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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Where are we with mobile?

So mobile has been the buzz word in the travel industry for the last few years, but where are we?  And more specifically, where are hotels with mobile?

Clearly, the large international chains all have a mobile strategy, the likes of Accor, Hilton, Starwood etc.  We also see chains such as Premier Inn with a good mobile App.  However, there’s more the mobile than Apps.  And especially for independent hotels.  I’ve said time and time again, if you’re an independent hotel, make sure your website is mobile before investing in Apps.  It makes sense to download the Accor App if you travel a lot or stay in the brands hotels regularly.  If you’re an independent hotel, chances are your guests don’t need an App to make bookings – they will call you, book on your website or through other channels.  If a customer wants to book on the move, I am sure they would expect to find your property online via your mobile booking site, rather than find your App amongst thousands of other hotels, just to make one booking.  It’s also important to remember that most hotel chains report that only around 5% of bookings are made via Apps.  And actually, Apps are used more to cancel bookings, not make them!

So we know these more obvious mobile ideas, but I actually wanted to talk about something different.  Something that some of the big hotels are starting to think about, but also something I can’t find good examples of in use now.  And that’s taking mobile to the next level.  What do I mean?  Well, take a look at the airlines and their mobile strategies.

Not only can you book your air travel on their mobile Apps or mobile websites, you get far more of a service.  For instance, its common place to download your boarding pass to your mobile phone, to use to check-in, pass via security, and at the boarding gate.  How often do you see a mobile phone with a complex bar-code displayed?  This is the technology airlines are using to that the end traveller can do everything via mobile.  But where do hotels fit?

Well, they don’t.  Well, not yet, and not commonly to my knowledge.  How can the same principles be applied to the hotel world?  Well imagine confirming your reservation on a mobile enabled site or App, or even making your booking and the rest being fulfilled via your mobile phone.  Then your booking details sent to your mobile (not uncommon) but with a twist.  Your room key is sent to your mobile as a barcode.  You use it to check-in at a self-service kiosk or reception, get your room number, then use your mobile barcode to unlock your room.  Taking it a stage further, using that barcode to charge dinner or drinks to your room, or even taking technology further and using it to control lighting or TV in your room.  Ok, so that’s taking it a bit far, but why not use it as a key to access your hotel room.

We are already seeing the first steps, and in the UK too.  Premier Inn have self-service check in desks.  The next step for hotels?  Changing doors to read mobile barcodes?  Well, maybe not straight away.  That would be a huge financial investment.  But it’s all a possibility.  I probably see a big chain softly rolling this out at a small number of hotels as a trial and going from there.  Or a ‘technology’ hotel adding it to create the right first impression to go with their in-room iPads, and remote control curtains and shower.  Let’s see what happens.  The technology is there – who will use it first?

 

Travel Distribution Summit 2011 – A Great Success

You may remember I posted not so long ago about the Travel Distribution Summit, which was held in London this June.  I attended the event and wanted to share with all those who couldn’t make it, my thoughts and opinions,share some insight’s into what was discussed and the latest trends we all came away with as well as my own personal highlights.

If you remember, there was a huge list of speakers, so planning your time is critical to ensure you get the most out of the event.  All kinds of topics were covered, from social media and online marketing, to revenue management, to mobile technology, so there was a wide range in industry experts giving their thoughts (and a little self promotion along the way!).

For those who have not attended in previous years, the Travel Distribution summit is held annually at the Business Design Centre in London.  It’s made up of a mixture of supplier stands and several conference/seminar rooms where you can attend to hear from industry leaders and people with something new to say about the given topics.  These are wide-ranging – some are free, some you have to pay for (whilst on the topic, I do feel that the admission price is a little steep – but it is a great event) and of course, it’s a great place to network with colleagues from the travel industry. 

I actually felt there was quite a big presence from the hospitality industry this year, both in terms of speakers and attendees which was great to see.

As for highlights, two sessions stood out for me.  The first was to finally watch Josiah Mackenzie present live.  I’ve followed Josiah’s passionate work in hotel social media and online marketing for a number of years, and he really knows his stuff.  What you find so often at events such as this are speakers who have been brought in because of their job title, rather than ability to present and relevent content to provide.  Josiah’s passion for what he does shines through and the whole room was gripped, intently listening to what he was telling us.

The second highlight was a debate that saw Naveen Selvadurai, Co-Founder of Foursquare, Dave Scheine, Director of European Operations at Yelp and Andy Ellwood, Director of Business Development, Gowalla.  A very impressive list!  In particular, I really enjoyed hearing from Naveen, explaining how Foursquare came about, how it’s changed and what makes its model very different from other competitors.  I also found it humours to see that people tweets were appearing on the screen behind the stage, with the same one popping up time and time again “I bet you guys were really pissed when Facebook Places launched”. 

I should probably also give a mention to the Keynote Debate on customer Tech and Trends, called, “How will your customers interact with you through and beyond 2011”. Taking part in this debate was Romain Roulleau, SVP e-Commerce at Accor Hotels, Danny Barrasso, Senior Director of e-Commerce at Hilton and Alun Williams, e-Commerce director at TUI.  Very interesting topics covered here, including each mobile strategy and mobile web strategy.  I particularly liked Romain’s presentation of what Accor have done, what didn’t work so well and plans for the future.  Accor time and time again show their belief in investing in as many channels as possible and drive this forward year in year out.

My only negative point was probably the fact that some of the smaller conferences taking place lacked relevent content. I don’t really appreciate someone telling me that social media is still unproven, and that experts should be brought in to manage it.  Come on. Please. You could have said that 10 years ago. Today’s different (I’m naming no names!).

Thanks to everyone involved with Travel Distribution Summit 2011, it was a great couple of days, and looking forward to next time.

Hotels and Groupon

Although we’ve spoken about Groupon on the Hotel Insight blog a little in the past, I probably haven’t given it as much coverage as I’d like or should have.  This is something that I’ll dedicate some time to in the near future.  Groupon is growing.  No longer is it just associated with the US or just massive cities like London… it’s really expanded and I find myself checking the site most days to see if there are any good deals I could buy.  I don’t live in London, so that does limit some of the fantastic opportunities there are, I admit that.  But more and more I find more local offerings.  I see hotel deals appearing in the major cities with great regularity, and even today, I saw something near me, in let’s say a more rural city than London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think at the moment, people associate Groupon, especially in the UK, with beauty treatments, restaurant deals and fashion, but there is more to it than that.  If you’re a hotel, this is a great channel to expose your brand.  Not only will people take notice of the offer, but it will drive traffic to your website.  Remember, they may not take the deal, but they have the name, a first impression, and your web site to refer back to in the future.  The key to running a successful hotel if filling rooms and making sure you maximise each revenue opportunity.  As we say an awful lot on this blog, you can not discount any social media online channel.  This includes Groupon.  Take it seriously, because your competitors will be.

P.S – check out the hotel in this deal.  The Ship, located in Chichester, West Sussex is a lovely property.  Well done for utilising Groupon.   My only observation – good website, lots of detail, great photos and a good product – but now social media at all!

Online Video

Something we talk about more and more in the use of video for hotels.  Only last week I posted about the company TVTrip and I received so many emails from you all.  I found this image on a blog I regularly read, Socialnomics

Made by  TechSmith and Jordan Skole, I wanted to share this with you as it really represents the rise of video online.

Do I really need to use socail media?

If you’re a hotel, or a travel business and your asking yourself (or me) this question, then watch this short video, produced by @equalman.  It’s a real eye-opener with some incredible stats.

If by the end you are still asking yourself the same question, then I predict your business may not survive the next ten years.  To quote the video, social media is not a fad – it’s the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution.

If anyone has any questions I would like help in answering social media questions, then please contact me: hotelinsight@yahoo.com or @hotelinsight

Starwood Growth

I mentioned a few months ago about the impressive number of new properties currently in development across the Starwood brands.  I took a closer look today and the number continues to grow right across the globe.  If you check their website you can see just how many hotels are being redeveloped or built along with the estimated opening dates, with a huge amount scheduled to come online in 2011 and 2012.

We have also discussed that all the major hotel chains are heavily investing in the Far East, and as you can see, this is no different for Starwood.  Just look at how many white dots there are in the region, especially China, with five properties coming online within the next three months