Inventing the future: our verdict on the Teletext Holidays relaunch

TWgroup chief executive and Travolution founder Simon Ferguson profiles a firm that has put app technology at the centre of what promises to be an exciting future

Teletext Holidays’ brand repositioning is more than an attempt to break free from its analogue past.

The company has clearly spent a large part of this year redeveloping its entire platform and has produced some revolutionary new offerings.

In an art gallery in west London, on a snowy night earlier this month, it revealed a suite comprising a new website, a TV channel, mobile, iPad and iPhone apps.

Managing director Victoria Sanders was silhouetted against a massive multimedia wall projection as she evangelised about a new digital media dawn for a brand whose traditional heritage has been fuelled by Tetley tea rather than Google juice.

Behind the sizzle, the Teletext repositioning was a bold attempt to attain the holy grail of online travel, reconciling transaction with experience.

Travel is inherently fiddly and complicated, meaning that replicating booking processes on the web inevitably involves multiple searches and a crowded user interface.

Comparisons with simpler sectors such as books or electronic retailing miss this point. Travel is inherently experiential. Rich destination content and advances in video, 3D and augmented reality continue to hint at the promise of bringing travel dreams to life via the web.

Teletext’s new site design departs from many established practices. It is clean, yet rich with imagery, and layers content vertically, breaking the below-the-fold taboo. The principle seems to be that users will keep scrolling down if you capture their stream of consciousness.

Video and multimedia is embedded throughout, and most radically, open search has been largely abandoned in favour of simple user questions – who is going? How much will it cost?

This is reminiscent of Yahoo’s early stepped-search approach, before Google came on the scene and persuaded us that an open search box was the answer to everything.

“Search is a pain” declared Sanders prompting a certain Google executive sitting beside me to utter an ironic chuckle. However, this is surely the online travel truth that dare not speak its name.

Throughout, the site deals are presented with multimedia, destination and excursion content integral, and maps appear at the point of an offer.

Facebook integration allows travel plans to be shared seamlessly with the social web. But it is on the iPad where these principles come into their own. A spinning globe is the starting point, with package deals floating out at the user from whichever destination they stop at.

It looks fabulous, but doesn’t sacrifice ease of transaction – family party size and booking dates can easily be changed at every stage of the ‘experience’ journey.

This app perfectly crystallises the potential of the iPad – a phone is too small for this type of interaction and a fixed PC or laptop too limiting.

It is ideal for handing around on a tablet while taking refuge in a crowded Starbucks – as you and your friends or family plot your holiday escape.

There are, of course, some big questions ahead for Teletext, most notable whether their traditional audience is ready, or equipped, for such a journey.

I suspect its classic low to mid-income family segment still thinks an iPad is part of the children’s pirate dressing-up costume.

Ultimately, combining experience and transaction seamlessly will only succeed if it proves a more effective way of attracting traffic and improving conversion rates.

At the very first Travolution advisory board meeting in 2005, then editor Martin Lane asked the assembled throng to predict what online travel would look like in five years’ time. Simon Breakwell, then at Expedia, spoke of a more personal web, linked via a convergence of devices – Facebook was still a twinkle in Marc Zuckerburg’s eye at this stage.

Lastminute’s Brent Hobermann predicted a virtual reality globe, where users could explore where they wanted to go seamlessly.

In many ways the online travel journey since then has been a bit ponderous, but Teletext is proving the maxim that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

Video: The Teletext Holidays relaunch

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