Each year, forward-thinking travel industry leaders converge at the Phocuswright Conference to swap learnings and dig into trends. With the theme of “Power Paradox,” this year’s event in Los Angeles promised to be unmissable. I’m happy to say, it did not disappoint. The three-day marathon of speakers and sessions aimed to tackle a big question: How are nimble startups—who can evolve to meet changing consumer demands—challenging established companies bolstered by brand recognition? As the travel space expands at a staggering pace, these companies are all clamoring for a larger piece of the growing pie.
As we discussed the tension between size and speed, power and agility and domination and innovation, a parallel topic surfaced: What can we learn from the balancing power shift between technological innovation and brand affinity? These two paths to growth are driven by different goals; As startups race to build technology that can power a complete ecosystem for the travel industry, legacy travel providers are doubling down on their brands in the hope that loyalty and trust will keep them top-of-mind for consumers.
Which approach will win out with consumers’ wanderlust? Let’s take a look.
Technology-forward companies can draw on rich consumer data to build artificial intelligence that tells consumers what they want—sometimes before they know it themselves. For example, natural language search has been a major area of development because it allows travelers to search for specific sets of experiences—let’s say, a four-day vacation in a destination less than three hours away by plane, with pleasant weather in February and excellent scuba diving. Leveraging advanced search capabilities across multiple content sources helps customers feel confident that their results are accurate and that they’ve found the best deal. Understanding this, technology companies are rushing to create an end-to-end solution that links the entire travel process from flights and local transport to lodging, dining and activities.
By contrast, established travel providers are building strategies that play on mistrust of unknown brands. For instance, hotel chains and airlines can use historical customer data to create personalized profiles that capture individual brand affinities—in other words, they create experiences that consumers easily trust because they know their expectations will be met. Additionally, certain technological conveniences only stand to benefit well-known travel brands. For example, a voice search for “flights to London” would return far too many results spanning multiple connections and airline tiers. Many consumers would find it simpler to search something like “British Airways direct flights to London” instead.
Whether consumers select a trip because of the tech-ease or the brand-love, we know that the experience is now just as important as the destination. And with consumers traveling more than ever, companies have an exciting opportunity to deliver the type of experience that raises the bar.
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As startups race to build a complete technology ecosystem for the travel industry, legacy travel providers double down on their brands.
About the Author
Kelsey is an Account Director for Globus and shares the client’s passion for travel. With 8+ years of marketing and agency experience, she has spent the last several years working abroad in both Beijing and London.