Sunday, January 25, 2009

Travel and Tourism - Largest Industry - Small Number of Specialists

I have been working in the travel industry since 1982. It never ceases to amaze me how in such a huge industry, the largest in the world, people are so interconnected. This really hit home recently while I was working in Kuwait.

During the reception after this year's PhoCusWright in Hollywood, my friend and colleague Philip Wolf commented that I was the person he had known the longest at the conference with the exception of one individual. A few weeks later I was back in Kuwait assisting my client and interviewing a candidate for the CFO position. It turned out this candidate was on the board of PhoCusWright and was that other individual Philip mentioned. Talk about a small world.

Tomorrow evening I leave Kuwait for Amsterdam to attend the IFITT's ENTER 09. I have not attended ENTER since 2002, but I do see some familiar names. When I first attended the ENTER 2002 back in Finland I felt both a feeling that I was with my peers and that I was somewhat a "fish out of water". The conference is normally attended by academics and government tourism officials. The research from the PHD candidates is always fascinating and the discussions are on topics that are very close to my heart such as mobile travel technology and personalization. This is what makes me feel comfortable. What was a bit unerving back in 2002, was that I just did not know anyone at the conference and I was one of a handful of US attendees. With all the work I have done in Europe, Asia and recently the Middle East, I certainly feel more globally connected. I am looking to learning the latest in travel research and interacting with my peers in Amsterdam this week.

Monday, January 19, 2009

TMC as Consultants - Are We There Yet?

For years a familiar theme heard throughout the business travel industry concerns the evolution of TMCs from order takers to true consultants for their corporate clients. I often classify TMCs into three groups- mega (Amex, CWT, BCD & HRG), 2nd tier and third tier. This is based on size of the company and their regional or global reach.
Late last year I gave a presentation to a group of TMCs who were part of a business travel consortium. The group was comprised mostly of 2nd tier and 3rd tier TMCs. As is my nature I talked about how technology was driving new business practices in the corporate travel market. This included my passion around mobile technology and its approaching impact on the business travel experience. I have given many talks over my 31 year business career and I pride myself on being able to read my audience. There I was prognosticating on how advanced technology would change the role of the TMC, when I looked out at the audience and I suddenly realized they were not getting it! So I paused and asked a simple question, how many of the TMC executives had at least 50% of their reservations being done online. No one raised their hands. Ok I said how about 25% of their volume online? Again only one agency owner raised their hand. Then it hit me. This group represented the famous "laggards" segment of the technology adoption curve.

Let's face it, corporate booking tools have been around for over 10 years. The cost savings of these tools have been well documented, but here I was talking to a group that could not see their value. One of the more progressive agency owners (the one with 25% adoption) whispered in my ear that the current economic downturn might actually thin the herd eliminating those who don't embrace technology. The bottom line is simple. If you don't adopt productivity tools such as CBTs or BI dashboards, you will be left behind. More importantly, if you embrace these tools, the opportunity to move from a transaction processor to truly a consultant that helps corporate clients identify areas to reduce their T & E spend is significant. During 2005-2006, I worked with one of the mega-TMCs on overall technology and service strategy, recommending that they build a comprehensive dashboard for their clients and that they expand their consulting offer beyond the consulting unit within the company to make a part of the account manager's core offering. I was pleased to see this mega embrace my advice, too bad this group of laggards is still clinging to the old way of doing business.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Middle East Travel Market

I am currently back in Middle East. This is my sixth trip since July 08. Rapid growth is still the norm here despite the economic downturn, though the market is showing some signs of a slowing down. Even hot markets such as Dubai are showing signs of a slowdown as many construction projects have been slowed or put on hold.

The following chart describes the maturity of g
lobal market based on travel technology adoption:

The Middle East is an emerging market where online travel itself has not yet taken off. Corporate travel agencies are still primarily transaction processors rather travel management consultants.

There are both structural and cultural barriers to adoption of corporate booking tools. Most of the agency staff is actually Indian. Rates for agency staff are still much lower than in Europe or the US. Service is viewed as an essential component of corporate travel.

Despite these obstacles I do believe we are on the cusp of a major change in corporate/agency relationships here in the Middle East. High net worth individuals will continue to demand personal service, but many Middle East residents in my age group (baby boomers) were actually educated in the US or Europe and thus are implementing Western business techniques. With places such as Dubai now facing a drop in occupancy, online travel companies such as Expedia are poised to launch Middle East operations in 2009.

As this chart (developed in conjunction with Market Designs) indicates the evolution of a market first begins with basic infrastructure and online activity. Travel search follows with the adoption of online booking. Corporate booking tools are at the last stage of market development.

I believe the current economic downturn combined with the rapid growth of online travel will dramatically change the lansdcape for corporate travel mangement in the region over the next 12 months.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mobile Travel apps for 2009

A major New Years resolution for me this year is to blog at minimum once a week! During the last two months of 2008 I did not blog at all and I am determined not to repeat this long absence. My apologies.

A recent post by Tim Hughes of the BOOT (and VP of Orbitz in Australia) predicted that 2009 will NOT be the year where the travel industry embraces mobile.

I could not disagree more! Having now completed the PhoCuWright "The Future of Mobile Travel" special report, I strongly believe mobile travel applications will flourish in 2009 despite the global economic crisis. The two primary drivers of this mobile trend are the adoption of smartphones and the implementation of next generation networks (3G, LTE & WiMAX). The research clearly showed a correlation between frequent business travelers and smartphone adoption. Take a look at these two slides from our Special Report:

The key statistic here is that as of November 3, 2008 18.9% of consumers are now carrying a smartphone.

Compare that with our research results which found that 71% of Frequent Business Travelers own a smartphone. Additional research showed that 90% of frequent business travelers have owned their smartphones for less than 2 years, showing that smartphone adoption is a recent trend. You combine this with the explosive growth of 3rd party apps stores from not only Apple, but RIM Blackberry, Google and T-Mobile and it is clear that 2009 will see tremendous growth in downloadable travel specific applications.

These applications will be location and contextually relevant. The affinity between emerging mobile technology and frequent travelers will change the business and leisure travel experience 2009.