Hotel Insight talks to Rosie Akenhead ahead of this year’s Travel Distribution Summit

The Travel Distribution Summit Europe is one of my most eagerly awaited dates in the calendar, and that’s no exaggeration.  Each year, EyeforTravel put together a fantastic conference with key speakers from all areas of the travel world.  From the latest mobile trends to social media, and from revenue management to marketing, the Travel Distribution Summit is full of key industry leaders sharing their opinions and businesses practices.  A particular highlight of last years event was meeting Naveen Selvadurai, the co-founder of FourSquare.  Naveen spoke passionately about his company as he shared the stage with Facebook and Yelp – it was a fantastic session that had everyone talking and I was lucky enough to speak with Naveen afterwards.  This is a true measure of TDS – attracting the best in the business year after year.

So it gives me great pleasure to bring you a short interview with Rosie Akenhead who is the person that brings this event together.  If you have any questions please feel free to post a comment.

Q: Rosie, please tell us about your role at EyeforTravel and the organisation of TDS?

RA: I am the Global Director of Events & Industry Analysis at EyeforTravel. Along with the research and industry news that we provide, I also head up our flagship events, one of which is on 17-18 April in Islington, London –TDS Europe. This event focuses on almost every aspect of online travel- distribution, pricing, innovation, mobile & tech, marketing & social media. It brings together the travel industry as a whole- suppliers, consultants, solution providers- and makes it easy for us all to discuss industry trends and to network with friends old and new. We expect around 1000 attendees in total over the two days, so it is our biggest and best event, and we’re very proud of it.

Q: The speaker list at this years event is particularly impressive – is there one session your particularly looking forward to?

RA: This year’s agenda is really varied, which is probably a reflection of a slightly turbulent industry and economy. I think if I had to choose one (out of 36!), the top session to watch out for is our first keynote. This looks at the remodelling of traditional travel companies. EyeforTravel has seen in our research a blurring of the lines between luxury and low-cost. It’s interesting to see big luxury brands giving in to the unbundling phenomenon (particularly airlines), and seeing some of the lowcost get a) decidedly less low cost and b) rebundling their ancillary products. It will be fascinating to hear the opinions of very high level execs from Accor, TUI and The Travel Horizon Group. On top of this, we’ve got Airbnb on the agenda for the first time. I can’t wait to hear more about their model and how this idea of the “consumer becoming the supplier” will impact travel moving forward.

Q: What was your highlight of last year’s event?

 RA: I am slightly biased (!) but I felt last year’s TDS was our strongest ever in its 15 year history. It was really great not just to have the travel brands that we know and love, but also “the kings of online” (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, Ebay). To hear from their perspective their plans for the forthcoming year was invaluable. The other session which really grabbed me (and everyone else, the room was overflowing!) was the search session. Panellists like Google, Bing, Skyscanner, Travelsupermarket really made it the session to watch. We are looking at search again this year, and with the introduction of google flights and google hotel finder actually in action, this session is still hot stuff.

Q: The social media interaction at TDS is fantastic – is there anything new planned this year? 

RA: We’re lucky because our moderators are all so social media savvy.  We have a big Social Media Conference in San Francisco as well so when it comes to keeping up to speed on this we can do so with reasonable ease! We welcome feedback and comments on the event hashtag #tdseurope before, during and after the event on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. We’ve developed a twitter feed platform for this year to make it a little bit slicker in the conference rooms. We’ve also got new extensive EyeforTravel social media and mobile research that we’ll be sharing, plus a marketing barometer available to download on-site for everyone attending. Social media is huge for us, and it’s important that we practice what we preach!

Q: We talk about the upcoming trends a lot at TDS – give us a sneak preview, what do you seen as the trends of 2012 and beyond? 

RA: TDS always covers the hot topics for the forthcoming year, because we’re always talking to the industry and finding out about challenges and goals from every brand we deal with. Aside from this, in the other part of my job, I look very closely at industry trends and analyse them. One of the first key trends I see is something I’ve been discussing in detail with Scot Hornick from Oliver Wyman over in the US. We both see a trend towards a change in the whole travel eco-system with the OTA-supplier relationship. Of course, which way this goes depends on a number of factors. First and foremost, what happens when the big group hoteliers re-negotiate their contracts with the OTAs (this will happen for a lot of the big hoteliers in 2012/2013). The flipside of this is the introduction of new models such as Roomkey, which gives the power to the supplier direct, or HotelTonight, the last minute mobile OTA to watch. It wouldn’t be fair to consider this lengthy topic without thinking about the future of meta-search too. A lot of the big merchandising characters in the industry are thinking about if/how/when the meta guys will start including ancillary products in the offerings, and if they do, that will have a huge impact.

All in all, it’s a seriously interesting time for travel. What happens with the economy in 2012 and 2013 is really going to show up who sinks or swims. Now is the time to find or re-negotiate partners, but also to innovate and develop mobile and social strategies, and I think all our attendees for TDS 2012 are attending for those very reasons.

Our thanks to Rosie for speaking with Hotel Insight.  The Travel Distribution Summit is held at the Business Design Centre in London on 17-18th April 2012.  To find out more about Travel Distribution Summit, please visit their website by clicking here.

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