2013 highlights and getting ready for take off in 2014

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As another year draws to a close we grill the industry on the highs, lows and likely trends in 2014

It has been another busy year for the online travel industry that was dominated by the letter ‘M’. Mobile is firmly on the map, mapping technologies are making travel more fun, meta-search is delivering what people really want, think how to market to millennials and RM is now being taken seriously. Ok, so there is more to it than that but as the year draws to a close, we find out from industry employees, entrepreneurs and consultants how they feel 2013 panned out and where they think we are headed in the coming year.

The Social Media Evangelist: Edward Perry, Global Senior Director of Social Media, OTA Partnerships and Innovation Projects, Worldhotels

For Perry, the highlight of 2013 was that the hotel industry matured its view of social media. No longer seen as purely a way to drive return on investment, now firms see the point of a ‘return on engagement’. Social is now positioned “as an integral part of our operational efforts” he says. One of the biggest revelations in WorldHotels’ 2013 journey was that online reputation management is probably one of the most important things to focus on in social media, in order to improve upon the ROI of the group’s properties.

For Perry, the biggest industry surprise of 2013 had to be Priceline’s acquisition of Kayak and subsequently Expedia’s announcement of its acquisition of Trivago (yes that move to meta-search). “Later in the year we were also surprised to learn of a strategic alliance between Expedia and Travelocity, previously viewed as long-term rivals,” he says.

On his Christmas list, is a wish for better ties between the hotel industry and OTAs. “In an ideal world, OTAs would recognise the efforts that hotels make in driving more direct distribution to their bottom line and hotels would concurrently open up to the value that OTAs play in our a well-balanced, online distribution strategy,” stresses Perry.

When it comes to top trends, “meta-search has to be one of the hottest topics for 2014”. In addition, the arrival of TripAdvisor’s Trip Connect is one example of the new options that independent hotels have to harness the power of direct distribution even further, albeit at a cost. Likewise, sites like Kayak, Wego and Trivago will continue to dominate the hotel space as we look for ways to lower our costs of distribution and be more profitable.

2014 also is shaping up to be the year of social analytics. “Our social media teams have better data than ever to measure user generated sentiment,” says Perry, but “what we do with this data in the new year will have a profound financial impact our ability to raise ADR and RevPar at the property level”.

The Marketer and the two-way street: Anna Maria Addesso,Senior Manager Market Research and Development, Apple Vacations

For Addesso, who recently joined us for a webinar on next generation e-mail optimisation, the highlights were that we started to adopt mobile technology and platforms. And this was good news because now we are able to adapt this new channel to an organisation’s specific needs based on their segment within the travel category. Other positive news was that smartphones started to be used as boarding passes, to confirm flights, check availability anytime, anywhere.

When it comes to the year’s lows, consumer loyalty is starting to fall. “Customers don't care about the brand, they just care about the best value for their dollar,” explains Addesso. “Brands are doing things they have never done before to garner business which then becomes uncharacteristic. Travel is at an all time discount and it's hurting everyone of us.”

On Addesso’s Christmas wish list is better technology across all players in this industry. “There are many gaps between the super savvy and the not so savvy,” she says, improved technology standards, making it easier for customers to book with whomever they choose, would be a boon.

Moving into 2014, Addesso sees native advertising - the soft sell approach – as a likely trend. In other words, the ability to tell a story about your brand/product without any ‘sell’ to get the customer interested and excited beyond the price point. Finally advertisers see beyond the ‘insertion order’ and are working in tandem with clients to develop content that is mutually beneficial for both parties involved. “FINALLY a two way street!”

Video marketing will also grow in popularity using fewer words and more images to sell products, brands and destinations. This will be particularly relevant to the younger millennial demographic. “If they can't see it for themselves they don't believe it and are skeptics,” says Addesso.

The travel industry mentor: Don Birch: Travel Innovations, LLP

“We have been talking about personalisation for the last two to three years and now we have the data, but figuring out how to make it work is going to take a big investment in learning,” says Birch of Travel Innovation Partners. Against this backdrop, who will be the winners? For Birch it will be those who understand that personalisation is not about incremental revenues, but building brand loyalty and creating personal value.

So looking ahead to next year, Birch says that in 2014 in travel distribution will be about personalisation, ‘long tail’ content and end2end aggregation (think Rome2Rio, KDS Neo, knock ‘em dead great products!).

For Birch the obvious stuff has been done (airlines, tick; hotels, tick; tours, wip (work in progress), but fragmented auxiliary ground content has a way to go) but he leaves us with this question: can agile start-ups make a business out of the small fry?

The Adventurepreneur: Afzaal Mauthoor

Speaking of agile start-ups, TripStarter, which launched in 48 hours following a competition at Travel Distribution Summit, Europe in London, has been put on the backburner. “We hope to see if we get it back up next year when we find new tech people to join us,” says Mauthoor, one of the founders.

In the meantime, Mauthoor has founded a new social travel company called Inspired Challenge, which merges adventure and philanthropy.

Mauthoor predicts increased confidence from UK investors to fund social travel startups and travel tech startups in the coming year. “With increased confidence in funding will ignite creativity to enhance how we inspire, plan, book and enjoy the travel experience,” he says. Watch this space for cutting edge ideas to engage the customer directly with the destination giving a more authentic and stimulating experience.

In search of a natural approach: Naren Shaam,CEO, GoEuro

GoEuro is a travel portal that aims to unite all transport networks across Europe and make it much simpler to search and compare all modes of travel. “My highlight for the year was seeing the multi-mode travel sector get great traction,” says Shaam. Having been traditionally focused on air, online travel search has been playing catch-up with recent innovations in local search. “I think the industry turned the corner this year, and now we’re seeing local travel search based on different types of travel such as rail and coach gain a footing,” he says.

Like most people, Shaam continues to hope the signs of stronger economic growth in Europe will continue. Obviously the travel industry is very closely tied to consumer sentiment and spending power, therefore any sustained upturn in the continent's economic fortune will give everyone in travel a great boost.

As for top trends, Shaam may be biased view when he says he expects multi-mode travel to be a top trend in 2014, but he believes this will be spurred by further movement towards 'natural' local travel search and more attention paid to bus, coach and rail travel.

The consultant: Jonathan Kletzel, Travel and Transportation, PricewaterhouseCoopers

For Kletzel, it wasn’t all positive news. “The low point was the American Airlines/US Airways department of justice blockage,” he says. The high point, however, was that airline industry sustained profitability. On his Christmas wish list is: new mobile apps that are optimised for tablets.

And keeping it short and to the point, he sees top trends being more industry partnerships (between airlines and hotels), increased use of handhelds for employees for customers and “lots and lots of data”. 

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