Five Things Travelers Should Care About From PhoCusWright

PhoCusWright is the the ultimate business to business travel industry conference, with a level of production (think multiple camera angles, loud rock music between each session, spotlights and invisible mics) unmatched by any other conference I’ve ever attended. It’s all very high-level and high-tech, with lots of behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing. CEO’s and executives from hundreds of industry companies, like Expedia, Priceline, Kayak, and TripAdvisor, come to learn about the latest innovations in travel, to talk up their own product and pitch investors, and to find new partnerships that can improve their own offerings. 

BootsnAll is here for similar reasons – to talk with other companies, to find new partnerships to improve our business and to learn about the innovations happening in travel and how they will affect travelers in the future. And it’s that last reason may be the most important. At our core, we’re about being the best resource for independent travelers. If there’s a new development, or company, or app, or trend that is going to affect the way people will book and experience trips, we want to know about it, and we want to share the information with you.

On Tuesday, we listened to 33 companies pitch their new products and ideas at the Travel Innovation Summit and selected the top ideas that we thought would directly affect travelers in a noticeable or tangible way. We also live-blogged every session on Wednesday and Thursday, so that those who couldn’t attend in person could stay informed and….we learned a lot. Here are just a few of the things we learned at the 2010 PhoCusWright Conference that will have the most effect on independent travelers.

It’s all about mobile….and social

Or, as @marc_engelsman put it on twitter, “mocial.”  Investor Patricia Nakache said that “travel is a social experience” and it’s a sentiment that was expressed dozens of times throughout the conference.

Travelpost’s Richard Barton went so far as to say that “share is the new search” and though Kayak’s Steve Hafner said social media trip planning was over-hyped, Barton said he felt it might even be under-hyped.  Travelocity’s Hugh Jones said social, search and planning will merge and Pete Stein of Razorfish believes  “people trust friends not brands.”

What does it mean for travelers?
Travel planning doesn’t take place on an island (at least, not a figurative one); Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have made it easier and more popular than ever for people to consult their social circle for trip planning and it’s clear that companies are ready to embrace the social aspects of trip planning.

Several of the companies in the Travel Innovation Summit introduced products that allow user to more easily plan trips using their social media network. From gogobot, which uses existing contacts to help create a custom guidebook, to Vacation Relation, which connects users to other travelers (even if users don’t already know them) who are going on a similar trip, travelers have a vast array of ways to leverage social media to make trip planning easier and more personalized.

Mobile also came out as a vital aspect of any travel company. According to Groupon’s CEO Rob Solomon, there will be 500 million “little screens” out there by 2012 (little screens meaning mobile devices, smartphones, etc) and Razorfish’s Pete Stein says that by 2013, mobile browsing will exceed PC browsing. Kayak has more people working on mobile than on the website. What does this mean for travelers? It means more apps, more options, and more access to trip planning tools no matter where you go.

Trip planning is painful….or so they say

Though some studies have shown that many people thoroughly enjoy the trip-planning process (and may even get more satisfaction from planning the trip than taking it), a recurring “problem” that companies wanted to solve was the painful process of trip planning.  During their presentation, Kukunu claimed that 50%  of people find travel planning frustrating.  The CEO of Off and Away said the Orbitz buying experience is tired and needs to be improved. He said his product moves towards entertainment shopping, making booking fun. And Hipmunk allows users to view flights according to “agony” rating – the price combined with duration and number of stops.

What does it mean for travelers?
Whether or not you agree with the idea that the trip planning process is broken (at BootsnAll, we still think it’s fun and exciting), you can’t ignore the myriad of new sites that offer an easier way to build and share itineraries. Kukunu, Bonvoy, and Goby all offer sites and apps that are fun to play with and can actually help you organize your trip, share it with friends and travel partners, and discover new things to do at home and abroad. Off and Away and TripAlertz make snagging deals more exciting, and search got a fun injection with Hipmunk (have you ever seen a cuter logo?). Though they took a lot of sniping from other industry bigwigs (Hafner said the idea was unremarkable and that he hoped they didn’t end up as road kill), we loved their new-to-us way of organizing flight search results.

Innovation is coming

We know the web is a very big place, with room for hundreds of millions of sites. But with so many sites on the internet and so much information out there, competing seems impossible for the little guys. What does it take? TripAdvisor’s Stephen Kaufer says he thinks a company doesn’t need to be the first in a particular category, they just need to execute well. Having a niche seems to help.

When illustrating his theory that “if it can be known, it will be known, and if it can be rated, it will be rated,” Richard Barton showed the audience a site where users can review and search for doctors and lawyers and another one where people can rate whether or not their plastic surgery was worth it. It seems that, if you’re looking for a particular site, chances are it’s probably out there or coming soon.

What does it mean for travelers?
More options, more great resources, and more crap to wade through.  33 companies presented at the Travel Innovation Summit (with dozens more that didn’t make the cut). Some were good, some weren’t as exciting, and many seemed to offer very similar services. With all the competition and information out there on the web, there is a lot of duplication and sameness. A lot are going to fail, but some – the companies that stand out and offer something unique for travelers – will succeed.

Facebook will play a bigger part in travel planning

“Mobile, social, local, real-time, and global are the five things every travel businesses has to focus on today,”  said Groupon CEO Rob Solomon. Richard Barton agreed that Facebook should be a part of every company’s strategy. Users spend 42.5 billion minutes on Facebook per month and companies seemed eager to reach that audience. A common statement among the executives was that companies need to go where the people are, and the people are on Facebook.

What does it mean for travelers?
We saw dozens of apps that integrate Facebook into travel planning or that utilize your social circle on Facebook to help you plan trips. Companies are expanding their Facebook presences, offering exclusive deals to fans, and using the platform to interact more with customers where they already are. If Facebook isn’t already a tool in your travel planning kit it should be, and if it is, expect its role to increase.

The Google/ITA merger has a lot of people nervous

The Google ITA merge was one subject that people couldn’t stop talking about. The issue is quite complex, but at its most basic, Google’s $700 million acquisition of ITA Software is a huge concern for sites like Expedia, TripAdvisor, Kayak and Travelocity (which have formed a group called to oppose the merger) because they fear that ITA may not renew their contracts once they expire, which would leave them at a significant disadvantage. Kayak’s CEO Steve Hafner was candid: “We like the ITA people a lot but the Google people a bit less,” he said. And when asked if Google keeps him up at night he answered that “anyone would be insane not to be worried about Google.”

What does it mean for travelers?
Nearly everyone in the PhoCusWright audience indicated that they expect the Google/ITA merger to go through. If it does, there’s no telling if and how it will affect travelers. Will it drive Orbitz and other companies out of business when they can’t offer the same range of fares? Will users do all their flight searching on Google’s platform? Or will things remain status quo. The effects remain to be seen, but if the buzz at PhoCusWright is any indication, they could be significant.

Photos by Dean Terry, travelingtamas, qusir, babyben, manfrys

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