WTM 2015 was here and now it’s gone. The Indian Hall, though a little subdued over last year, had the usual plethora of states, travel companies, hotels and resorts with a fair sprinkling of fresh entrants too. As during its earlier editions, the focus of Indian trade participants was largely on stoking the fires for warm relationships with existing clients, scouting and for a few, sometimes sneaking on new ones.
Cursory discussions with most of the attendees revealed the hardnosed focus on business that solely whets the appetite for most attendees and participants. Therefore, it was no surprise to witness the sparse Indian interest in talks, presentations or more educative sessions that happened elsewhere, especially at the Travel Tech pavilion.
This is despite the fact that the travel industry has been increasingly adopting technology to power its business. Experts speaking at most sessions and in different ways commented that the industry is witnessing major growth in online bookings as airlines, tour operators and hotels develop increasingly sophisticated digital platforms and social media strategies to reach out to clients and customers. Sitting at a desk and waiting to meet clients—potential or existing, is so nineties. Travel is a tech-driven industry that is getting more sophisticated and complex by the day. Those who want to compete need to understand what technology is out there and how it can be used.
At one such Travel Tech session, while commenting on more general content, an expert stated that anyone could create content but being ‘liked, heard or seen is not enough.’ She stressed the importance of a content strategy that delivers specific business goals. Another expert opined that the paradox of the digital economy is that travel business need to be more human in its interactions since customers want to be nearer to it and with a more personalised approach. This finesse and knowledge cannot be developed without specific and focused attention.
The pavilions for Travel Tech had a fair share of Indian exhibitors and even start ups from other parts of the world, cheek by jowl with the majors from the business. The technology on show was keyed to help businesses use big data to drive one to one marketing with customers. At specific sessions there were Digital Marketing Expert speakers talking about how to wade through the world of travel tech and helping businesses understand how to stay ahead and maintain a profitable business.
From the outside, shows like WTM appear unchanged. It is still an opportunity to get together with colleagues around the world, chat up, strike some deals and socialize- even take time off from the grind back at office. However, the show has actually changed quite significantly and the growth of the Travel Tech section is an example. Five years ago when this section was introduced at WTM the raison d’être was aptly put across that unlike other commodities, travel does not exist when it is sold. It is an information product at the point of sale and with the rapid strides in information tech; it is going through tremendous change.
Smart phones are driving this change. A leading survey indicates that there will be over 2 billion smart phones in use across the world by 2016 with Ericsson estimating 6.1 billion smart phones in use globally by 2020 (compared to a world population estimated at 7.7 billion). In India e-marketing is already leaning hard on physical shopping. It is not just those born in the new millennium who are tech savvy, the eighties generation has caught on equally fast.
At the core of any travel business that wants to stay relevant, tech strategy is vital in making the guest experience as seamless as possible. This, especially in hospitality business, includes ease of searching and booking, right up to the quality of communication in the entire pre stay process and equally during it.
Almost 43 sessions focusing on topics pertinent to technology and its influence on the industry were held during the event. The highlights across the 4 days included sessions on blogging, mobile, social media technology and hospitality technology.
According to reports, an impressive 42% increase of total attendees to mobile sessions and 16% increase for blogging sessions were achieved at WTM. These are key areas to the future of all travel companies. It is for this reason that the muted or at best, sleepy response from the Indian participants comes as a disappointment. Of course there were the usual die hard techno whiz kids, but they could be counted on less than all fingers. Maybe the priority is to meet new clients and knowledge expansion comes low in the list.
Perhaps the industry associations could look at giving an encouraging nudge or informative suggestions to their members in the future. (The author is a freelance writer based in Delhi and a regular contributor for TravelBiz Monitor)