Travel Technology – Disruptor or New Normal for Tourism Marketing?

Travel technology has been on my mind a lot lately. 2017 was the year that I became Board President of Digital Rochester, a technology organization for professionals working in established and emerging technologies in the Greater Rochester area. I have been involved with the organization since 2009. It is always an interesting conversation when other members hear that I am in the travel and tourism industry. It seems like a disconnect from the other members: software developers, programmers, gamers and cutting-edge technology companies. For me, it keeps me connected to what is coming next, expands my knowledge beyond the travel and tourism industry and reminds me of how interdependent everything is with technology.

Today the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wraps up in Las Vegas. You may have seen stories talking about the latest technological ideas coming out of companies exhibiting at CES. Funny that CES makes me think about how these new technologies impact travel and tourism. My first experience at CES was in 1989, when I attended with my father who owned an automobile electronics store. At that time, we were on the hunt for new products to offer our retail customers. We were interested in the newest technology for cellular phones. Phones were making a leap from hard mount installations in cars to handheld versions that you could take anywhere. Revolutionary right? We had no idea! Fast forward to 2018 and I think we have actually arrived in the land of the Jetsons. Dominant stories coming out of CES include home assistants (Alexa, Siri and Google), virtual reality, artificial intelligence, laundry folding robots and smart swim suits (wearable tech).

Working Together

I recently listened to an episode of the Skift Podcast about How London is Powering a Travel Start-up cluster. London & Partners (the official promotion agency for London), set up a TravelTech Lab within their offices in 2015. The Lab is a co-working space operated by The Trampery, an organization that specializes in these types of work spaces. Scott Thompson, Chief Commercial Officer for London & Partners, explains, “London & Partners has a unique, holistic view of all London’s sectors. We spotted this emerging trend, recognised the gap in the London landscape and created a compelling solution in the form of a buzzy workspace.” The TravelTech Lab aims to foster innovation, collaboration, and creativity by bringing together start-ups and corporations in the industry. By co-locating the TravelTech Labs with London & Partners, start-ups have access to over 600 of London’s leading tourism businesses.

Travel Technology is Part of the Conversation

On my podcast, Destination on the Left, the impact of technology on travel and tourism becomes part of the conversation on many of our episodes. On Episode 54, Morgan Painvin from Quinn talks about the impact of digital media on PR. She explains, “… PR has seen tremendous evolution even just in the past five to ten years. We have seen online content grow exponentially. What we’ve seen with that is really a hunger from journalists for content. As online outlets grow and editorial staffing decreases, I think that at the end of the day, journalists appreciate help. As an agency we started to identify trends, fun stories that go with the times, or seasonal festivities and then started providing that content to the media.”

Chatbot Technology

On Episode 50, Ed Healy from Visit Buffalo Niagara shared with us their exploration with Chatbot technology. As Ed explains, “we’ve had to be very imaginative in how we conceive of Buffalo as a place to live, work, and visit and be very imaginative in terms of how we market it and our messaging. We also have to challenge ourselves as professionals, in terms of being open to all of these new tools that come along. Visit Buffalo Niagara recently had launched what we believe is the first chatbot that any DMO has ever offered to the traveling public in the entire country, if not the world. This is embracing new technology and being aware of what’s out there and always trying to be on the cutting edge so that our potential visitors can access information about our destination in every possible format.”

Travel Technology is Changing the Game

On Episode 48, Tom Mulliez from iTrekkers talks about his Travel Technology start-up, “We are essentially a tech startup. We’re in the tech incubator and we’re bridging the gap between technology and outdoor tourism, something that for the most part is not technology driven. There are trends that are happening in the marketplace that I don’t think many people see and realize. They are quite scary to me and I think it’s going to have a massive impact on the mom and pop. Those who understand the game and understand technology are light-years ahead of winning the game for traffic and the only way that mom and pops are going to be able to compete later on is to pay, and pay a lot of money, and what I think we’re going to see is a consolidation of the mom and pops under bigger umbrellas and I think we’re going to see a lot of that disappear, and that worries me.”

Tom continues, “When I say mom and pop I’m talking about a mom and pop vacation rental, a mom and pop tourism or guide company. All of those things are going to be hurt. I’ll use the fishing industry as an example. There’s a company called FishingBooker and they’re based out of Serbia. They don’t follow the rules and they’re led by some very intelligent individuals. This company has over the last six months dramatically risen in rank for all organic searches for a fishing charter in Tampa, for example. I understand what they’re doing because I wish I could do it as effectively as they are and that’s the truth, but what they’re doing is essentially stealing leads from people who are already buying, they’re stealing that lead and they’re reselling it to the same person who originally would have received it. So they’re decreasing the margin for the actual operator.”

Disruptor or New Normal?

As my podcast guests exemplify, travel technology is changing the way we dream, buy and experience travel. Disruption is a term used often when talking about technology and travel. I don’t think it is disruption any longer. It is the new normal. Staying up to date on what is happening, paying attention to the reports out of CES, watching trends and networking with folks in the technology industry are imperative for any industry, and especially for travel & tourism.