Interview with Nigel Pocklington, VP Global Marketing and Strategy, Expedia One of the highlights of this year’s Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2010, is its opening session, which will feature speakers from Priceline, Kuoni, Expedia and Accor.

Published: 11 Jun 2010

Interview with Nigel Pocklington, VP Global Marketing and Strategy, Expedia

One of the highlights of this year’s Travel Distribution Summit Europe 2010, is its opening session, which will feature speakers from Priceline, Kuoni, Expedia and Accor.

The session, entitled “The big guns - essential strategic advice from the powerhouses of travel: paving the way for a new era of growth”, will delve into the economic and technological trends that are shaping the travel industry at this juncture.

Assessing the situation, Nigel Pocklington, VP global marketing and strategy, Expedia, says virtual reality is likely to have a big impact on travellers in the near future.

Pocklington referred to an offering from The Layar Reality Browser shows what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of the real world as seen through the camera of your mobile phone. This technology is called Augmented Reality. The company augments the real world as seen through your mobile phone, based on your location. The idea is simple: Layar works by using a combination of the mobile phone’s camera, compass and GPS data to identify the user’s location and field of view, retrieve data based on those geographical coordinates, and overlay that data over the camera view.

In order to know more, EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Pocklington about new innovations and some of the existing options for users to plan their travel planning and buying process. Excerpts:

Which according to you has been the most striking or potentially path-breaking development from the travel sector in the last six months or so? Would you call it a real innovation at this stage?

Nigel Pocklington: I’d nominate a couple of developments from the past six months that have had a lasting effect on the industry. The first is in mobile, where Virtual Reality is likely to have a big impact on travellers in the near future. This can be anything from translating a menu using Google Goggles to putting the guidebook to one side and using a virtual reality layer (such as )on your phone to picture the street in front of you and get links to restaurant reviews or travel information.

Closer home, I think the WelcomeRewards programme in the US – which gives a free night for every ten bought, regardless of hotel - is a real innovation in loyalty programmes that have historically tended to be restrictive and complex.

What do you make of some of the new travel companies or start-ups which are emerging? Any area which you feel needs to be followed at this stage in the travel sector in terms of its potential or opportunity?

Nigel Pocklington: We can already see a meaningful percentage of travel bookings coming from mobile devices in several Asian markets, and this trend can only grow, quickly.

Top US online travel agencies have referred to the performance of their international business, hotel reservations and also advertising and media revenue as the highlights of their business. Can you elaborate on what do these signal as far as the OTA business is concerned?

Nigel Pocklington: This signals that there’s still a significant growth opportunity for OTAs as online booking increases its penetration of Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. Brazil, Japan, Korea and Mexico are now amongst’s fastest growing significant points of sale.

Do you think delivering the best available, the most compelling offers exactly at the time of searching continues to be the biggest opportunity?

Nigel Pocklington: Selling travel well has always been a mixture of creating excitement about the trip and reducing anxiety about the product itself – with the growth of online increasing customers’ expectations of speed. I agree that it’s important, but so is offering the best possible description of the product, and making sure the customers feel that they are getting the best deal possible at the time of booking.

The travel industry has witnessed a series of initiatives over the past few months, resulting in a fully customisable offering as per a traveller’s preferences. How do you think today e-commerce in the travel sector has moved towards personalisation?

Nigel Pocklington: We are moving towards slowly towards personalisation and there are some clear reasons for this. Travel isn’t bought all that frequently, possibly only two or three times a year, so our ability to build up an accurate picture of travelers’ needs – which may change in any case between business and leisure travel for example – is much lower than other industries. We are seeing this begin to change though, and within the constraints of increasing concerns about user privacy, I’d expect more investment in this. This is certainly the case for

Would it be right to say that the travel industry has always placed adoption of new technology at the bottom of the priority list? In this context, do you think the development of a mobile website is often overlooked as the foundational step of being engaged in the Mobile space?

Nigel Pocklington: This is certainly not in the case of the online travel industry. At we’ve had an iPhone application for more than two years. I’d agree that ensuring mobile compatibility is the foundational step to be followed up by the development of genuinely useful applications.

How do you expect the power of social media to nudge ahead of some of the traditional online travel booking and planning channels?

Nigel Pocklington: We can’t ignore the size of social media, and its potential to help users engage with our brands, but it needs to be seen differently to the more transaction focused marketing channels – it’s a dialogue, not a broadcast. I would expect to see more investment in this area across the travel industry, especially because customers will come to see Facebook and Twitter as communication channels alongside the more traditional telephone and email, but it needs to accommodate the very different nature of the medium. It poses a new creative challenge and opportunity for marketers.

Pocklington is one of the 100 speakers scheduled to speak at this year’s Travel Distribution Summit Europe, taking place on 17-18 June in London

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