5 years ago

A rough guide to eight big travel industry battles

Travel industry conference season is upon us once again. The distribution cohort has gone from Singapore to London, is now in Scottsdale, Ariz., and in the new year will be heading off to Berlin then back to London.

This adrenalin-fuelled grand tour of long days—and even longer nights—can be a real drain on financial and mental resources.

To let you spend more time schmoozing (or sleeping), here is a quick guide to what is often discussed in travel industry panel debates.

With this little guide you can pretend to your boss (or your colleagues) that you really were paying attention rather than sleeping in the back row. Just hope your boss doesn’t read Tnooz too 😉

The main debates (not necessarily in this order)

1. Innovation vs it works perfectly well now, thank you

You will hear the innovation word a lot. A LOT. No one really knows whether innovation is better or just different. What most of these innovation debates miss is feedback from the part of the industry that the innovation is meant to eliminate or simplify. Simple rule: If the innovation has been created by a twenty-something-year-old and aims to eliminate part of the industry they have never worked in, the innovation will fail.

2. Travel bloggers vs travel writers

Yes, this debate is ENDLESS. According to travel writers, travel writers create well researched, independent articles, while travel bloggers don’t. Travel bloggers don’t share that point of view, obviously. While those two groups fight it out, most of the travel destination content created by companies within the travel industry will continue to be actually written by interns. You won’t see an intern on a panel, though.

3. Data centres vs cloud

Cloud! Cloud! You must be using cloud technology! But turns out that cloud technology is really just a data centre susceptible to all the same problems normal data centres are.

4. Local vs global

You will hear plenty of mention of the L-word on travel panels. Local tours, hiring locals peer-to-peer (P2P), partying with locals, eating with locals, and arranging for local transport. All you need to know is that global is “local that has scaled.”

5. P2P vs businesses

Expect P2P (e.g., peer-to-peer accommodation marketplaces like AirBnB) to receive plenty of airtime. Are hotel chains worried? Maybe, but probably less so than regional tax inspectors. Don’t expect sensible debate from industry insiders as they would often prefer AirBnB and their ilk to just disappear. Instead expect stories like, “When I stayed in AirBnB in Berlin for ITB, my room was plastered with Justin Bieber posters.”

6. Standards vs chaos

Oh travel distribution conferences never pass without a good old ding dong about standards. Standards theoretically make the world a better place. Turns out travel technology companies either want standards (because that can help them catch up market share vs a larger competitor) or don’t want standards (because they want to continue selling expensive systems to suppliers and standards would weaken the value of that market).

7. Agents vs the web

Probably one of the most confusing types of panel debate you can go to. After all, agents are on the web, right? Most debates end up by saying companies should consider what can be automated and what should be made efficient (because the human still adds value) If you go back to your boss and give that clever answer you’ll be fine.

8. Responsible tourism debates

Travel industry executives who spend half their lives jetting to industry conferences all around the world really want to talk about their “green” credentials in supporting low-carbon, environmentally friendly travel. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.

Any other regular debates I have missed?

Hot tip: Do you know about the iPhone app Who’s Where When? as covered in Tnooz Tlabs earlier in the year.  The ideal industry conference companion app. Pretty much a must-install.

NB: Battle image by David Barrie, via Flickr/Creative Commons.

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Alex Bainbridge

About the Writer :: Alex Bainbridge

Alex is a contributor to tnooz and writes about travel technology, travel startups, in destination guides and the tours & activities sector.

His most recent business TourCMS (sold October 2015) was the original leader in tours & activities distribution, connecting up hundreds of local tour suppliers with leading online travel agents. The industry architecture he put in place during that period is now the regular approach adopted globally by the entire local tour industry.

He is now CEO of a new in destination project coming soon.

Alex has a computing degree, is passionate about usability, speaks French and still writes and reviews code. Follow him on twitter @alexbainbridge



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  1. Stephen Joyce

    Stephen Joyce

    “Turns out travel technology companies either want standards (because that can help them catch up market share vs a larger competitor) or don’t want standards (because they want to continue selling expensive systems to suppliers and standards would weaken the value of that market).”

    This is, of course, your opinion, and you are certainly entitled to express it. Let’s be clear, however, that your statements are purely anecdotal and therefore without substantive proof. I would like to point out that, for the most part, standards like the OpenTravel standards were originally created for the benefit of suppliers by suppliers. The point of standards is not to help one group gain market share or another group to maintain a monopoly, they are designed to level the playing field by allowing systems that need to communicate with each other to do so in a common way and nothing more. That is why standards are created by trade organizations that are made up of member companies who volunteer their time and, in many cases, their own intellectual property to help build them.

    Frankly I don’t think the standards argument is even an industry battle. Given that many major airlines, all the GDSes, and many of the hotel distribution systems already utilize some form of the OpenTravel message schemas, it’s pretty clear that standards are already an important part of the travel distribution landscape.

  2. Mark Lenahan

    There are the big boogey man debates:-

    * GDS vs everybody else (though arguably this is the distintermediation debate)

    * Google vs everybody else (or more broadly SEM/meta-search is cool vs customer acquisition will end up eating our entire margin)

  3. Michael

    Great article as usual Alex. Maybe throw in keyword search vs semantic search.

  4. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Well I think you missed the biggest one which remains intermediation vis disintermediation. It is a long term war being fought on many fronts

  5. Yusuf ijsseldijk

    Brilliant summary and indeed worth a follow up. I just dont agree with the comments about Cloud. Perhaps when you more or less move your stuff from servers to the cloud, sure. What’s the point indeed. We are a start-up and have developed our entire product, an online travel agent, on a cloud platform. Although we have loads of areas we can further improve and optimize the benefits and possibilities of Cloud we are already extremely pleased with what Cloud has made possible.

  6. Stuart L

    Actually my comment was unfair on interns. I don’t blame them. I blame travcos employing AN EXCESS NUMBER of interns, without training or prospects who, basically, are exploiting them. Feel strongly about this, and can’t help but feel it’s travtech’s dirty little secret. But I’ve benn wrong before

    ps if you want to know the going rate for a decent writer (or blogger) it’s here


    *really does shut computer*


  7. James Parks

    The reduction of no cost distribution opportunities as paid placement encroaches into all arenas.

  8. Stuart L

    The shit stuff is written by interns. Sometimes. Not always. But usually.

    We should do a “blind tasting” one year. Panel of “experts”

    One article by blogger, writer and intern. Which was which….

    This was tongue in cheek.

    *turns off lap-top*

  9. Reg of The Spain Scoop

    ‘While those two groups fight it out, most of the travel destination content created by companies within the travel industry will continue to be actually written by interns. You won’t see an intern on a panel, though.’ Ha, I had to laugh at this. So true for those Top 10s and what not. I am a travel writer, I also have a blog. There is crossover. -R

  10. G

    Brilliant take, Alex.. and as one of the twenty-somethings I will endeavor to prove you wrong!

  11. Alex Bainbridge

    Thanks all

    Sounds like I need to do a followup post with another set 😉

  12. Martino Matijevic

    Great analysis Alex. The fun tone did not make it any less true.

    Couple to add:
    Mobile app vs mobile web
    Is social converting

  13. David Sjolander

    Thanks Alex, very true. I’m facilitating a session at HEDNA on standards, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll quote you in the intro. I only WISH they were all sleeping in the back row. In reality, they are all glued to their smartphones…reading Tnooz?

  14. Sceptical corporate traveller

    Alex – kudos for a suitably sceptical (ie realistic) article – particularly the bit about “Cloud” – unless of course one happens to be talking of Google. http://tinyurl.com/bcbw5mg

    “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” ― George Bernard Shaw.

  15. Pete Meyers

    Fun recap Alex. A couple to add:

    – Mobile vs. Web

    – Social vs. Nocial (just made up the latter word, but you get my drift)

  16. Daniele Beccari

    Great list.

    I’ll through in a couple more to get started…

    – Native vs HTML5
    – Merchandising vs advertising


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