Are We There Yet?
Parse the past. Pinpoint the present. Forge the future.
From the dawn of the jet age to the birth of the first scrappy OTAs, the pace of travel innovation may not have been consistent, but its forward motion has been constant. New technologies and bold ideas fuel startups, spark pivots and alter strategies. But when will we reach the future our visionaries have promised us?
We see this cycle over and over through the decades: Bright ideas become buzzwords. Buzzwords become banalities. Personalized offers, peer-to-peer marketplaces, frictionless trip planning, voice search and book, the blockchain. While these technologies and concepts have indeed fueled startups, pivots and strategic shifts, none have upended travel as we know it, or delivered on their most optimistic promises. Yet.
As we close out another decade of chasing the horizon, where are we in the journey? For those who still pursue the many unrealized dreams of travel transformed, a clear view of the road ahead will separate the leaders from the longshots.
This year at The Phocuswright Conference, we once again bring together travel's brightest leaders to take stock of our industry's past and plot its future. Have we reached the milestones we expected to? When we think about the potential of tech to deliver the perfect path to the perfect trip … Are We There Yet?
The Frictionless Future
We've come a long way from paper tickets and DIY spreadsheets. Flight and hotel booking information is pulled from emails, and travelers receive timely alerts. Sometimes we're even offered a rental car or local activity right when we need it. But what about true seamlessness that easily stores and intelligently uses information relevant to trips being taken, planned or dreamed about? What about customizable plans that combine modes of transport, lodging and things to do with painless payments across all segments?
Many of travel tech's biggest leaps have left millions behind, at least initially. Jet travel opened the U.S. and Europe decades before becoming widely accessible across Asia, Africa or South America. Online bookings, metasearch, shared accommodations and ride-hailing followed the same pattern, although the wait was shorter. But in Asia, catch-up is no longer the name of the game. China leads m-commerce. New Delhi, Hong Kong, and Tokyo are home to some of the hottest and best-funded travel startups, and Asian investors' influence is surging. China and Japan boast more high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined. Will Asia's upstarts, giants and travelers set the course from here? And how far away are Latin America, the Middle East and Africa from entering the arena as hotbeds of growth and innovation?
Right Product, Right Time, Right Device
From phone calls to chat, paper to screens, desktop to mobile, camera film to live video – the tech that consumers use to engage has undergone massive change. Devices are smaller, change is quicker and there will always be a "next generation" of tech. Touch screens, smartwatches and robots were once just fanciful fiction. Now they're everyday life, but matching device to use case has proven challenging for travel providers. Where – and when – will tech advancement and preservation of the human touch ultimately collide into its promised ideal?
Truth in Ad Tech
Travelers spend more time than ever with digital media. Advertisers operate in a complex environment that demands greater sophistication. The marketplace is flooded with new ad channels, technologies and data access, but consumers are skeptical when they're overserved and underwhelmed. The fact is they just aren't so easy to woo. Hopes are high that AI and personalization will distinguish brands amid the clutter, but traveler trust must first be earned. The implications that will accompany new conduits like voice, AR and VR remain uncertain, yet advertisers must stay ahead of it all or risk falling behind.
Countdown to a Showdown
A ton of market influence is in the hands of a powerful few. Three OTAs dominate global travel shopping, but what are the biggest tech giants' plans for this US$1.4 trillion industry? Google has assembled, piece-by-piece, an arsenal of products that serve the trip lifecycle, and has finally created a home for them all. Amazon shuttered a failed hotel business five years ago, but since then, the massive e-tailer has disrupted its share of consumer verticals, and speculation abounds about a second run at lodging, flights or packages. Travel's biggest may have the best head start, but first in doesn't always mean last out.
Who can forget the years of Big Data hype? Startups and established companies worked to convince the market that they held the key to amassing and harnessing the right terabytes about flight itineraries, accommodation options or shopping behavior. Now that data is being plugged into quickly evolving machine-learning frameworks. But all the data scientists and all the neural nets haven't put the pieces together quite yet. Will AI's impact be felt most in voice? Search? Customer acquisition? Loyalty? Personalized UX? If AI is the next big differentiator in online travel, when will we see that impact, and who will lead?
Join us November 19-21 in Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood, Florida as we move toward 2020, closing out another decade of chasing the horizon, and ask: where are we in the journey? For those who pursue the many unrealized dreams of travel transformed, a clear view of the road ahead will separate the leaders from the longshots. Are We There Yet?
BONUS PROGRAMMING: Pre-conference sessions will be held on Monday, November 18 – book your travel accordingly to attend: