & Ray Bigger, CEO for Think8

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