TravelTech – Disruptive Influences

traveltechContinuing its longstanding focus on the impact that technology is having on the travel sector, the agenda of this year’s TravelTech conference titled “Disruptive Influences,” appropriately featured speakers from some of the biggest upcoming names in travel and e-commerce, with executives from Uber, Airbnb, Expedia and even Spotify taking to the stage alongside other more conventional travel names such as Helloworld and the Travel Corporation.

One of the most intriguing presentations was from Stefan Cordiner, regional director for Hotel Tonight which is targeting the last-minute accommodation market via its mobile-only hotel booking system. Hotel Tonight launched in Australia earlier this year, and claims that “unlike traditional OTAs, we don’t compete with our hotels”. Almost 50 per cent of same-day hotel bookings are made on smartphones, and Hotel Tonight leverages this trend by presenting a curated list of offers to potential bookers.

The app utilises geo-location to ensure deals are highly relevant to users. Cordiner gave the example of a search for Melbourne hotels conducted on a mobile phone by a user currently at Sydney Airport. He said there’s a high probability of conversion of such a search because the travellers is obviously just about to fly interstate and needs somewhere to stay, with Hotel Tonight targeting the “last resort vacancy problem” which helps properties fill unsold rooms.

Other TravelTech presenters included James Gaskell from Creative Holidays, who outlined the major disruption experienced by traditional travel wholesalers due to the internet. Previously an exercise in buying power, destination knowledge and brochure racks, wholesaling is “now an attempt to keep up with the consumer’s wants, needs and own research while still making some money,” Gaskell said. Creative has rebuilt its website from the ground up to provide a consumer-like shopping experience for travel consultants, and he revealed the initial impact of the change which resulted in a seven-fold increase in sales activity with one of the company’s key retail partners.

Helloworld’s Jeremy Reitman also gave an intriguing insight into the company’s “omni-channel” strategy, and the impact of the company’s controversial abandonment of the former Best Flights operation. With a firm focus on “driving online offline for our agents,” the dedicated digital team has delivered an online marketing and sales platform, while at the same time extending the reach of agent members and franchisees via paid commission on bookings made through the smartphone app. Reitman revealed that Helloworld pays agents nine per cent on hotel bookings, seven per cent on car hire, three per cent on international flight bookings and $5 on domestic and trans-Tasman flights booked via the app – and that many of the bookings are made in-destination by clients who booked their overall trip with a Helloworld agency.

The day wrapped up with a “Pitch it to me” session where fledgling travel businesses had five minutes to pitch their concept against fellow go-getters. Presenters included Lisa Pagotto from Crooked Compass, Luxico’s Alexandra Ormerod and Steve Johnson & Christian Schaefer of Carhood who were named winners of the contest via an audience vote.