Expectations ran high for this, inaugural event, taking the principles of the Travel Forward technology conference to an international audience and showing how technology needs to adapt to the broadest range of cultures, expectations and needs. Tatiana Venvelzor of Sabre opened the event with a colourful vision of the future, showing how mobile, social and digital were driving, and being influenced by, the changing expectations of travellers. This was followed by Paul Malicki of Rio de Janeiro based Flapper, whose quick-fire presentation linked technology with the realities faced in Brazil, both in terms of culture and his own experiences of starting up a new kind of travel company.
To say the hall was full at this point would be an understatement: Eduardo Fleury of Kayak presented how to respond to these needs, both from Kayak’s perspective and in terms of the broader market evolution. As the game moves from bookings to experiences, it’s no longer a question of offering a price comparison engine, it becomes more of a smart directory, he explained to a packed audience, with the aisles standing room only. Quite clearly, the demand to understand what to do next is high.
But is it all about transform, transform, transform or die? The message from industry analyst Jon Collins’ presentation was, if in twenty years’ time all companies will once again be balancing both tangible and intangible assets, how can traditional travel providers use their heritage, their experience and skills, their operational excellence and ability to manage physical infrastructure as a competitive differentiator? This was followed by Érika Quintana, of Facebook for Business, whose technologies enable collaborative change within the provider community: Érika brought Jamyl Jarrus of Movida to the stage to show how technology can both make a difference and help create a fun place to work.
At this point, we moved from ‘what’ to ‘how’, with Paulo Salvador of Inn and Out Performance introducing experts in customer acquisition and loyalty programmes, Douglas Martineli of Dentsu Aegis and Maurici Junior of ComSchool. Following presentations, an animated Q&A showed just how much interest there was in this area, and rightly so: in the digital world, the customer is king. This theme continued in our closing panel on New Distribution Capability, hosted by Camila Lucchesi, Editor in Chief of Brasilturis Jornal, and which brought Amy Seches of Oracle Hospitality Solutions together with Thiago Campos of OmniBees and Eduardo Fleury of Kayak together in a discussion of how to leverage integration technologies to deliver on the evolving needs of travellers.
So, what did we learn? Across the sessions, we discovered just how complex the travel technology landscape is, and will continue to be; at the same time, we found out that the best way forward is to focus on how to deliver business value to customers, how to build trust and loyalty, how to create offerings that go beyond simple transactions. We learned the importance of setting an over-arching vision for technology-based digital transformation, together with setting concrete, achievable strategy for how this will take place; then how to deliver on these goals successfully and sustainably. These are the themes that we shall be carrying forward as we take Travel Forward to new places, with new speakers and audiences: above all, even in the virtual, augmented world, and wherever on the planet we may be, travel is about making it real.
By Jon Collins, Conference Director for Travel Forward.