I went to the recently held, high-powered Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME) 2011 conference eager to pick up the latest in travel trends, and come back with content for an article on the forward-looking state of travel.
Half way through the two day meet I began to feel I wasn’t getting what I wanted.
Nothing was sticking.
That was confusing because the roster was star-studded; the wunderkinds of travel’s social media world and executive classes were all presenting.
And there were familiar names like Henry Harteveldt, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and Susan Black from American Express Vacations.
So what happened.
Like so many events, media lunches, webinars and the like, I sensed a disconnect between the audience and the speakers.
The same problem exists in churches and in lecture halls where one or more people in authority are on a raised dais and “the people” are sitting below being talked to, with no opportunity to disrupt the proceedings with real-world questions, or expressions of business concerns.
How could the speakers, however gifted, possibly have a “feel” for where the audience was?
They were involved in their presentations and seemingly a mile away from the audience.
The powerpoints and slide shows were impressive but the data was simply overwhelming and unconnected.
• We learned that there was a 74% increase on mobile bookings from 2010 to 2011
• That 30% of all travel queries come from mobile devices
• That tablets are the fastest-selling consumer device in history
There was time only for maybe 3 or 4 questions per panel.
Good stuff, but not relationship or conversation-building with the attendees.
Ironically, each speaker, in the spirit of “groundswell,” spoke of how crucial it is to meet the consumer with fresh, compelling content at every stage of his or her buying process.
Each espoused the idea that listening to the consumer and engaging in conversations was the mantra of the industry today, and especially of social media-based companies.
Everyone was talking about connection, conversation, dialogue.
But from where I was sitting, there was none.
I imagine some day a conference or media lunch or group gathering will be in a physical space that encourages the easy, spontaneous flow of ideas and queries.
I would like to see a conference start off with the speakers asking us what our problems are. What is it we need help with.
Then let them then form their presentations around audience questions and problems.
I would like to see active, disruptive dialogue during a conference, not a few questions allowed after an intense, data packed presentation.
So what did I learn? Some good stuff, no doubt:
• We live in an age of what is being called the “hyper-connected traveler”
• That travel businesses have to be not just customer focused, but customer obsessed
• That travelers’ use of video is approaching a critical mass
• And that travelers seem to want curated content even as they turn to friends and families for travel decisions
My new “favorite” web site: Room77
Most quickly helpful: Travelzoo
My wish is for next year’s conference to reinvent itself with the emphasis on problem solving with the audience, and staying connected with them, not relying on the powerpoint presentations to do the connecting.