What is real innovation?

Innovation is a term the online sector and travel in particular is very fond of using – how many innovations has your company achieved this week?

Drilling down into the nitty gritty of innovation proved a worthwhile exercise, if only to make us think the next time we lazily insert the term into a lead paragraph.

True innovations are rare – in travel in particular what initially seems innovative is often simply a natural response to an evolving market, or a more rigorous application of something already in the market.

Expedia Inc and its media model fall into this category. Trying to generate revenues from traffic as well as transactions was an innovation at the time – no-one else was doing it – but it was also a response to a change in consumer behaviour and market conditions.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Dara Khosrowshahi realised just how many people were coming to his store, having a good look round and then leaving to spend their money somewhere else.

When it comes to genuine industry-changing breakthroughs, low-cost carriers are as good an example as any. Ryanair and EasyJet changed the airline industry by using business practices that had already been tried, admittedly with varying degrees of success.

In this case, it was the business that changed the consumer behaviour – creating a demand for customers to visit somewhere in Italy they’d never heard of because if they booked three months in advance it would only cost £10.

Vertically integrated tour operators have innovated their product, their marketing and their distribution both proactively and reactively, but the business model remains the same.

And arguably it should – Peter Long and Manny Fontenla-Novoa have shareholders to answer to and they usually turn in a decent profit and return. If anything, losing the shackles of their former German parent companies has reinforced their strengths as no-nonsense holiday companies.

Travel businesses online and off will continue to adapt and respond to changes in consumer behaviour, travel patterns and macro-economic. That’s not innovation, it’s common sense. But don’t fret – the next big innovation in travel is only an unsolicited press release away.

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