June 2018, London
3 Takeaways from EyeforTravel Europe
There was plenty of travel tech talk at EyeforTravel’s London show this week, and here is a taster
1. The industry is not prepared for blockchain
Has blockchain technology been overhyped? Absolutely. Should travel companies be considering the future promise of this nascent technology to deliver a new kind of Internet – an Internet of Value? This question dominated many discussions at EyeforTravel Europe this week where 90% of delegates attending a blockchain workshop, and numerous C-Level executives over the course of the two days, admitted to being unprepared.
For David Brillembourg, CEO of Brillembourg Group, who has launched STEP, a simple travel ecosystem protocol for the hospitality industry, the answer is clear. “It is happening. Don’t try to doubt it. There are 100s of problems to solve. Will they be solved? Yes. Absolutely,” he told EyeforTravel.com in an interview.
It is happening. Don’t try to doubt it
Joerg Esser, a theoretical physicist and Roland Berger consultant, who ran the workshop, argued the blockchain discussion to date has become too focused on the technology. Instead the focus should be: what does blockchain actually mean for companies?
In Esser’s view, it requires businesses to radically simplify, which is a very tough task because “you can’t simplify unless you really narrowly define what you stand for”. Secondly, businesses need to team up like never before with a completely different take on partnerships.
2. Partnerships rule, and not always in a good way
While blockchain may herald a radically new type of partnership in the future, it is clear that partnerships remain the bedrock of many businesses today. Speaking on the opening Day 2 keynote, Todd Henrich, SVP Corporate Development, Booking Holdings summed it up: “Our business is built on partnerships”.
In the panel discussion that followed, Dan Christian, chief digital officer at The Travel Corporation, outlined how he approaches partnerships. “I take calls all the time. I take the opportunity not only to look at new start-ups and figure if there might be a good fit, but also to invest in those relationships. You can’t take a partner and make them your best-kept secret,” he said.
You can’t take a partner and make them your best-kept secret
This approach has led TTC to numerous beneficial relationships with successful start-ups. Among those, the Australian content platform Stackla, UK-based reviews firm Feefo and PostBeyond, a Toronto-based software as a service company, which has helped all TTC executives to maximise their use of social media. According to Christian, TTC has an entrepreneurial and open structure, with no committees. “When working with small organisations there’s no better way to stifle innovation than by making too many rules in the beginning,” he said.
Coming at partnerships from a B2B angle was Nicola Accurso, VP Business Development, NH Hotels. In his view, the best partnerships are based on clear KPIs, the ability to always have an open discussion and where all parties are winners.
But it isn’t always that easy. Antony Price, director of marketing & customer at BMI, small boutique airline, said some partners have “ridiculously” onerous pre-nuptial agreements. “As our business and the distribution climate has involved some weighty contracts have been difficult to navigate our way through – this has been quite frustrating as a small carrier,” he said.
3. Tours & Activities is still a big untapped opportunity
The tours & activities segment is expected to be worth $183 billion by 2020, and if any proof of the opportunity was needed, this came from both Airbnb and Booking.com at EyeforTravel Europe this week. Eighteen months ago, Airbnb launched its ‘experiences’ arm which Hadi Moussa, the company’s head of business development, said was the company’s first step in providing services, and is “where we see the future”.
Meanwhile Booking.com’s recent acquisition of FareHarbor, in what seems to be the biggest deal to date in the tours and activities space, shows how much weight the world’s biggest travel company gives to this fast-growing segment. As Henrich explained: “We used to talk about taking friction out the booking process. Now it’s about functionality in the entire travel process [including activities]…We are creating a hub where customers can get what they need, taking that friction out of the travel experience.”
While there can be no doubt that moves by booking.com and Airbnb are a threat to companies like smaller Urban Adventures, Insight Guides and Withlocals, it also creates opportunity.
It is a very big market and it’s growing really, really fast
Matthijs Keij, CEO, Withlocals told EyeforTravel that while Airbnb is, of course, a competitor, the move of big players into the segment is also a positive one because it creates a bigger market. “If you are on your own it’s harder to move,” said Keij, who is not overly concerned yet because ”it is a very big market and it’s growing really, really fast.” Bookings and revenue at Withlocals continue to grow by 15 to 20% a month.
Tony Carne, General Manager, Urban Adventures agreed: “Of course Airbnb is a huge threat. They have a huge, and massively engaged audience, but the flipside of that is opportunity. Their mantra is also that they are an open platform and everybody belongs so perhaps we belong there too and so they could also be a distribution piece for us.”
Expect more insights from EyeforTravel Europe in the coming weeks and if you missed it, why not pencil in a future event