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TripAdvisor has announced plans to relaunch as a “travel feed”, a personalized social media mash-up that delivers to members familiar Twitter-esque, Facebook-like pages. For TripAdvisor, it is creating a new publishing platform for travel brands in the process.

It’s a bold move away from TripAdvisor’s reviews wheelhouse and the ongoing arguments around the validity and veracity of the reviews posted on its site. It raises the question on whether TripAdvisor, like the social media giants,  will be in a stronger position to defend itself when asked about responsible content curation.

The new platform is currently in beta, and will “launch globally to the public later this year across all markets and languages where the company operates.” TripAdvisor has produced a video which gives an idea of the look, feel and functionality of the new site, based around a couple’s trip to Nashville.

Coming soon: The all-new TripAdvisor - YouTube

The official release from TripAdvisor also includes a link through to a video recording of the press conference announcing the launch.

The new platform expands the TripAdvisor community to include brands, influencers, publishers and friends. When they log-in, members will see a newsfeed that will feel familiar to social media users, and can connect with others on the platform to get advice and inspiration as they plan their journeys.

Stephen Kaufer, CEO & co-founder of TripAdvisor said:

“TripAdvisor is poised to disrupt the travel industry once again as we create a more personalized and connected community. The new TripAdvisor is the one travel site that brings together social-assistive tools, amazing content and our existing booking capabilities to merge the joy of planning and discovery together into a single experience. We are assisting our members at each step of their journey as we become a more personalized, inspirational and useful TripAdvisor.”

More than 500 social media influencers, consumer brands, publishers and travel partners are live on the beta site. The company’s TripAdvisor Media group brands will contribute content and its own destination experts will contribute their insights to the platform.

Some big media brands joining include: National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel Channel, Business Insider & Insider Guides, PopSugar, Great Big Story (CNN Travel), Pandora Music, GoPro, Goop, NYC & Company (via their consumer-facing tourism website, nycgo.com), Nashville Music City, and The Knot.

Chris Thorman, vice president community products and growth, National Geographic, contributed a quotation to the release, saying that “as a global media company, we’re always seeking new opportunities to share our awe-inspiring articles, photos and video content, and a partnership with TripAdvisor allows us to do just that.”

Of course, publishers have been keen to join social media publishing platforms in order to draw a greater audience to their online sites. Facebook’s own history with publishers may serve as a guide of the pitfalls that both TripAdvisor and the publishers joining this new platform will want to avoid.

On the whole, it appears a smart move for TripAdvisor, opening up new opportunities for revenue streams in partnerships and advertising, giving its “book now” button a bigger presence, leveraging its authorititive travel footprint.

But the pitfalls of social are real. Wherever enough people gather to share information, they will share misinformation just as quickly. And wherever fraud is profitable—as it is in the travel space—it will go viral. It is possible that creating a ready-share engine will only intensify the review verification problems that the company already has to deal with.

There is another angle to consider if TripAdvisor really plans to become the go-to social travel hub: what happens to the customer touch-point infrastructure that big travel brands have already built on Twitter and Facebook? Specifically, airlines focus so much of their customer care infrastructure around these two social platforms. Will they also have to be ready to address consumer questions and reputation issues on TripAdvisor now?

The reality is that TripAdvisor has had to adapt as social media platforms grew their share of voice not only with travellers but also with the revenue-generating travel brands and influencers. But it’s important to remember that people go to social platforms for travel but not for travel alone. Will they spend more time engaging on a social site that is only dedicated to travel or will they simply fall back on the familiar?

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This is a viewpoint by Ara Parikh, product marketing manager for OmniVert.

More and more, travel marketers today are using 360° VR Video, whether on Facebook, Snap, YouTube, or other distribution methods, to tell their brand stories.

Why invest in a new marketing format?

In today’s digital world, there is a staggering amount of content, branded or not, competing for audience attention. Ad performance for traditional, flat ads has suffered. Consider this: in 1994, the first banner ad launched on HotWired.com, resulting in a click-through rate of 44%. Today, an average banner ad might get a click-through rate of 0.05%, the kind of nosedive travel marketers cannot settle for.

So when 360° VR video ads double the CTR performance of standard ads in the travel vertical, marketers pay more attention.

360° VR vs. Standard Media SM) and Rich Media (RM) – SOURCE: Google Rich Media Gallery Benchmarks

But it’s not just performance that has led travel marketers to 360° VR. Story matters too.

360° VR Video is all about bringing audiences to a place they can explore digitally. 360° videos allow users to click and drag or move their phone to explore 360° of content, and ultimately be immersed in that content. This works especially well for travel, which is all about the promise of a place. Audiences can see a full 360° view from the top of a mountain, step inside a grand hotel, explore the galleys of a cruise ship, and more.

See case studies below for how top travel marketers are using 360° VR Video for both performance and story.

Airlines

Cathay Pacific’s 360° VR ad was the airline’s best digital campaign to date. The creative featured 360° videos of its business class lounge, airport experience, and cabins. The airline saw gains in unaided awareness (+27%), favorability (+25%) and preference for the airline (+12%). The ads also saw higher click-through rates of 0.33%. Customers spent an average of 20.8 seconds on the experience.

Travel tech/booking

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched a 360° video on YouTube, featuring scenic scapes of Tokyo and the Chogoku and Shigoku regions. The video has over 1.1 million views.  

360°CHUGOKU+SHIKOKUxTOKYO - Temple / KAGAWA - YouTube

DMO

TravelNevada was looking for a way to visually wow and inform potential travelers of the multitude of outdoors activities and little-known gems of Nevada. Its 360° video ad was distributed as an interactive banner with 1% CTR, a 9% engagement rate, and 53 seconds on average spent on the content.

This is a viewpoint by Ara Parikh, product marketing manager for OmniVert.

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

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US-based expense management firm Certify has bought Spain’s Captio, its first acquisition outside North America, as part of its ambitious “multi-brand” expansion plans.

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Robert Neveu, president and CEO of Certify, told tnooz that Captio would continue to operate as a brand in its own right as part of Certify’s “multi-brand” growth plans.

Certify will offer a total of five brands including Abacus, which specialises in “real time” expenses technology and was acquired by Certify this summer.

Certify, which is backed by private equity company K1 Investment Management, also bought a corporate online booking tool from nuTravel Technology Solutions last year as the firm ramps up its range of products and aims to go head-to-head with Concur.

Neveu explained that Certify’s approach was not to create a “one size fits all” technology solution but to develop a range of platforms to serve different parts of the corporate market – from small firms of 25 employees or under, to those with thousands of staff globally.

“Captio will continue with its product road map, with its own team, as will Certify,” he added. “We will be able to share a number of services and technology. It’s about identifying the best practices across the group. The goal is not product domination as we don’t believe that one size fits all.

“There will be a lot of shared technology, such as the online booking tool, payments and receipt scanning, which are going to be offered through Captio.

“Certify believes in building a multi-brand strategy which we can take to customers, marketplaces and prospects. There will be growth across all our brands – with certain features and capabilities that products will have. It’s about having segmentation by market size.”

Neveu hinted that Certify would be making more significant moves in the near future without giving further details.

“K1 has a very strong appetite for this space and we have plenty of dry powder to continue to accelerate the business…Expect more announcements and more growth, revenue acceleration and meeting market needs.

“In North America, 50% of organisations with 1,000 employees or under are still using Excel or manual paper processes for expenses. In Europe, that figure is even higher. We see a green field with lots of opportunities for growth across our multiple brands – aggressive organic and inorganic growth.”

The purchase of Captio adds 60 employees to the company, on top of Certify’s existing workforce of 300 – a 20% increase in size.

The Spanish business was founded in 2012 and offers an end-to-end, cloud-based expense management platform with mobile capability. Its platform also has the ability to comply with different taxation requirements in countries such as Spain.

The move confirms Certify’s intent in moving into international markets – last year it expanded a partnership with the UK’s Sage Software to offer enhanced products to shared customers, while a deal with Western Union allows Certify to offer international payment capabilities to customers outside the US.

Following the acquisition, the enlarged company will have more than 10,000 customers in 90-plus countries and plans to offer expenses solutions to large, midsize and SME clients throughout Europe – especially in Captio’s key markets of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy.

Following the acquisition, Joel Vicient, Captio’s co-founder and CEO, will join Certify’s leadership team alongside Captio’s in-country managers.

He said:

“For six years we’ve worked very hard to create a tool that makes it easier for business travellers to record their expenses and for companies to manage those expenses and simplify reimbursement.

“Aligning with Certify will allow us to expand our product further, enhance support to existing customers, and secure new customers while accelerating our plans for growth.”

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JetBlue Technology Ventures (JTV)  is likely to receive around 2,500 startup pitches this year, everyone of which will be looked at and get a response.

Bonny Simi, president, acknowledged a big uptick in interest from the startup community. JTV launched early in 2016 and in the first two years got about 1000 queries. This year is tracking towards 2,500, she said.

Simi talked with tnooz at the Aviation Festival London earlier this month about how this volume of queries is reduced down into ten or so businesses which will get backing from the fund. The JTV funnel this year will probably have around a thousand businesses which warrant closer attention, with Simi keen to point out that “everyone will get a response, it’s part of JetBlue’s culture…”

The JTV team then carries out “desktop research” of the 1000 or so business which are in scope, before deciding on a long shortlist of around 250 businesses, At this stage the JTV team will meet with the founders, take a close look at the pitch deck and get the shortlist down to 50 or so.

At his point, deeper due diligence kicks in and there will be site visits, call to customers etc. “And ultimately we’ll probably make an investment in ten or so,” she said. “But even if we don’t invest there are some that we will still introduce to JetBlue because there might a commercial relationship to work out.”

Simi has divided her team into two – an investment team which looks at the numbers, ensuring not only the standalone financial potential of an investment but also how that investment might work with other parts of the JTV startup ecosystem. There is also an “operations” component to many of the investments, with Simi setting up a team of experienced airline people to help ensure products work in a live situation.

Startups enter JTV’s orbit via a number of channels, including referrals from other VCs who are not looking to invest in travel, aviation or hospitality. JTV is active with the global startup community so finds businesses through pitch competitions and events. There is also a call to action on the JetBlue Technology Ventures web site which allows startups to submit their proposal directly from the home page.

Watch the full eight-minute video interview in full below:

Bonny Simi | JetBlue Technology Ventures | tnoozLIVE@Aviation Festival 2018 - YouTube

To see other video interviews recorded as  part of tnoozLIVE@AviationFestival, click here to access tnooz’s YouTube channel.

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European travel giant TUI Group has bought Italian tours and activities tech specialist Musement as it starts to build up its destination experiences business line.

The price paid for Musement has not been disclosed. The Italian business has raised €15 million since it was founded in 2012.

See its tnooz StartUp Pitch from June 2014 here.

TUI said that Musement “will initially be managed as an independent unit within TUI Destination Experiences.”

The tours and activities sector is one of the most globally active in travel tech. Research from Phocuswright, produced last July and often referenced since then, says the value of the tours and activities market will reach $183 billion by 2020.

The launch of Airbnb Experiences in October 2016, and the of this product line as part of the continued expansion of the Airbnb mothership rattled many cages. Within the space of a few weeks this April, TripAdvisor bought Bokun while Booking Holdings bought Fareharbour.

Investment over the past few months include Evaneos getting $80 million, Klook getting $200 million, Tour Radar getting $50 million.

So where does TUI fit in?

Earlier this year at its AGM it identified “tours and activities” as a strategic growth area for the business as part of Destination Experiences. It bought back the destination management business from Hotelbeds a few months to grow its critical mass in this area.

It is looking for ways to improve the TUI holiday experience for its 20 million or so customers by offering them personalised tours and activities. But it has always talked about “third parties” when framing the growth profile for this unit – selling inventory to consumers who are not travelling with TUI or working with other travel companies as a B2B partner.

Its official press release about the Musement deal explains how it sees the relationship with Musement working in practical terms.

“Customers will be offered the opportunity to create their own individual experiences from a range of products designed to be as diverse as possible. If a traveller wishes, for instance, to visit the Vatican’s museums on a specific date and time and be accompanied by a French-speaking guide, the holidaymaker’s wish has to be matched with the offer of a guide with corresponding skills – in a fully automated and completely seamless manner for the customer. In future, Musement’s online platform will contribute these technical requirements and competences to the Group.”

Musement’s confirmation talks about its B2B2C appeal to TUI. It appears as if Musement’s inventory will be made available to TUI’s 20 million customers –  at the moment Musement has one million users.

But Musement also provides B2B tech to the tours and activities sector, and this is of interest to TUI.

Alessandro Petazzi, co-founder and CEO Musement said:

“[The deal] opens new opportunities for us to first of all better monetize our technology and our offer by accessing the huge TUI’s customer base and take advantage in terms of acquisition costs, as well as also potentially vastly expand Musement B2B2C strategic distribution relationships.”

TUI’s role in the tours and activities gold rush is a bit of an outlier. It has a captive audience of 20 million travellers to sell tours and activities to so there is no standalone customer acquisition costs. Its long-standing commitment to and investment in a single platform will help ensure that the tours inventory can be personalised, targetted and fulfilled.

If that inventory can then also be distributed to other non-TUI travellers – directly or via white-label partnerships – then the addressable market goes from tens millions to hundreds of millions.

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The value of reviews is substantial, for travelers who rely on them and for travel companies that benefit from them.

But wherever there is value, there is always someone trying to run a game. Now TripAdvisor is sharing details about how the owner of a reviews-for-payment business in Italy ended up in jail, with a criminal record and fine.

TripAdvisor says that its investigators were tipped off by an Italian hospitality business which had received email promotions from a business called PromoSalento to boost its profile in exchange for a fee. Investigators then identified the people behind the fraudulent review service and confirmed that they had not only advertised fake reviews as a service but also tried to post fake reviews on the TripAdvisor site.

The company explains:

“Our investigators applied advanced digital forensics to identify and analyze links between PromoSalento and attempted submissions to our site. Over the course of our investigation, our technical analysis identified and then either blocked or removed more than 1,000 attempts by PromoSalento to submit reviews to the TripAdvisor site on hundreds of different properties.

“PromoSalento attempted to avoid our scrutiny by regularly changing their usernames and email addresses, but our fraud detection processes use a suite of advanced technologies to evaluate hundreds of review attributes such as IP addresses, browser types and even the screen resolution of a reviewer’s device.

“Based on that analysis, we were able to see a trail of digital and behavioral ‘breadcrumbs’ that led our team straight back to PromoSalento.”

TripAdvisor also penalized properties which had paid for fake reviews through ranking demotion and, in some cases, flagging repeat offenders with a red badge that warns users that the company has attempted to manipulate reviews.

But the actual prosecution came from elsewhere. TripAdvisor says that PromoSalento was already being investigated by the Italian Postal and Communications Police. A restauranteur from Trieste had brought a case against the company after receiving advertising emails offering paid reviews.

In June of this year, the Criminal Court of Lecce found the owner guilty of using a fake identity to commit fraud. He has been sentenced to 9 months in prison and will have to pay 8,000 euros in costs and damages.

TripAdvisor says:

“We see this as a landmark ruling for the Internet. Writing fake reviews on TripAdvisor has always been a violation of the law in many jurisdictions, for instance falling under the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, as well as national laws relating to consumer protection, fraud and false advertising.

“However, this is the first time we have seen the laws being enforced to the point of securing a criminal conviction.

“The judgment makes clear that writing fake reviews constitutes criminal conduct under laws relating to impersonation fraud.”

TripAdvisor needs to get review fraud under control in order to ensure the long-term usefulness of its platform. It could be argued that its transition to a booking platform puts an even greater emphasis on the validity of the reviews.

While the company cannot predict or perhaps stem every scam that creative types are bound to drum up, it seems that a lot of the legwork is being done by authorities who are responsible for issuing fines and imposing legal sentences. Flagging listings which may be suspect is an interesting approach, though perhaps it would be best to simply de-list and ban properties who willingly defraud users.

It’s also important for TripAdvisor to be consistent. When we wrote about the record A$3 million Meriton fine for review fraud this year in Australia, we pointed out that Meriton still held its Travelers’ Choice Awards recognitions and Top 25 Hotels listings. At the time of writing this still appears to be the case. Putting red badges on and demoting smaller properties may be justified and proper, but it seems unbalanced while seeming to turn a blind eye to elaborate, fraudulent schemes developed by big-name brands.

Related reading:

TripAdvisor responds to a provocative study of bogus online reviews (Aug 2012)

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By its own admission, “a diverse group of strategic investors” were involved in a $13 million Series A extension for employee communication platform Beekeeper.

One name of note is Samsung Next, the venture capital arm of the South Korean conglomerate.

Beekeeper has a presence in a number of verticals, including hospitality. Use cases highlighted include “a team app, employee portal, group messaging app, and workforce platform.”

Clients include Marriott, InterContinental and Hilton. Outside of hospitality it works with Heathrow Airport.

A post on the Samsung Next blog, Why We Invested in Beekeeper, says:

“We believe [Beekeeper] is the first company to pull together communication and collaboration tools, as well as core business processes and a marketplace of integrations, into a single, mobile-first platform.”

It would make sense for Samsung to  have an interest in a mobile platforms for workers, seeing as it is “the leading global smartphone vendor”. Beekeeper’s press release says that 75% of the world’s workforce use personal mobile devices for work-related use, while the blog post talks about “pairing [Samsung] devices with Beekeeper’s platform.”

The news resonates with some trends in hospitality and travel, with Samsung’s line about “a marketplace of integrations” a familiar refrain. Many vendors are talking about the need for hotel operations, the CRS and the PMS to be more connected. A dedicated mobile platform for “non-desk” employees could ensure that any communication – late cancellation, big group arriving early, VIP guest hasn’t told us they are gluten intolerant – can be transmitted to the right team.

The changing workforce has prompted many TMCs to rethink their development roadmap to make sure they are fit for purpose as Millennials become the biggest demographic in the workplace. This digitally native group have an expectation that their working life will be as oriented around mobile platforms as their personal life.

And lets not forget Airbnb for Work, which recently announced a range of new products and services beyond its core accommodation offer for business travellers.

The addressable market is also huge – Beekeeper reckons there are nearly two billion non-desk workers  “who have been forgotten when it comes to digitalization within companies.”

Samsung’s involvement in the new digitized workforce space is interesting rather than material. It is one of six participants in the $13 million round, not including the two named lead investors, so its investment is slight. But with so many partnerships emerging across the hospitality and travel tech landscape – particularly within corporate travel – Samsung is another one to watch.

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This is a viewpoint interview series by Justin Watkins, Creative Strategist at Native Digital

As changes in technology and consumer culture create waves across the wider ecommerce marketplace, the travel and tourism industry is certainly not immune to impending disruption. In the face of industry-wide transformation, leaders must shift their focus from asking “what’s happened?” to asking “what will happen in the future?”

In this Q&A series we hear a variety of perspectives and pro tips on how the industry is modernizing to meet the expectations of a new age of travelers.

This week’s guests:

Adam Goldstein, CEO, Hipmunk
Kevin Long, CEO and cofounder, The Dyrt
Kevin Fliess, Vice President, Marketing and Sales, ATPCO

Q: What new travel technologies are you betting will be mainstream within 5 years? Which are a long way from primetime?

ADAM GOLDSTEIN: As the builders of the first and one of the most popular consumer travel chatbots in the industry, we’ve seen the increased desire to have AI-powered digital travel assistants for both consumer and business travel planning. In fact, when we teamed with SAP Concur to build the Concur Expense bot on Slack, and more than 100 teams installed the application within the first 10 hours of its release.

Thanks to the success of the Concur Expense bot adoption, Hipmunk recently helped introduce the Concur Travel bot on Slack, available in beta to joint Concur Travel and Slack customers that enables Concur Travel bookings directly in Slack.

KEVIN LONG: I remember in the year 2000 they said flying cars would hit the streets by 2010. Answering this question in 2018, having never seen a flying car, I am going to put my money on travel companies using technology to create new experiences.

Social media has ballooned on Facebook, and now we’re seeing it fracture into niche communities. Travelers are able to self-select into the communities and get real, targeted value to improve their travels. For instance, seekers of ‘the road less traveled’ can now join and participate with Atlas Obscura. Campers who want to dig into local knowledge of campsites and relevant gear can join and engage with thedyrt.com. It is an incredible time for niche communities.

KEVIN FLIESS: Over the next five years expect to see NDC, dynamic pricing, and rich content become mainstream in flight shopping. These three technologies taken together will open up a new universe of dynamic offer creation, whereby airlines will be able to create curated offers that combine the perfect price with rich content — and then deliver those offers out to their distribution partners through direct connects. This approach of dynamic offer creation should lead to a better shopping experience for consumers and higher conversion for airlines and sellers alike.

Do you see the purpose of leisure trips evolving? i.e. to volunteer, gain social capital, or immerse in local culture?

KEVIN LONG: Yes and no. The purposes we tell ourselves for travel might change, but the root motivation is always going to be the same: we are curious, we want to do something significant, we are interested by the unknown. The catalyst for these motivations is definitely impact by technology.

For instance, it goes without saying that social media encourages travel for its own sake. Visual platforms by nature cannot convey the complexity of human experience, and travel is no exception.

Thus, shallow caricatures of what we want travel to mean – what we are motivated by when we want to travel – are elevated and celebrated. This will increase and decrease over time. But just like waves in the far-off oceans we visit, the surface changes but the depths remain.

What types of traveler personalization, do you think we’ll see more of very soon?

ADAM GOLDSTEIN: Every traveler has their own preferences, and those preferences can change depending on what type of travel in which they are engaged. For instance, your needs when taking a family vacation are far different than when traveling on business. Hipmunk took a big step in this direction with our recent flight search redesign, which shows travelers exactly what’s available on each flight, directly in their results. It also shows travelers how those options change based on the fare type they book.

The new experience makes it easy for travelers to quickly compare flights by what matters most to them, whether that’s the miles they’ll earn, extra legroom, WiFi availability, or whether they’ll be charged for a carry-on.

Also, we think personalization based on calendar information is essential for business travelers—it’s why we’ve incorporated this into our site and our bot.

 KEVIN LONG: Machine learning will impact destination travel in a big way. Think Netflix Suggestions, except instead of movies it’s trips. This requires the sophistication of one conglomerate or network that controls both engaging content (generating data points for user affinity categories) and also trip inventories (suggesting and monetizing user affinities).

KEVIN FLIESS: Today, travel planning is highly reactive and, at times, tedious. I shop, compare, shop some more, compare some more, abandon my cart, and maybe, eventually buy. There’s a real opportunity for proactive personalization here.

For example, if I always go visit my in-laws in Fort Myers, FL every year at Christmas, a smart booking engine that anticipates my needs and recognizes my travel habits, could proactively start recommending itineraries and monitoring fares for me months in advance.

If my Outlook calendar shows a conference coming up in October in Paris, the same engine could start shopping for flights well in advance and recommend preferred hotels within walking distance of the event location.

Layer in machine learning and the system could start to anticipate experiences and itineraries that I haven’t fully contemplated yet but that match my evolving tastes and interests.

Between transportation and accommodations, which do you think will see more industry disruption in coming years?

 ADAM GOLDSTEIN: In terms of industry disruption, I think we’re going to see more blurring between what historically has been considered “traditional” and “alternative” inventory. We’re going to see more consumerization of business travel, such as with Concur Hipmunk, where travelers will have access to all different types of transportation (trains, Lyfts, scooters) and accommodations (vacation rentals) based on their personal preferences and regardless of the type of travel.

 

KEVIN LONG: Neither, because we’ll start to see them combine. If I can sleep 8 hours in a Tesla on autopilot en route to my destination, the question is probably not about “how much disruption” but rather “how much more sleep will we get.” (Probably less, to be honest.)

Big or small, what’s the biggest pain point with travel waiting to be solved?

ADAM GOLDSTEIN: As the types of flight fares and amenity options increase, it’s becoming more difficult to present information to consumers in language that is clear while still being concise. The challenge for the industry will be to create an enjoyable low-cost experience, wherein travelers know exactly what to expect for every given price point.

KEVIN LONG: We know about the Santorinis and Madrids of the world. The biggest pain point in travel is not knowing about the destinations in your backyard. Online communities will surface these sunken treasures to make the offline travel experience all the more regular.

KEVIN FLIESS: Trip planning is still tedious. With AI and machine learning, smart booking engines will emerge that anticipate my travel needs. The crux of the idea is for travel sellers to anticipate the needs of shoppers by looking at historical buying habits, real-time signals, and future events. The whole idea is to deliver convenience in the form of relevant and timely offers that I need, which meet my budget, and eventually surprise and delight.

Key Takeaways:
  • Look for emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning to become an integral element of the travel planning process.
  • The next-gen travel planning experience aims to consolidate and eliminate unnecessary touch-points; travelers will enjoy seamless planning that anticipates their personal needs.
  • Greater access to relevant information will remain a primary objective. Meeting and exceeding the customer’s evolving expectations will require more than just tech-enabled solutions.
  • Disruption is inevitable for both transportation and accommodations. As lines begin to blur between ‘traditional’ and ‘alternative’ options, new growth opportunities will emerge for brands willing to bet on non-traditional solutions.

This is a viewpoint interview series by Justin Watkins, Creative Strategist at Native Digital

Opinions and views expressed by all guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of tnooz, its writers, or its partners.

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New technologies which make it easier for passengers to book connecting flights have the potential to change the competitive landscape of aviation by giving low-cost carriers greater reach and airports more power.

Last week, easyJet announced the extension of its ‘Worldwide by easyJet’ program, supported by Dohop, to include Singapore Airlines, which gives passengers new options connecting through Gatwick to onward destinations in the UK and Europe. The agreement also gives customers access to low-fare connections to Asia through Singapore Airlines’ low-cost carrier brand Scoot.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet CEO, said there is “a strong appetite from partner airports and airlines to expand Worldwide across our network, allowing us to access a greater range of passengers flying across Europe.”

He added:

“Worldwide by easyJet has grown rapidly since launching almost 12 months ago. Over half of easyJet’s flights and 53 million easyJet customers will soon be able to connect to airline partner services and other easyJet flights in a single booking through our online portal.”

The easyJet Worldwide airline partnerships extend to Thomas Cook, Norwegian, WestJet, Loganair, La Compagnie, Corsair, Neos and Aurigny as well as Scoot and Singapore Airlines.

The airline also has Worldwide connect partnerships in place at airports around Europe including Gatwick, Milan Malpensa, Berlin Tegel and Venice Marco Polo. It expects to add Paris Charles de Gaulle, Paris Orly, Amsterdam Schiphol, Manchester and Edinburgh to this list in the near term.

Airports Take the Lead

Elsewhere, during the China Aviation Summit held at Aviation Festival in London, Stansted Airport announced plans to launch its own virtual interlining services, expected to go live by summer of 2019, through a program facilitated by Kiwi.com.

With the new platform, Stansted will support not only transfer services for passengers connecting on participating airlines who have no formal code-sharing or interline agreements but also assist with re-accommodation and bookings.

As Aboudy Nasser, CCO of London Stansted Airport explained:

“We will take that connection risk, so if there are delays it’s not down [to the airlines] it’s down to us to re-accommodate and look after the passenger. Also, really importantly, it comes with full distribution capability—not like a self-connect where you have to go through airport.com, we can embed this on your airline website and sell it as a true origin and destination.”

This booking feature also allows airlines to get creative with how they sell virtual interline tickets, Nasser said.

“The fare structure is not the sum of sectors. It can be, but with the airlines we’re working with you can put in private fares. If you have some distressed inventory in off-season that you are trying to offload, you can put that together. Because it is a private hidden fare, it goes in purely as the O&D fare.”

Gatwick’s own GatwickConnect program – launched in 2015 – first highlighted new connection opportunities to passengers.

The program has been a success, Guy Stephenson, CCO at Gatwick Airport said during the same session at Aviation Festival.

“I think the big question really is: do you take a narrow view of return from an airport—that is to say, I’ve got costs and I need to recover them. Or do you take a broad perspective. That is; my airport is my biggest asset, how do I leverage the network to make the best use of that and also to grow our airlines, not the least the long-haul airlines?

“We’ve been very successful..we now have over 60 long-haul routes and airline combinations. We want to make sure that our long-haul network is thriving by developing it ourselves.

“When we first researched, we saw about one million passengers per annum which were transferring over to other London airports—primarily Heathrow—on exactly the same itineraries that we could do…That’s a big market to get at if we can.

The next piece of research told us that over the course of a year there are about 3.5 million connecting journeys that are capable of being booked on our network.”

The growth potential for airports of facilitating virtual interline for LCCs that want to avoid the complications of code-sharing and interline agreements may re-shape airline competition in future, giving airports greater control over the process.

Of course, this works for the benefit of passengers too—eliminating the hassle while opening up cheaper long-haul route combinations. Gatwick’s Stephenson was proud to boast that GatwickConnect services have only lost three passenger bags in five years.

Related reading:

Gatwick Airport – a distribution disruptor? (Sept 2015)

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Extended stay specialist BridgeStreet has ramped up its proposition to the corporate travel market with the launch of Six Ways to Stay.

Its chief technology officer Aaron Turner told tnooz that the new platform “distributes in any way that the business traveller wants to access the inventory.”

The six ways to stay are broken down into: extended stay hotels, hotels, furnished homes, urban/resort vacation rentals, serviced apartments and design-led hostels, all of which are professionally managed. The launch co-incides with the addition of more “alternative accommodation” inventory with Turner keen to stress that there no private houses on its list.

Turner said that Six Ways connects directly into the GDSs and to travel management companies via APIs. It will also work with its existing channel managers partners SiteMinder and Cubilis.

Anther option is via what Turner described as “private client booking hubs” and “private apps”. He noted that the ability to “layer in a rules engine” between the hub and Six Ways meant that clients could factor in policy to ensure all bookings were compliant.

Individual “business transient” travellers without a TMC or corporate can book directly at bridgestreet.com.

https://www.tnooz.com/article/bridgestreet-partners-with-siteminder-alternative-accommodation-mainstream/

“We retain our B2B focus but there is a significant volume of individual business travellers looking for extended stay accommodation so we need to be able to serve this segment to the same standard as our B2B clients.”

He also noted that the widening of the inventory, and the increased emphasis on instant confirmation opened up more use cases for extended stays.

“It’s not about Millennials or other age groups, even geographies.  Certain project teams might like the idea of a design-led hostels – someone relocating with their family might want a professionally managed home. It’s about the use case and career or life stage of the traveller,. For us its about  making sure we not only have the choice of inventory but also  that we make the inventory accessible.”

Related reading:

BridgeStreet partnership with SiteMinder signals mainstream shift for alternative stays (Sept 2017)

BridgeStreet unveils OTA for business travel community (Feb 2017)

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