Henry is a well known figure within the travel industry, regular readers will recall that he provided his thoughts during the Amadeus Horizons 2010 event in October, and is vocal on many travel industry issues through his blog and on Twitter.
Henry kindly took some time from his busy schedule to discuss the impact of technology and social media on travel, what the industry can learn from retailers and the kind of ideas that can inspire ideas for travel entrants.
Why are new ideas important to the travel industry?
Without new ideas, we’d have no travel industry. Where would we be without jet aircraft, the internet, or mobile phones? Whether it’s a new application of technology, like virtual reality applications that run on smartphones, or new business models that help more people find better value, our industry is one that thrives on innovation.
Not every new idea is a great one – in the 1960s, TWA put its flight attendants in paper dresses, when smoking was allowed aboard aircraft. Fortunately, smart new ideas like Wi-Fi, social media, and tablet computers have spurred new travel businesses in the past few years.
What role do you believe the ideas for travel competition can play in helping to improve the travel experience of today, tomorrow and beyond?
There are almost no limits. New ideas may help travelers improve their ability to find the perfect vacation spot, the ideal meal, or the most productive business trip possible. They may contribute new products or tools that lead to greater traveler safety or comfort (or both), provide more efficient and relevant ways to extend offers to travelers, and create new ways to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment.
The only real limits are those of one’s imagination. Almost anything else can be overcome.
Working at an analyst house affords you a holistic view over much of the travel ecosystem and how it interlinks with other industries. Which areas or other industries do you see having the biggest impact on travel?
Retail is having the biggest impact on travel sellers now. Travel firms want to become better at how they extend cross-sell and up-sell offers to their travelers. Retailers generally do this well. Retailers, especially food supermarkets, are also effective in getting consumers to make impulse purchases.
Industries and business that focus on quality service, entertainment, and design, like high-end retailers, music concerts, and furniture, will also influence the industry as it strives to connect and serve with consumers on a more personal and emotional level.
What changes made in the travel industry during 2010 stand out to you as being the most significant?
The industry finally got serious about social media. We saw all types of travel firms begin to seriously focus on how to make social media become more effective as marketing and customer service tools.
We’re off to a good start, but it is just the start. Now the industry needs to push forward towards making social media a more effective commercial channel. Unless social starts to generate some revenue, CEOs will view it as “fluff” and it will be vulnerable to budget cutbacks if business slackens.
Finally, what message of inspiration do you have for to the competition’s contestants?
First, thank you for sharing your creativity with us. Anything and everything you can do to push boundaries, to challenge pre-conceived ideas and business models and, critically, help this industry make travel more accessible, appealing, and profitable will be welcome.
Big ideas can come from the smallest things. Look at how Westin Hotels & Resorts revolutionized the hotel industry by emphasizing the most fundamental part of the hotel experience: the bed. JetBlue Airways distinguished itself by introducing in-flight television.
Travel is an industry where disruptive ideas can lead to great commercial success. Look at how online travel companies have emerged worldwide in the past 15 years, challenging the leadership of many older, well-known firms.
Ours is an industry that rewards creative business people able to recognize and fill unmet needs. Good luck!
Thanks very much for your time and answers Henry.