Travel could benefit from adopting aspects of the online gaming world – and frequent flyer programmes are close to doing so already.
eRepublik was launched in 2007 to exploit the growing power of community online and disrupt the conventional computer game model based around consoles and physical hardware.
He said the rise of social, local and mobile is poised to transform the online travel industry enabling to it move away from price and convenience and embed itself within the online community.
“In my time travel was about price and convenience, now people who will be able to add to that social and mobile will do very well. I would be focusing on leveraging Facebook as one of the tools that really helps me make the whole travel experience much more social.”
Asked what aspects of gaming would be transferable to travel, he said: “Bringing a virtual currency element into online travel sites is very interesting.
“A frequent flyer programme is like a game, it has some gamification, a lot of the things we use in games. There are a lot of things that the travel industry can learn from the travel industry.”
eRepublik’s games are free to play but users are encouraged to buy credits or virtual currency to buy virtual goods. Bonte said the sector enjoys 95% margins.
He said the concept was to disrupt the traditional gaming industry by offering games players could access on their PCs without having to buy expensive hardware and software.
A game could be created for just £10,000 to £15,000 and then built by the community, he said – a stark contrast to the tens of millions of pounds spent developing and marketing conventional games.
Bonte said that travel gave him the “online bug”, but that a stint at Lastminute allowed him to see how the impact of the big players was undermining differentiation and profitability.
“We could see the margins coming down and we could see we were all selling the same things. The importance of community was starting to come but there was no customer loyalty.
“It’s interesting to see that’s still the case, but the opportunity in travel in terms of doing something different is going to come and actually I think it is here now,” he said.
Bonte said there were opportunities for small firms with innovative technology to win out over the big players who are too slow to adapt, as long as the newcomers get their marketing right.
Fellow former Lastminute colleague Lopo Champalimaud, co-founder and chief executive of health and beauty site Wahanda, said: “You have a lot of benefits built into the travel industry. You can layer in a lot of consumer experience above the travel experience. Is it difficult? Yes. But I do not think anything is impossible.”
Champalimaud, who told the summit lack of innovation had cost Lastminute the chance to ‘be Groupon’, added he thought too many firms use complexity as an excuse not to innovate and the secret to success was creating something harmonious and simple for the consumer.