Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Travel Innovation

As most of you know I was intimately involved with this year's PhoCusWright's Travel Innovation Summit. I have been tracking both new media and traditional coverage of the event. I wanted to provide you some feedback from the inside as well as some comments on the overall subject of innovation.
First let me acknowledge the hard work of my colleague Bob Offutt in being the creative force behind TIS and for managing the entire process. Bob and I interviewed over 50 applicants for the TIS. Our criteria was pretty straight forward- we were looking for true technology innovation. Often the applicant offered a business innovation, but lacked the technology component and thus were rejected. We heard from traditional as well as start-up companies. TIS is not a start-up - "get funded" event. It is designed to provide a forum for all industry segments to present their technology innovation.
The underlying themes from the TIS finalists are clear: (1) A better Web air shopping experience is needed (e.g. Amadeus IT), (2) Globalization of the Web is a complex process and requires some advanced technology (, (3) Consumers continue to shop multiple Websites for a given trip and a social shopping tool can simplify the information gathering and sharing (Gliider) (4) Mobile technology is changing the way people experience travel (Global Motion). There were also presenters who demonstrated innovation in social media monitoring, leisure travel planning and integration between cable TV and the Web experience.

I have seen a few blog posts which criticizes the event as not being very innovative. Other comments have focused on the fact that the winner of the TIS 2009 event was Amadeus, IT certainly a major existing player, not an innovative start-up. Expressing one's views is certainly part of the fabric of the Web, but often bloggers or journalists miss the underlying process that goes into building an event such as TIS and are quick to criticize.
Let me comment on two particular articles:
1) Arnie Weissmann- Editor in Chief for Travel Weekly - " The Travel Technology Gong Show"
Arnie voiced his view that the show lacked true innovation. As I look at my in box at the pile of unread Travel Weeklys (I pretty much only read the online version), I find it ironic that this traditional bastion of status quo thinking would provide such a negative spin on the TIS. Much of the work as a consultant I done over the last 14 years has been with traditional travel players both in the leisure and corporate market. Often these traditional travel companies lack an understanding of online trends and rarely demonstrate true innovation (at least not without our help). In discussions with traditional travel agents as part of various projects, I am always dumbfounded at their lack of Web savviness. Many have poor Web presence and still take the majoirty of reservations offline. Since Web travel took off we've lost about 50% of traditional travel agents. Considering the rapid pace of technology innovation whether it it is improved air shopping , globalization, consumer shopping tools or the mobile revolution, traditional travel companies continue to lag. Rather than being critical of the event, Travel Weekly needs to better verbalize the underlying trends demonstrated at the TIS and educate their readers on how to deal with these technological changes.

Contrasting this with UpTake's Travel Industry Blog " PhoCusWright 2009 Travel Innovation Summit" . In this blog entry Elliott Ng's one of the founders of UpTake goes into great detail about many of the presenters highlighting their innovation and value to the industry. Granted UpTake is truly a Travel 2.0 star pioneering semantic search and adding value to the planning process. But both Elliott and Yen Lee the other founder of UpTake have spent many frustrating years at traditional companies trying to drive innovation in their travel offering, and founded UpTake to truly implement their vision of a better travel search approach.

In my career I have worked at large and small companies. Innovation at large companies often require a "skunk" project. This is an initiative not necessarily supported by senior management but driven by individual groups who drive the innovation. This was truly the case with Amadeus IT and thus end product results were very impressive. I do agree that small companies often innovate at a faster pace than traditional players, but often lack the funds and management experience to execute. Innovation is the key in driving improved interfaces and processes in the travel industry. The PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit is an essential place to monitor and track this innovation.