In a panel discussion at the World Travel & Tourism Council Americas Summit that seemed to move as fast as technology itself, top travel entrepreneurs shared market trends, personal insight and hard-hitting figures about the demands of today’s travelers and the enormous opportunities offered by digital and social media.
Their collective advice: Make your digital footprint powerful, make the experience as easy as possible for the customer or end user and make a commitment to an innovative, adaptable culture within your company to meet the needs of increasingly tech-savvy travelers.
Panel moderator Philip C. Wolf, PhoCusWright Inc. founder and chairman, maintained a quick pace, peppering panelists and interviewees with specific questions about how their companies harness the power of technology while addressing a specific market need.
Expedia Chief Commercial Officer Dhiren Fonseca described the “incredible compression in the online booking window.” He noted that while the window is 10 to 13 days in advance online, 70% of the travel reservations made in 48 hours ahead of time come via smart phone applications. “I can’t stress enough the important of that stat, because if you don’t have your rates and availability updated in real time, you’re going to miss a booking when a guy lands, looks at his phone and decides where to book,” he said.
Paige Brown, co-founder and CEO of BookingMarkets, said her growing company, which provides customers with customized websites and robust online booking tools, offers independent hotels a much-needed solution for the fragmentation in the online booking sector. We “give back power to the local entrepreneur,” she explained, noting that the overwhelming majority of independent hotels and lodgings in Latin America are vastly underusing reservation and booking technology.
GroundLink, Inc., which was once described by its founder as “FedEx for people instead of packages,” has addressed similar fragmentation in the ground transportation market by providing a reliable, easy alternative to sorting through the 120,000 global companies offering ground transit. Customers use a smart phone application to easily book transport, track the vehicle and pay, in just a few clicks on their phone. “It’s the car service that fits in your pocket,” said General Manager for Mobile S. Daniel Leon, noting that the service is available in 110 countries worldwide.
BestDay.com <http://BestDay.com> Chairman of the Board Miguel Ortiz Millán noted that in Mexico, “there are 40 million smart phones, but only 7 million of them are using broadband, and they’re rapidly changing to use broadband. Mobile [applications are] one of the fastest-growing areas in Mexico.”
In addition to providing insightful market trends, panelists and interviewees also offered practical takeaway. Trevor Crist, president and CEO of Inntopia, advised an easy as possible booking experience for customers. “If they’re already on your site, why not make it easy for them to book in your destination?” he asked.
Jesse Maddox, founder and CEO of TripLingo, an easy-to-use translation mobile app, urged forward-thinking companies to “make a real commitment to innovation within your company and get away from the red tape. There’s never been a better time to experiment. Don’t be afraid to try new things.”
And Fonseca left the audience with encouraging news for tech-savvy job seekers, suggesting that companies “hire the youngest, brightest, most energetic person you know, give them nothing to do except come once a week to the office to sit with the CEO for just three hours, and [the CEO] to just listen.”
Do that, he said, and “you’ll be in the top percentile of entities, and you will understand and begin to learn and that will influence the decisions you make for your company, your municipalities and your country.”