Travel Technology Trends from Phocuswright Europe

May 22, 2018

Phocuswright bills itself as “Europe's largest assembly of travel industry executives, investors and startups” and last week, over 2 days in Amsterdam the current state of travel technology was debated and bold visions for what the future will hold were laid out.  Our interest is specifically in the current and upcoming trends in automated assistants, agents and AI.  Within this post I’ll pull out insight from Facebook, Accor, Skyscanner, Phocuswright, Trip Advisor and Winding Tree.

Skyscanner’s CTO, Bryan Dove, really resonated as he reminded the audience that 1:1 personalisation is now expected and companies delivering that well are winning.  You do not expect your Amazon, Facebook or Netflix page to look like anyone else’s.  If you do not offer a personalised offering, your customers will find someone who will and if you haven’t started yet you are behind no matter if you are a rail company, airline, OTA or other travel business.  He then offered an excellent 4 point guide to get started:

  1. Un-f**k your data.  Without your data in good order you cannot utilise it in an increasingly automated way.
  2. Create a compelling, audacious, AI vision for your team to get excited about.
  3. Start today.
  4. Be patient.  This is complicated, there will be a long learning journey but it’s a journey you and your business needs to go on.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” - A quote by Leonardo Da Vinci was the opening line from Maud Bailly, Accor’s Chief Digital Officer, who espoused that there was still much digital growth to happen.  Accor were building ‘baby bots’, early chatbots, and admitted that learning how to create compelling digital assistants will be a long journey and that it is imperative to get hands on assistant experience now.  The most important challenge is to deliver a consistent customer experience

The periphery of the hotel experience in travel is growing, last year, TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer said the attractions sector represented "a billion-dollar opportunity" for the company, following the acquisition of Bokun last month that was upgraded to a $2bn opportunity driven by the fact that today only 30% of European tours or packages are booked online.  The interest in this sector was, in part, being driven by the commoditisation of flights and hotels and that the traveller’s desire to book an on-demand experience has increased.

Phocuswire’s Mark Blutstein gave a great roundup of their voice assistant research, pulling out insight about where assistants like Alexa skills fit in, where consumer interest lies for the future and what the habits are today (see below pictures).  He sees assistants as ‘the new concierge’ and the data shows that today people prefer seeking information through automated channels rather than talking to humans. This is driven by immediency and convenience which is further augmented by conversational assistants.

Facebook sent Nikhilesh Ponde, Head of Global Travel Straregy.  He had 2 main threads to his talk. Firstly Facebook Messenger bots are here and have been for a while.  Customers prefer to shop with brands who are immediately available through messenger and secondly Video is increasingly important at getting across your brands message.  By 2021 78% of all mobile data traffic will be video.  Seeing this as an important driver for engagement across Facebook and Instagram and they are evolving the platform to accommodate this.

Winding Tree’s CEO Maksim Izmaylov’s concluding statement that “Companies that are playing with blockchain today will be tomorrow’s winners was a powerful reminder that we are still living in exponential times and technology will continue to change.  Those with a culture to experiment and continually test will see more success.

It was a great event and awesome to see so much pull from the industry for products like Dazzle.  The overwhelming message for anyone looking at assistants is that the time is now.

Charlie Cadbury is Co-Founder of Dazzle, the conversational platform that helps Travel Operators communicate and build relationships with their customers who, in turn, can buy and experience their end-to-end journey simply and conveniently using digital messaging and voice channels.