The maiden conference, focused solely on the Asia Pacific travel market and its rapidly evolving technology landscape, brought travel, hospitality, and tourism industries most innovative thinkers and leaders together on one platform. Interestingly, the ‘Centre Stage’ of the conference was arranged in a cramped and congested area, as if to communicate the course travel technology would be taking in the region, which in all probability would be a busy playground for many innovative ideas and concepts.
The launch edition of the PhocusWright conference was definitely a different experience in terms of its approach to the theme and its precision in organisation. The small but expert team of PhocusWright worked like a well-oiled machine in the entire conduct of the conference to provide a quality ‘educational and networking’ conference experience to the participants.
The pattern of the two-day conference was similar to PhocusWright’s highly acclaimed US show, which is two decades old. The conference started with a Travel Innovation Summit where innovative ideas and concepts which could transform the travel technology landscape in the region were presented by a number of aspiring entrepreneurs. Each start up presentation was followed with a question answer session by panel of ‘dragons’ from the industry making the concept more clear for prospective investors and consumers.
The concepts presented at the platform made ample sense for the businesses in terms of acquiring and reaching out to new age tech-savvy consumers as well as to end consumers who are looking for seamless and experiential applications to access and buy travel products and services. Bikram S Sohal, CEO & Co-Founder, Savvymob Travel Solutions, presented a multi-platform and multi-category service which aggregates the unsold inventory of hotels. The platform is created to target SMEs as well as smart phone users. Gaurav Chiripal of QuadLabs presented a ‘unified travel dashboard’, Travog, for business travellers. Travog is an online platform which enables business travellers to both buy travel packages as well as file travel expenses/reimbursements. He sees a USD 1.25 trillion global business travel market opportunity which remain untapped due to lack of proper automation.
Joy Ghosh, Regional VP, TravelClick presented their latest ‘intelligence’ tool, Demand360, that enables hotels to benchmark, analyse and forecast market demand in real time by analysing and churning the past data. Gautam Shewakramani, Founder and CEO, Audio Compass, presented another novel concept of digital content, DIY (Do It Yourself) Experiences touted to be worth USD 40 billion market opportunity. The mobile app enables travel freaks to discover destinations and book transport to move between places without any hassle.
Sakshi Vij, Founder & CEO, Myles Cars, put forth another innovative concept in the car rental space – having the fun of a car without owning it. The app the company has proposed will enable aspiring self-drive customers to have cars of their liking on hourly, daily and monthly rental. The mobile application helps the consumer to register himself once and avail cars of his liking in 21 cities in the country.
Numerous other innovative concepts were presented at the Technology Innovation Summit and most innovative start up ideas were awarded at the end of the summit. While QuadLabs ‘Travog’ bagged the Best Travel Innovator of the Year Award for APAC, Myles Cars was named the runner up. Audio Compass’ ‘DIY Experiences’ won the ‘Amadeus Next Award’ as well as the People Choice Award.Smart Phone Proliferation, a Challenge for Marketers: McCabe
Lee McCabe, Global Head of Travel Strategy, Facebook said that the rapid proliferation of Smart Phone users is a challenge for marketers across the globe. There are 2.5 billion active smart phone users today and the number is increasing rapidly, and 40% of them use multiple devices to communicate. When it comes to Facebook, the number of users is growing rapidly. Around 1.58 billion people use Facebook and 1.04 billion visit the site on a daily basis. The number of people using WhatsApp and messenger are also growing steadily. Seventy-five per cent of the media consumption is on mobile today, therefore the time being spent in front of the TV is on the decline.
Putting forth a comparative analysis, McCabe said that it took 36 years for radio to reach 50 million users, TV took 13 years, the Internet reached the masses in four years, and Facebook took 3.5 years. Connection, Convenience and Context are three vital elements of communication today. From text messages, the world has evolved to photos and now videos, he added.
Asia is embracing Sharing Economy faster than other regions: Varsha Rao, Head of Global Operations, Airbnb Delivering a keynote at the conference, Varsha, Rao, Head of Global Operations, Airbnb said that Asia has started embracing the sharing economy concept and the adoption is quicker than many other regions of the globe. Each region has its own unique characteristics and therefore Airbnb conducts proper research to understand the localisation required before entering the market. She said that Airbnb is trying to bring in localisation relevant for the Asian market. They also try to communicate the brand ethos to home owners so that the trust being gained across the globe is sustained in all regions. Airbnb has been able to achieve 380% year-on-year growth in the Asia Pacific region after they started expansion in the region in 2013.
Commenting on the benefits of sharing economy and Airbnb, Rao said that the intention is to develop a “generous community” of home owners and guests so that the tourism pie is distributed evenly and the local community is benefited from the overall tourism activity in the destination.
Talking about travel technology, Rao said that the smart phone proliferation is helping Airbnb to grow the market share in a big way. Even in Asia, 60% of the Airbnb bookings are through mobile phones.
‘There is a burgeoning opportunity for technology in India’
The debut Travel Innovation Summit organised by PhocusWright India was notable for its focus on technology innovations in the travel space, and for its overwhelming participation by virtual who’s who of the technology space. What made PhocusWright launch an India leg of the technology conference and the kind of response it evoked & what kind of technology innovation that the market demands? Tony D’Astolfo, MD, PhocusWright responds to P Krishna Kumar.
Q. What made you bring the technology show to India? What is the market condition in India, in terms of travel technology?
A. There are many reasons. India is a large market, which needs what we bring to the table—research. This market does leverage our research. There’s a burgeoning technology opportunity in this market. So, given what we do and the way we cover technology and deliver technology at events becomes more relevant to this market. Moreover, we have four employees stationed here for quite a while now; they have been building the marketplace from the awareness perspective. We just determined that now is the time for us to do something in the region. It is a great, challenging and interesting market. India is a fascinating place to visit.
Q. How has the industry responded to this first ever travel technology show?
A. For our main show in November in the US, which we have been running for the last 20 years now, we have been getting good participation from the Asia Pacific region. For the past four years, we have been organising a special lunch for guests from the region at that event. I disclosed our plans to launch an India specific show at that lunch last year, and received overwhelming support from the participants. The support we received from MakeMyTrip, Yatra.com, etc. gave us the comfort and confidence.
It is always a huge undertaking, each time we enter a new market, we have to learn the venue, and the companies we are working with. We have a high value production event; we like to have everything right with attention to detail. The vendors are learning about us and vice versa. The first year is always challenging. There are some things we could have done better. Feedback has been overwhelming and positive. I am sure that next year will be even better.
Q. How is travel technology evolving in India?
A. There seems to be many innovations, but the opportunity for good innovations in the travel industry is still persists. Historically, the Indian market has been facing problems in terms of organising the content and marketing it. The small independent operators were largely left out and not able to leverage technology to solve their problems.
As a research agency, we look at it in three different ways. Firstly, we look at the size of the market, which, of course, is huge. Then we track the technology trends in the market and compare local v/s international trends. The online adoption is definitely trending in India, but there is a ceiling that close to be met. There requires additional investment on the technology side. Our research shows that there is further scope for investment in travel technology in this market. We also track consumer trends. Research shows that the intent of the Indian traveler is to travel more. Our job is to find out how they are going to get inspired to travel, whether it is through social media, mobile phones, online websites, trends in terms of online shopping, etc. These consumer trends will be driving future investments in technology in the market.
Q. Your technology summit started with a dedicated session for start ups? Do you follow a set format?
A. Our travel innovation summit is very consistent. In other markets particularly in the US, which is more mature, we break the innovators into different categories. We have true start ups which are less than two years old, companies which are less than four years old, and more established long-term players. This helps companies to compete in similar categories. Here also, our intent is to do it in that fashion going forward.
Q. How do you make sure that the gap is bridged between startup companies and the legacy companies?
A. We use our platform to expose the innovators to our audience. Our audience comprises consumers, distributors or partners and investors. We tell the innovators that they should attend and present at the platform to make themselves available to all of these potential audience. Our job is to make sure that this audience is big enough.