Unite against Google, what3words and counting on user experience

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Pamela Whitby rounds up some of the major themes to emerge from Day 2 of EyeforTravel Europe, which took place in London last week

“Google placing its own products at top of page is morally and ethically reprehensible behaviour.” This statement from Rod Cuthbert, Viator founder and now executive chairman of multimodal travel company Rome2Rio, had to be the quote of Day 2 at EyeforTravel’s Europe summit on Thursday last week. Cuthbert, who said Google represents a significant “existential threat to the travel industry” and is “having a chilling effect on innovation”, called on big and small firms alike to stand together and make their voices heard.

“Google has 850 engineers working in travel. They are not going to go back anytime soon. But they do understand that it is important to maintain good relationships. If we have a clear and unified message we can have an impact,” Cuthbert said.

Also speaking on this panel about Google’s impact, and how we got to this point, was Brian Harniman, a former Priceline executive and founder of strategy advisory firm Brand New Matter.

After a short history lesson, he had this practical advice for hoteliers:

  • DON’T think about cost per booking, rather about cost per customer

  • DO provide real value to direct bookers – and, no, this doesn’t have to be about price. Brands now have the data to know if a guest, for example, likes two pillows or has stayed with the hotel before. So give them two pillows and reward them with a free drink, or a room upgrade.

  • DO use partners wisely. Yes, it is sometimes beneficial to sell through the OTAs or metasearch engines but DON’T ever let anybody dictate your RM practices. Priceline’s Booking Suite is not, for example, some benign way to drive more direct business to hotels!

Interestingly, Harniman also pointed to one potential weakness in the OTAs’ strategy – that they had underfunded Facebook marketing.

For Susan Black, chief commercial officer of CIE Tours international, who moderated this Google session, travel marketers should really be looking to understand what Google is doing with artificial intelligence, in which they are investing heavily!

Not all doom and gloom

Proving that it’s not all gloom and doom for innovation was the clear from the winner of EyeforTravel’s start up awards - what3words. The firm, which aims to solve the problem of inconsistent addressing, secured 82% of the live audience vote over runner up Dazzle, a voice-activated application for hotels that uses Amazon Echo.

In his confidently delivered pitch on Thursday morning, what3words’ CMO Giles Rhys Jones explained that they had divided the world into 57-trn three-square-metre blocks, each with a unique, pre-allocated, unchanging three-word geocode.

EyeforTravel MD Tim Gustone sandwiched between what3words Partnership Director Richard Lewis (left) and CMO Giles Rhys Jones (right)

“Three words are far more memorable than complex GPS coordinates,” he said. To date, the three-word codes have been translated into 14 languages (Arabic being the latest) and are already being used by tourist organisations and hotels. To further highlight its use case, Rhys Jones said that even in the UK, which has one of the most advanced addressing systems in the world, people spend over 22 million hours getting lost each year. And at festivals, like Glastonbury, 80% of calls made are about location. There were, Rhys Jones added, numerous applications for travel and transport that could deliver commercial benefits and improve the customer experience.

Deliver and win

Finding the balance between improving the customer experience, while making money, was another central theme of Day 2.  According to Richard Harris, Chief Executive Officer, Intent Media Inc, “dollars will follow if you deliver on user experience”.

Data driven partnerships are increasingly seen as the answer to delivering a better customer experience and bottom line benefits. Lastminute.com, for one, has partnered with digital music service Spotify to create geo-localised playlists to tell a story about a place through music. The partnership made sense, said Alessandra di Lorenzo, Chief Commerical Officer - Media & Partnerships, Lastminute.com Group, because data analysis showed that “the majority of our customers were also Spotify users”.

According to di Lorenzo, the partnership was delivering commercial benefit to both companies. "It’s about making the experience richer, and in this content is very important," she said.

It’s about making the experience richer, and in this content is very important

Alessandra di Lorenzo, Chief Commercial Officer - Media & Partnerships, Lastminute.com Group

Other themes were the importance of driving ancillary revenue, with Fernando Vives, CCO, NH Hotels Group, explaining how they had looked to airlines for insights. NH has undergone a “huge digital transformation” over the past few years, he said, and it is now possible for guests to choose their room, in the same way the would choose a seat on a flight. It is also possible to book ancillary services across multiple platforms. According to Vives, NH is now looking at the possibilities for integrated packages – such as having the option to book flight and hotel together. “We’re analysing the data to see if this supports what is good for the customer,” he said.

To conclude the morning keynotes, Gerrit Goedkoop, the COO of eDreams ODIGEO, explained how the European OTA, which served 17 million customers last year, is working to create a memorable customer experience.

Lessons learnt include: that customers are becoming more brand agnostic; there is a trend towards unbundling – especially with flights; and, yes, price matters but so does flexibility and convenience.

Backing this up with data, Goedkoop said 71% of Europeans have flown out and back on different airlines, and nearly half of British travellers had used more than one airline for a single trip.

Goedkoop admitted that it is a tough environment, and getting it right wasn't easy. “Our ambition is, however, sky high…and we have shaped the organisation to meet that ambition… to respond rapidly to market changes and what the market needs. That is what agility means.”

A more detailed post-conference round up is coming soon. For other post conference material why not try our on demand library or check our wealth of free research

Image Credit: Artstudio23 – Rod Cuthbert and Paul Richer

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