Lee Hayhurst reports from the Travo@10 Start-up summit in London, sponsored by Travelport and Cheapflights and hosted at at News UK’s new offices.
Becoming involved with and assisting start-ups is vital for legacy businesses to pre-empt future shocks to the industry from new entrants.
Travelport’s Simon Ferguson cited the impact Airbnb is having in hospitality and Uber in ground transportation.
He said neither company responded to any specific emerging customer demand but both had the creativity and ingenuity to do something different.
Ferguson said: “Customers actually are not very good at saying ‘I want something completely different’.”
“Unless you have a particularly revisionist view of history, none of us said ‘I would like to be taken home by an unlicensed minicab driver with no more navigation device than I have in my pocket’.
“The same with Airbnb. With them, it’s about their authenticity. ‘Live like a local’ – that’s incredibly powerful.”
Ferguson said the reason why Alta Vista, the original internet search engine, did not become Google was because its owner, Digital Equipment Corporation, could not see a benefit to its core business of selling hardware.
Travelport has established an innovation lab based in Denver, which travel start-ups can apply to join so they can access the support they need to get their ideas off the ground.
Ferguson, Travelport’s managing director for northern Europe, said firms must commit to physically moving resources to the lab for four months.
He said there were two main reasons why Travelport established it, adding: “It is altruistic, in that it’s great to be fostering and growing innovation, but it is also a response to the fact that we are a legacy business and one of the ways of dealing with that is to harness ideas.
“The reality is that innovation is hard to cultivate in very large companies. Large organisations inevitably are focused on keeping people on their day jobs and the legacy is like an umbilical cord.”