Hosted by the Association of Travel Trade Organizations India, the event is a first-of-its-kind travel and technology conference in the country, and will examine how the travel industry there can leverage Social Media and Internet technology. I am delighted that the organisers asked me to speak at the event.
The idea behind the three days, is to help hotels and tour operators to learn new and innovative ways to market, sell and generate business through the Internet. It will also assist tour operators and travel agents to adapt to new trends online, and also act as a platform for Travel Technology companies who have developed new software and mobile applications to showcase their products and innovations.
It’s clear to anyone how technology is changing the travel industry – particularly in terms of how we find, assess and book long and short breaks locally and overseas. Just a few years ago, finding a holiday destination could take many hours sitting in a characterless travel agent’s office in your local high street. Choice of hotel and destination was usually fairly limited, and often your selection of location and venue came down to the experience, enthusiasm or knowledge of the travel agent you happened to be sitting with that day. Yes, one person and perhaps their supervisor could end up being the people who could make or break that year’s hard earned vacation.
Today it’s very different. Indeed, the world of travel is one of the industries most changed by technology and the Internet; I don’t think I can even remember the last time I set foot in a travel agent’s or tour operator’s office. From booking a taxi, through to arranging a wedding in the far off land of your dreams, it can now all be done with a few clicks of a mouse on your screen or a few swipes of your finger on your mobile device.
No longer do you have to rely on the recommendation of a spotty part time Saturday boy in your local travel agent; reviews, videos, maps – everything you need is at your fingertips to help you make your decision and to book and pay with ease. And if you fly with one airline, you can even choose who you sit next to on the plane simply by calling up the other passengers’ Facebook profiles.
Two years ago, I had my own experience of how technology is changing the travel industry in a quite unexpected but dramatic way.
My family and I had booked two weeks vacation in southern Spain. We had found and rented (online) a lovely villa and arranged the flights separately with easyJet. A hire car would speed us from the airport to the property.
As the day came closer before we were due to fly out, we started to notice news reports on the TV of forest fires which were raging in an area near to the property in which we were staying. My wife and I nervously joked that it would be a terrible shame if the villa we were staying in would be affected by the fires.
As the days went by, we joked less about it as we watched Spanish fire-fighters struggling to gain control over the blazes, which were now enveloping a wider area of the region.
And then sure enough, seven days before we were due to leave, the property owner sent us an email saying that the worst had happened – the property had been destroyed by the fire. Indeed, many people had lost their homes – not just their holiday homes. To be precise, the property owner said that the house was still standing, but the garden and surrounding countryside was ash. Other than that we were still welcome to stay at the property!
We politely declined and thanked the owner for his offer of returning the money we had paid and wished him well. That left us with easyJet flights for four people that we were unable to reclaim on the insurance because they had been arranged separately from the villa.
With a week to go until we were due to fly out, we wondered whether we might find a replacement property in the region that was a) available at this late stage (and in peek time during August) and b) not yet ravaged by fire.
I took to Google and searched. And searched and searched, but to no avail. There seemed to be no properties at all that were still available and any hotels were either unsuitable or full.
And then, as a last resort I thought I’d search in a different way – using Social Media. After all, statistics were starting to show that the number of visits to Social Networking sites were gradually overtaking the number of visits to Search Engines. Maybe real people out there on the Internet might know of a property that was available at this short notice? It felt unlikely, but worth a try.
So I posted messages on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – plus on my own site at IFA Life along the lines of “Does anyone know someone who happens to have a villa in southern Spain available for a family of four in two weeks’ time?” Helpfully adding “…with a pool and access to a range of nice local restaurants.”
Even as I typed it out, I realised how unlikely it would be to find something.
And then to my amazement, after just thirty minutes of posting the message, I had three responses. One from someone I knew and the other two from members of my own website – who I didn’t know personally but with whom I had previously connected online.
Twenty four hours later I had five responses in my inbox. One of the properties couldn't have been more perfect (see photo above). Not only was it available, but it had just been refurbished, had a massive pool and the owner even offered us a discount if I could take a few photos for his forthcoming website where he would be promoting the property. Within a couple of hours, we gratefully accepted his kind offer and the rest is history; a perfect holiday was had by all, local villages, bars and restaurants were frequented and we had made new friends.
As I said at the start of this blog, the idea behind the International Conference on Travel Technology India event, is to help hotels and tour operators to learn new and innovative ways to market, sell and generate business through the Internet. Like in a lot of industries, many travel companies around the world will see Social Media as another way to push its destinations out to a wide audience who increasingly travel through cyberspace.
And because Social Media is perceived to be so powerful, many businesses simply can’t resist using it for sales and marketing. Yet, time and time again they will discover that Social Media is even more powerful when used to listen to people – rather than to push and sell to people.
Social Media is increasingly being used by us all as a search tool, and we tend to favour results we receive from real people who care about helping us.
Now that the Internet dominates how people find, review and assess everything from holiday destinations to hotels, restaurants and flight operators, I’m looking forward to sharing a variety of ways for the delegates at the International Conference on Travel Technology India to use Social Media to listen to and to engage with consumers online - and to further enhance their customers' vacation and travel experiences..
India, here we come.
By Philip Calvert