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The Chaos of Travel: Who Can Help?

The Chaos of Travel: Who Can Help?
by Kaleel Sakakeeny

While it might have been a bit ambitious for PhosCusWright to call its recent  Webinar, “Chaos Calls: Philip Wolf Answers,” but that’s exactly what they did.

PhoCusWright, a leading travel market and research company, put their president, Philip Wolf, squarely in the lion’s den.

Wolf  led the Webinar  made up of  anxious travel professionals eager for someone to make sense out of an industry in chaos, but one that accounts for about 10% of the country’s GDP.

The new technologies, acquisitions, mergers, distribution strategies, Internet-based opportunities are certainly raising havoc (and providing opportunities) with an industry that for years has had a stable business model with familiar players.

Wolf said characterizing the travel and hospitality industry as “chaotic” was a big understatement, and tried to offer some guidance to the professionals trying to make sense out of the new and shifting travel landscape.

Unfortunately, the Webinar was marred by some technical glitches that made it difficult to follow sometimes, but here are some “take aways”:

• To one questioner who asked wasn’t it better to concentrate on business fundamentals rather than keep chasing the latest social media or technology development, Wolf gave a resounding, “No.”

He made it perfectly clear that any travel company that “holds back” from adopting and adapting to new trends is in danger of becoming obsolete, fast.

“The public is quickly embracing new trends as fast as they develop,” he said. “Travel professionals must too.”

Where it was once “nice,” he pointed out, to have a video on YouTube and to have a branded YouTube Channel, today it is a must for anyone wanting to be a winner in the travel space.

Jeff Boyd, CEO of Priceline, went on record as saying “Smart phones, tablets and the like are the most exciting developments I have ever seen on the Internet,” which set the stage for a discussion on the  “Prime Time for Mobile” segment.

Both Boyd and Wolf affirmed that the era of discussing the power of mobile devices to shape travel choices and transact travel business is over.

Those waiting for more concrete results in terms of numbers and measurable Return on Investment (ROI) apparently have a “death wish.” Mobile, implied Wolf,  does more for the success of travel and tourism than probably anything else.

• A discussion about the enormous popularity of Location Based Services (LBS) with their abilities to build customer loyalty while delivering “location based” travel deals and information, ended with a question about the traditional travel agent.

There are some who still remember that’s how travel business was conducted for years.

Wolf graciously avoided saying they were all but extinct. But he did urge those brick and mortar agencies to work harder to differentiate themselves relative to product and services.

The On Line Agencies (OTA’s) like Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia will, he said, probably see consolidation as they fight for North America dominance

Finally some exciting second tier names emerged.

SilverRailTechnologies is quickly establishing itself as “the” platform to consolidate all passenger rail information into a single integrated platform, so travelers don’t just go from the airport to the train station to the hotel, but travel by train from destination to destination, seamlessly.

Relative to new business models, of course Groupon was sighted. But so was Woot the one-day, one-deal with a short shelf life, and Rue LaLa , an invitational private shopping boutique.

Whether Wolf and company reassured the travel group that chaos is an opportunity remains to be seen

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