Travel Technology Show 2012

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imageOn the 7th and 8th of February 2012 I attended the Travel Technology Europe 2012 show at Earl’s Court. Like its name suggests, this is a conference that focuses on the technology involved in the travel industry. A few of the big technology-driven travel companies were there, including Expedia and Travelport, but there was also a huge variety of smaller businesses occupying a variety of market spaces, including everything from web-based analytics to ‘data aggregators’, aka companies that are exclusively in the business of collating and providing product (tour) data from and to a huge network of online travel companies. This blog post summarized my experiences and takeaways at the show.

As I was a little late I joined in on the end of an EasyJet presentation on how their analytics package is driving more personalized campaigns to more targeted user base than before, with very successful results. For example, if someone from the UK visits their holiday home in the south of France every Easter, EasyJet now has the platform to email that user in the run-up to Easter offering cheap flights. It was also interesting to note that the EasyJet website is powered by SiteCore, the same enterprise CMS that Trafalgar uses for their website.

Directly after the EasyJet talk, I attended a panel discussion chaired by Kevin May, operator of travel technology website Tnooz (www.tnooz.com – a website I will definitely be reading more of in future). Kevin had three panellists – John Watton (Director of Brand & Marketing for EAN, the Expedia Affiliate Network);  Alex Bainbridge from TourCMS, and Kevin O’Sullivan, a developer who won the last THack (read on to see what a THack is) by building an Android application that you could issue heart APIsvoice commands to, like “Flights to Paris”, and it would use various travel APIs to conduct the relevant search. The panel discussion was entitled “What THack did to the industry” and Kevin elaborated on a series of THacks conducted around the world and what the outcomes were: a variety of sites and apps that integrated travel data to solve a (travel) business need. A THack is a developer day or weekend where developers come together to ‘build something cool’ using APIs made exclusively available to them without any commercial barriers to entry. Apparently THack 2011 was where Expedia announced that they were making their APIs publicly accessible, and today any developer can sign up and start building applications interacting with Expedia services. The overall feeling of the panel participants was that APIs are the future and that travel companies, especially tour operators with data available for their own products, need to make this data accessible via an API or risk being left behind by those operators that do. Hopefully iTropics can scratch this itch for the Travel Corporation with our new API version 3! Expedia also recommended creating a developer portal so that developers could ‘self-serve’ accessing the APIs, and it was interesting to see that they have partnered with Mashery, an API management solution provider, to help make this happen.

API management solution providers APIGee are hosting an API hackday tomorrow at the Guardian offices, featuring access to APIs from Vodafone, Pearson (Eyewitness guides) and others.

One interesting comment from the panel was that it is no longer necessary for developers to wait for business agreements when developing products, but can now even lead on commercial opportunities by proving the technology first (eg. mashups or integrations) and the business falling in behind a successful proof-of-concept to get the commercials in place.

There were also a number of exhibitors at the show. One was AdInsights, a company that solves an interesting problem. An online shopper might click an banner advertisement or a Google Adword, storing information in their cookie that may be relevant to a website’s online media campaign. But that user may then pick up the phone to call a number on a website, preferring to talk to someone. At that point all online activity is left behind as their is no link between that phone-in customer and their online activity. What AdInsight’s analytics package does is dynamically display a specific phone number to any user coming to the site, which uniquely identifies them. When they call in, they are routed through AdInsight’s phone network which has ALSO collected information from the user’s cookie (including what phone number they are seeing on the website) and is thus able to link the calling customer to their online activity, including which online media campaign (eg. Facebook promotion) drove them to the site. The result is a comprehensive view of the calling customer’s online activity, enabling accurate tracking of online media campaigns but also allowing call-centre staff to contextualize their conversation with that client based on their surfing history (“Oh I see you were looking at the web page for European Whirlwind – we have a special on that this week!”).

Next I saw a presentation from Distribute Travel (specialists in travel API feeds) & Net Effect (network of several hundred travel websites and integrators of multiple APIs to feed those sites with bookable products) imagethat presented a talk called “Turning the Data Tap”.  The presenters expounded on the virtues of having an API. They advised that travel companies should even make their product data APIs open (publicly accessible), and let consumers/developers decide how to use that product data, as this enables the maximum amount of innovation. Indeed, developers or companies consuming your product data may surprise you with the new ways that they sell your products!

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To see the presentations in Prezi format (quite cool) see here:

http://prezi.com/ax5sdbrqvph4/turning-the-data-tap/

All in all it was great to see so much technology maturity and innovation happening in the travel/technology sector. This is certainly a very exciting space to be in right now, and there are seemingly huge commercial opportunities if we are strategic about our technology development choices going forward. I recommend adding www.tnooz.com to your reading list to keep up!

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