On Tuesday a small delegation from Web Applications UK went to London to participate in Travolution’s Question Time. This is their story.
The Question Time panel was made up of five industry leading representatives. Craig Dean from Web Applications had the technology provider for end users covered and Steve Tassell from Microsoft illustrated the power of some of their latest technologies. Seamus Conlon from Cruise.co.uk very much represented your everyday holiday provider and Marko Balabanovic had an interesting angle from Lastminute.com. Finally, David Parfect represented Facebook, the king of social networking, apparently ignored by the travel industry thus far.
These five panellists had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into. They did not know the questions they were going to get asked but they did know the structure of the debate and who else was going to be there. The Web Applications team arrived early to set our things up (did you see our Unifying Communication sign in the corner?) and completed a run through of the demonstration that Steve Tassell would conduct. The event had been sold out, so all that was left to do was sit and wait for our eager guests to arrive.
TW group’s Simon Ferguson gave a short introduction to start off the event and then Steve Tassell jumped into his Unified Communications demonstration. The demo began with Unified Messaging, Voicemail in particular, as well as a seemingly unintentional “Can you hear me now?” joke. I thought it was funny. The voicemail was left by Steve’s co-worker Brett concerning a document. Steve listened to the message in Outlook and saw that Brett was online, and so sent him an Instant Message. Brett had a few questions so the IM was promoted to a voice call, and then video for good measure. Steve was unable to answer the question and so dragged Vivienne into the video conference. Brett shared the document with Steve and Vivienne so that Vivienne could not only see the document in question, but also edit it. What was perhaps the most impressive part of the demonstration was finding out that Reading not only had its own football team, the team had fans…crazy.
After the demonstration, Travolution’s Editor Lee Hayhurst took over and became the moderator for the panel; the questions began. For ease of use I have shortened the names to initials:
CD = Craig Dean, Web Applications UK
ST = Steve Tassell, Microsoft
MB = Marko Balabanovic, Lastminute.com
SC = Seamus Conlon, Cruise.co.uk
DP = David Parfect, Facebook
Question 1: These (Unified Communications) seem to be an application for business, where are these applications for the consumer?
CD: Putting Unified Communications in people’s homes is very simple. It’s extremely useful for temp staff and people working from home and is a much more cost effective solution than fitting out a PABX. We have a complete Unified Communications solution in our office and love it, we don’t have a single phone.
SC: I see problems within a call centre environment and the order in which people do their work.
CD: This technology is smart and knows (or can be programmed to know) who the best person to contact is at any time. I think you’ll find that in actual usage in an office environment, this isn’t an issue at all.
Question 2: Did the market say this is a product [Unified Communications] we want? Or did Microsoft put it together just because they could?
ST: In many ways UC is the coming together of things that already exist, and make them easier to use together. The market it always looking for things to get simplified, and the market is changing as the younger generation becomes a more prominent member of the work force. This new generation are very much driven by a sense of immediacy and products like UC make sense for them, get in contact with who you need to right now, or find someone else who can help you.
DP: For successful products in this market you need to follow three simple rules, it needs to be Quick, Simple and Easy. Chat is what we’re focusing on right now, but then again, we’re largely consumer to consumer so it is a little different for us.
MB: In our company [lastminute.com] we have this kind of technology already, and have for a while. It isn’t that big of a change.
CD: But it’s presence that makes it all so importance. When you’re working with agencies and suppliers, knowing who is available and being able to message them questions whilst on the phone to the people asking them, it makes a huge difference in time saved and sheer convenience.
Question 3 from Paul Hastings, Hostel Booking: Does the advent of mobile technology like the iPhone and iPad mean the Mobile Revolution is really here?
MB: This is one of those things, if you get a lot of mobile bookings, great, we will all probably have to go into mobiles eventually. If you don’t get a significant number of mobile bookings however, it is very expensive to be an early innovator in the mobile realm, and it will not necessarily be worth the money. For some people the Mobile Revolution is here and has been here for a while, for others it is still a few years away.
DP: The problem that we face now is advertising on mobile platforms. It’s not being done effectively yet. We are Facebook though, you can be sure when we do start mobile ads, we’ll do it differently to everyone else.
ST: Mobile is very important to us. Microsoft does not discriminate against different mobile clients; we want to work within every major mobile network, even if it’s not a Windows phone. Things will get cheaper, all technology gets cheaper as time goes by.
CD: There are statistics that state that by 2013 there will be more phones capable of web browsing than PCs. That alone means it’s going to be a huge opportunity. The gears have starting moving on the Mobile revolution, it is imminent, you just have to make sure it doesn’t pass your business by.
SC: As a company you need to be everywhere that people are. We need to be present everywhere that people spend time. People still read newspapers, so even if they aren’t the future, they are still the present, and we need to be there. Everyone needs to forget the ROI (Return on Investment) because you just can’t calculate it with Mobile right now.
Question 4: What commercial opportunities will open up due to Mobile?
CD: Everything is now. SMS is important for sending deals to people, especially when they leave on holiday. It’s also great for up-selling. Many people go on holiday these days and don’t have everything planned in advance; they are much more open to opportunities that catch their eye.
MB: Location based vouchers. Sending people through your door is the new advertising. There are still some things that have to be done on paper, that’s a problem, eventually though that should be less of a problem.
SC: It is a big move forward that you know your customers can check their email all the time while abroad. So you can send them emails of offers while they’re abroad and you know they’ll get them.
DP: I think people are getting way ahead of themselves here. We’re a long way away from all of this. You do definitely need to take a look at the ROI.
Question 5: Thomas Cook is branching in London Centre. Is this a good thing? Seamus?
SC: I know nothing about this. It probably won’t be called Thomas Cook if they bought someone else.
MB: Of course it would be called Thomas Cook. You don’t throw away a brand name like that. It’s a good thing, it drives competition which is good.
Question 6: IS there a new phase of OTA innovation to come?
MB: The cost of selling over the internet is significantly cheaper than using a call centre today. But we might see the resurgence of travel agents due to increases to PPC (pay per click) bookings.
SC: In theory anyone can come and disrupt the OTA space.
MB: Internet booking sites all look kind of alike. The average consumer has no idea what OTA or Metadata is, nor would they be able to spot it. Thomas Cook may disrupt the City hotels, who knows? Any big brand can come in. Nike might be doing something soon in this space. Really, it could be anyone.
SC: Do you want to see disruptive? Go to TripAdvisor, it’s hugely disruptive.
Question 7: Will there be a way to manage all by social networking platforms?
CD: Yes, it’s all about getting the right technology provider. If you have a technology provider that understands your business and what you’re trying to do, then you can really get whatever you want and whatever your business needs. People say they can’t calculate an ROI for mobiles? We can, you just have to know what you’re doing.
ST: This is one of those areas that would need a killer app. It might not be there yet, we’re still looking for that perfect UC App.
DP: People think it’s all the same, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, but they’re not, we’re very different to everything else out there, we’re not competing. I think you could use these social networking platforms much more than the travel industry does at this time. It’s free to create a group on Facebook. Where is everyone? We have 450 Million users. I think maybe you should look into leveraging the power of social networks before thinking about how you’re going to manage them. The way these are used are completely different as well. Businesses should definitely make this more important.
Queen 8: Is the Man-bag coming back into fashion with the advent of the iPad?
CD: I think Germany came up with some jeans for you.
SC: Absolutely, bring on the man-bag, I love it.