Crystal ball gazing with the industry: 2012 trends and a look to the future

EyeforTravel.com canvassed opinions from a cross section of industry about what they thought were the big trends of 2012 and where we could be headed in 2013. Read on to find out what they said.

Deals were done: Facebook acquired Instagram, Priceline bought Kayak and there Google’s acquisition of Frommers to name but a few. Facebook went had a disappointing listing but Kayak was brave enough to follow. Low-cost airlines went under (BMI-Baby) while others took off - yes the African continent now has its first low-cost airline, FastJet. There were social media success stories (American Airlines is one) and social media storms like the Twitter outcry that followed Ryanair’s eviction of a Spanish passenger for carrying on more than she could fit in her hand luggage was one. The growth in collaborative marketplaces continued with AirBnb’s chief executive reportedly saying that his company would fill more rooms than Hilton Hotels by the end of the year. We’ll see. New disruptive services, like Roomkey, launched; many of these will survive, others probably won’t. Google has upped its game with flight and hotel search and the industry is watching its moves closely. We may even have a game-changer in the multiple award-winning firm, TourWrist (watch out for an upcoming story on EyeforTravel.com).

It is impossible to list all the main events of 2012 but let’s conclude that it wasn’t an easy one for travel. EyeforTravel Managing Director Tim Gunstone has this to say: “2012 was a hard year to be a successful travel company. Those that have succeeded understood how fast the travel consumer’s buying behaviour has changed. 2013 should see this impact even more. I predict the industry will start to target whole new areas of travel consumer purchases. It’s going to be a fascinating 12 months.”

Let us now hear from the industry.

1. The mobile revolution got underway but it is still early days

One of the most interesting findings from EyeforTravel’s detailed consumer research this year was that 46% of travel suppliers agree with the statement that mobile has increased customer engagement.  According to EyeforTravel’s General Manager, Gina Baillie, those travel brands that understand how mobile can enhance the entire travel consumer experience will be the winners in 2013 and beyond!

When it comes to mobile, travel industry mentor and our guest columnist Don Birch is clear on one thing: that the mobility (tablets and smart phones) revolution has only just begun. “We will see a major shift in the way travellers follow the travel cycle,” he says.

2. Mobile only deals and pricing it right

For Sarah Gavin, the Director of Public Relations and Social Media at Expedia.com one of the biggest trends of 2012 was the rise of deals available exclusively through mobile. This was a bit of a thorny issue, however. As Rosie Akenhead, EyeforTravel.com’s Global Events Director, points out whether or not you should price differently on mobile and desktop was a big trending topic in early 2012. Time will tell.

Expedia, which launched its Expedia App in November, seemed to think it okay in certain circumstances to price differently on a mobile. “In some cities, such as Las Vegas, rooms are available for up to as much as 60% off and mobile-exclusive deals can also be found in search results of cities throughout the US,” says Gavin. 

Expedia certainly continued to make mobile a key part of its growth strategy and it is not that hard to see why. The Expedia hotels app was downloaded approximately 5 million times in 220 different countries and territories. Today 10% of Expedia customers today are engaging via mobile and that is only going to get bigger.

However many, like Ricky Ang, Vice-President - Sales and Marketing, Hotel Equatorial Group.com, are opposed to mobile only deals. “At this moment it is rather inconceivable that I would create a mobile-only deal. In fact is against my principle to short change our entire consumer audience by running exclusive promotions via mobile only,” he told EyeforTravel.

3. Serious about social…and the personal touch

For Rémi Lefevre, Global Community Manager Upscale & Luxury Brands at Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)2011 saw all major hotel brands hop on the social media bandwagon. “But 2012 really was the year where we all streamlined our strategies and started to scale up our efforts,” he says. This has been especially true in terms of social media customer care. Today hoteliers seem to understand the importance of those now not-so-new channels of communication, both for getting valuable feedback from their guests as well as engaging in real conversations with them. Ultimately the aim is to provide them with added value and a sense of personalisation.

American Airlines is another that really upped its social game and is now carefully considering how to hire people with the rights skills to take it forward (see EyeforTravel.com Dec 5, 2012 The human touch: hiring staff is a tactical business

To find out more about how you can use social to drive you business forward join us in San Francisco from March 18-19 for Social & Mobile Strategies for Travel 2013

4. Content AND format will be king

Guest reviews have become crucial and many brands are finding diverse ways to integrate guests’ feedback on their websites. “We at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) did so in October this year, opting for our own system, whilst Wyndham or Best Western for instance partnered with TripAdvisor,” explains Lefevre, who believes reliable, trustworthy reviews are a critical part of the social media equation. “This helps to reduce the distance between brands, hotels & guests. “This has been the biggest trend in 2012 in my opinion, and will most likely continue to be central to the travel industry in 2013,” he says.

But where will people read these reviews? For Don Birch it will be on smaller screens. “There will be demand for more demand for more content, but in tablet sized bites,” he says. Content and format will be king.

5. The emergence of ‘nonline’ travel

This year saw the coming of age of the multi-tasking, multiscreen traveller. Google’s Rob Torres: managing director of advertising and marketing travel sector says 2012 was the first year of ‘nonline travel’. While travellers have long been at the forefront of the digital revolution, they have now integrated online and offline in every stage of travel (dreaming, researching, booking, experiencing and sharing). “They no longer see a line between online and offline during the five stages of travel and neither do smart travel advertisers,” says Torres. Travellers now share their offline travel experiences via video and social; they use information acquired online which was formerly available only offline, to plan their travel. They are also the smartest travellers we've ever seen. “They’re savvier searchers than ever, and travel suppliers and OTAs have faster and better insights and tools than ever to serve them,” he adds.

For Google, travel suppliers and OTAs, and travellers will continue to make connections online that could previously only occur offline. More and more information that is important in making travel booking decisions - detailed photos, information about fees, coupons, information about amenities, narrated reviews and more - will now need to be online in order for travel suppliers and OTAs to stay competitive. “In short, offline information will be the new set of table stakes for the industry,” says Torres.

6. Google and the portable concierge

More and more people will have a portable concierge in their pocket or bag that helps them research and book things like excursion trips, restaurant reservations, flight changes and so on. And every travel supplier and OTA will have the chance to make that travel advisor work through advertising, mapping technology, video, and easy-to-use mobile websites and apps, says Torres. 

For Seamus MacCormaic, Senior Director Market Management at Expedia LPS there has been lots of discussion going on in the marketplace about how hotels interact with OTAs and also about distribution and competitiveness. “That is a discussion that started this year and is yet to be determined where that will go,” he says.  

Google seems to have its road mapped out, however. “We are going to continue investing in building products that help people turn their travel booking intents into actions as quickly as possible,” says Torres. “Our goals will remain to connect travel suppliers and OTAs with consumers at the moment of interest, help drive clicks to travel sites, and help travel suppliers and OTAs improve their conversion rates.” So watch out!

7. Loved up with loyalty

Rewards continue to be a huge trend in online travel.  Expedia launched its Expedia Awards programme in 2011. Within a year, 3.7 million Expedia travellers had signed up – that’s an average of 7,000 travellers enrolling each day. This programme will be expanded. In fact in September 2012 Expedia launched a similar reward scheme for small business travellers.  “We understand that keeping small businesses travelling is critical to the vitality of the US economy,” says Gavin. “Face-to-face meetings can mean the difference between closing a deal and keeping people employed.”

8. Big Data is here: there is now no excuse to not be customer centric

Data and analytics has never been so important for the travel industry, says EyeforTravel’s Akenhead (join her and an impressive line up speakers in New York on Jan 17-18 for Smart Travel Analytics North America). “‘Out’ are the days of trial and error, ‘in’ are fact-based decisions that make logical business sense,” says Akenhead who expects to see the clever travel businesses making supreme choices on their email and social marketing efforts, and reaping the benefits too. s. Gazing into the crystal ball, her prediction is that there digital spend will grow more than offline as it becomes less easy to track its success.

Customer-of-One marketing (where customers are contacted from any media format, a dialogue is initiated and followed through in a compelling way) has been talked about for years. Now that customer is carrying around the answer in his or her hand. “The leading edge players will make progress by using big data near field communication and more,” says Birch.  

Keith Collins, senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) at SAS sees high-performance analytics becoming more integral to big data and believes businesses will be transformed as people begin to understand the value of what they can do with the data they have.Another major issue will be data compliance and security issues relating to big data gaining more prominence. 

9. Market movements

Next year I don’t think there will be very big changes relative to this year, says MacCormaic.“The patterns we see in major markets will continue. Western countries in general will see flat or gentle growth. In the leisure travel industry, people will keep taking primary holidays but discretionary travel will remain slow. “There may be further cuts in UK but Northern Europe (Benelux) and the Nordic will remain strongish.” What seems certain, however, is that the BRIC countries will continue to see growth. Travel firms will do well to think about how their offering catering to these growing markets.

On this note, Don Birch says that at one stage everybody was looking at China and now nobody is. He believes China will continue to grow as a major force in travel. “Because the numbers are getting quite serious, they will require those who want to play in that segment to change their product to meet Chinese tastes ~ especially breakfast (the one meal we all have the biggest problem changing is breakfast!) and noise,” he says. “Chinese love animation in the way, we staid Westerners hate it.  Get used to it. Invest in Karaoke...”

…and perhaps put noodles and egg fried rice on the menu.

10. Collaboration and crowdsourcing is here to stay

P2P (person to person) is very on-trend right, says Akenhead. It seems with the ability to communicate with people so easily in all corners of the world the desire to collaborate, share services and have more authentic travel experiences will continue. AirBnb is one of these that seems to be flying. The company’s chief executive reportedly said recently that his company would fill more rooms than Hilton Hotels by the end of the year! We’ll see. One thing is certain, AirBnb recognises the need to stay fresh and relevant.

 

AirBnb and senior executives from several other collaborative market places will speaking on the subject at EyeforTravel’s Travel Distribution Summit 2013 in London from May 23-24

 

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