Travel’s biggest have never been bigger. So much market power for so few. This status quo is unprecedented. Dominance defines the state of things.
But the powerful know this paradox best: As they grow, their growth slows. Size encumbers, speed wins and the Next Big Thing often comes from unseen origins. When the invincible sit at the center of a complex system, they are vulnerable from every side.
The theme for the 2018 Phocuswright Conference, Power Paradox, takes an uncompromising look at the tension between size and speed, between power and agility, between domination and innovation – and how, in an era of concentrated might, travel's overlords and upstarts seek to harness them to survive.
Empires on Edge
The dominant OTAs have aggregated the content, established the trust and amassed the war chests to defend against upstarts. They have acquired their way up the funnel, across the globe, and into the trip experience. But sprawling empires fracture more easily than one might expect … these empires are on edge. Despite their commitment to constant innovation, they are prone to the perils of all bigger creatures: They move slower, and have bigger blind spots. They are neither infallible nor invincible. They also have to grow. The market demands it. What's their next act? It's also a Goliath vs. David story.
The Defiant Ones
How did David slay Goliath? It is no small feat to get to scale before an entrenched leader sees your model proven, adopts it and pushes you off the mountain. The small can be nimble and bold, with less to lose. But they need more than speed. These trailblazers need to bend the market to a vision others do not see coming until it's too late. Tenacity may make or break, but timing is everything. To be too early is to be wrong.
Behemoths from Beyond the Realm
Among the companies known as The Four, three are poised to infiltrate effectively. Google has emerged as an imminent threat. Facebook lurks. Amazon's shadow looms large. Meanwhile in China, Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Meituan have already taken plenty of shots at that market's travel leader.
Platform is Power
Artificial intelligence favors computing power, access to terabytes of data, and resources to attract scores of leading-edge thinkers. But blockchain? Its prophets say it threatens complete disintermediation. And voice, if adopted widely, could shake the platform primacy of the phone and redefine search. One, all or yet another could be the key to survival.
Proof in the Paradox
Unprecedented might sits in the hands of the most powerful, but online travel's established leaders face constant challenges. Insistent innovators seek to disrupt from within travel. Infiltrators from the top echelons of big tech, whose stature dwarfs that of any travel titan, cast shadows in every corner. Who will harness the elusive power of light-speed innovation, stake first claim to the next big platform, and wow the fickle consumer who dreams of the perfect path to the perfect trip? Can massive institutions be malleable innovators? Can the untried dethrone the entrenched?
These are the questions we will tackle November 2018 in Los Angeles, as Phocuswright once again assembles travel's brightest … this time to unravel the Power Paradox.