Bring me the head of innovation – and sack him

Travel firms should avoid the temptation to employ a head of innovation if they are to truly innovate, a former Tui Travel boss told last week’s Abta Travel Convention.

Tim Williamson, who formerly oversaw distribution at the travel giant but who is now chief executive of Dubin-based The Travel Department said in his experience it was no easier for large firms to innovate as it is for small ones.

“I have seen it from the point of view of a large organisation like Tui and small businesses. It’s tough in both those environments. You assume a company like Tui can do it with their dedicated huge resources but they cannot, the cost margin of their business is so tight. In a small business you are just really, really busy.

“I would say do not employ an innovation manager, it abdicates responsibility to someone else. You need to create a team that has the ear of management. Have one person who does that job with a budget – you need someone to step out of their day job to do that – but they are the facilitator. Everyone is really busy, but new stuff has to come from somewhere.

“That body has to be empowered – give them budget, give them time, and then everyone attends their meetings and when the idea is developed it’s rolled out across the business. It does take time and it’s hard, but it’s worth it.”

The convention’s marketing session also heard from Designate digital development director Dean Harvey who agreed with previous speaker Peter Parkes, of Made By Many that there is a lot of bad practice on social media.

“There are a lot of brands acting irresponsibly, especially on the social web. You need to be authentic and most of all engaging and interesting if people are going to share and discuss your brand in a meaningful way online. You need a dialogue with your customers, not a monologue.”

Google’s industry head for travel Nigel Huddleston agreed: “When it comes to travel you have to be authentic – it’s absolutely the key thing.”

Huddleston said it was also vital firms were absolutely on top of all the data trends. For instance he said while Google’s mobile travel queries now account for 20% of the total, a more detailed look has revealed, for instance, that this is true for ‘Benidorm’ searches but that this destination also sees 25% of searches on tablet. “If you are not enabling people to buy [on these devices] you are shutting people out of your business.”

Alistair Daly, On The Beach chief marketing officer, said innovation came from being close to the customer: “We watch our customers all the time,” he said.

Daly said firms had to accept customers will go to Tripadvisor the validate their choices by looking at user generated reviews and images and they should embrace this.

Tripadvisor and Youtube get a “tremendous amount of traffic from On The Beach”, he said.

The online agent has even debated whether it would be sensible to provide a link to the hotel website as part of the service knowing that customers will ultimately visit it anyway as they trawl the web during the research phase, added Daly.

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