31 May 2018

Connecting with top-of-mind travel tech trends

Sponsored by EyeForTravel.

In the run-up to EyeforTravel’s flagship European show next week, some of the high-level executives and innovators speaking at the event share their thoughts on the current travel tech state of play and what’s round the corner.

Blockchain – hip, hype or a delivering an ‘Internet of Value’?

 A force for real change, says Day 1 keynoter David Brillembourg, CEO of Brillembourg Group.

Blockchain and its underlying cryptoeconomic models will bring true innovation to the online travel space in three fundamental ways” he says.

  1. By truly connecting the travel community to hotel owners, and significantly reducing the premium charged by the OTAs
  2. Allowing the future selling of room nights or other travel services through the use of ‘smart contracts’ between travellers and hotels, thus opening a new model for the trade of services—and possibly of financing for providers
  3. Creating a true interconnected ecosystem of loyalty via connection between tokens.

Brillembourg believes that “as the world of travel becomes tokenised, and it will, more and more services will be able to be bundled and exchanged by providers, aggregators, and travellers”.

Blockchain is, however, still a nascent technology, and scalability remains one of the major challenges. Maksim Izmaylov, CEO of Winding Tree, which raised $16million in its February initial coin offering, says the team is currently working towards solutions that accelerate transaction times. Winding Tree has signed partnership deals with firms that include Lufthansa, Air New Zealand and Nordic Choice Hotels and now the industry is watching to see what happens next.

Applications for blockchain are emerging daily, but Roland Berger consultant Joerg Esser, who is running a blockchain workshop on June 6, warns that while the technology can fuel fundamental transformation in business models and organisations, it will take time to prepare.

His view is that companies think seriously about the possibility for blockchain to deliver an ‘Internet of Value’ as the technology matures.

Mobile becomes mainstream but investment continues

Not that long ago mobile was top of mind but thanks largely to Google, that shift is almost complete. A few years ago, the search giant changed its algorithm to boost the rankings of sites that displayed well on a mobile device and recently has gone a step further – linking to the mobile site rather than the desktop version of many websites.

Trainline, a platform for train journeys, has made significant investments into mobile which now accounts for 80% of visits, says CEO Clare Gilmartin. She will be discussing the future of the $250 billion rail and coach market rail at EyeforTravel Europe.

It continues to innovate in mobile, making around 200 changes a week, “some small, some big”, although data and voice are now another strategic focus. The firm launched a voice app late last year, and has leveraged data from the 9 billion entries in its data lake to launch features such as Busybot, which informs travellers where there are empty seats on a train.

Voice and data – the new mobile?

From GDPR, to watching Mark Zuckerberg’s awkward appearance at the congressional hearing about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal,  via Amazon Alexa coming under fire for secretly recording and inadvertently sharing a user’s private conversation – AI, voice and data could not be more topical.

Everybody may feel that they have heard enough already about GDPR, which came into force last week and has been clogging up inboxes across Europe, but it will remain an important issue.

Looking ahead, Keith Dewey, a GDPR whizz and cybersecurity expert says:

“Now that the 25th May frenzy has passed, we’re looking forward to seeing companies taking a measured approach to data protection, aligned with the evolving laws and driven by management accountabilities. Hopefully the new legislation will create a real world improvement for data subjects’ privacy and security.”

However, while data protection may be the new mobile, many agree that voice search is going to fundamentally change everything. “When you are in a vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals it is incredibly important that you can easily specify precisely where you want to go. You have got to have an address system that is built for voice,” says Giles Rhys-Jones, the chief marketing officer of what3words, the winner of EyeforTravel’s Start-up & Innovation in Travel Awards in Europe last year.

Bot power and other shiny new travel tech

New technologies, including virtual and augmented reality, which depend heavily on reliable data are also talk of the town. Doing more that talk about it is German hotel management company GCH Hotels. Daniel Wishnia, a digital marketing consultant at GCH Hotels, is a strong believer in what new technologies can deliver and especially in the power of 360-degree video.

Working with Isreali startup Gooster, GCH launched Emma, an AI-driven chatbot to deliver value to the customer at all stages of the traveller’s journey, and is seeing “amazing results”. GCH also plans to create a virtual reality sites using VD Room technology for every one of its hotels, as it has done at Germany’s Wyndham Duisberger Hof.

Distribution, partnerships and brand power battles

No EyeForTravel show is complete without the usual discussions about how to survive in a world dominated by heavyweights. Tom Magnuson, CEO of the world’s fastest growing independent hotel chain Magnuson Worldwide, believes partnerships are the answer to some of the pressing challenges facing hotels – not least the rise of Airbnb. “At our count, Airbnb supply would equal about 22% of UK hotel stock,” says Magnuson, who relocated the headquarters of his company to the UK.

Magnuson represents around a thousand hotels and has recently signed a distribution partnership with China’s state-owned hotel group Jin Jiang, which owns Europe’s Louvre Hotels. This makes the company the world’s biggest hotel alliance with over 8,000 hotels and 800,000 rooms worldwide.

Through this partnership Magnuson Worldwide is working to develop a common global platform. “The aim,” says Magnuson, “is to have something a bit like a hotel version of an airline marketing alliance, where the three groups sell inventory across their respective territories”.

NH Hotels is another that relies heavily on preferred partnerships, particularly in its B2B operations, says keynoter Nicola Accurso, the company’s VP of business development. NH Hotels operates what it calls the 10-10-10 value proposition – 10% commission for rooms, meetings & events and food & beverage. However, agreements are often far more complex than this. Says Accurso: “There are always a set of parameters and most partnerships are tailor-made. We really try to understand the mutual benefits and provide incentives by, for example, offering incremental commissions when targets are met”.

This article by EyeForTravel appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

Image from Pixabay