Ed Whiting – Technology shows the way ahead

A trend is simply ‘a general direction taken’. Therefore, technology trends are as much about changes in existing technology as the introduction of new gadgets, devices and systems. And technology is having a significant impact on the general direction taken by the industry in three key areas. 


Firstly, reaching your audience. With the emergence of travel communities interacting in places such as TripAdvisor, YouTube and WAYN.com, potential audiences for your products and services may be congregating in new markets. Suppliers of travel services need to follow the people.


Travellers are now overwhelmed by choice. A key technology trend is therefore about helping consumers, and intermediaries, aggregate content. Examples of aggregators include the screen scraping of the meta search engines. The trend here is to migrate to more secure interfaces, such as web services, when the travel sellers support it.


Another content aggregator is TripAdvisor. It relies on the consumer to aggregate, by providing the facility to upload text and images on specific hotel properties.


The trend in aggregation technology is not exclusively for consumer-facing distribution. Several companies aggregate travel sellers for trade distribution (eg Multicom, Travelfusion, Dolphin Dynamics and Comtec).


Compliance with industry standards is a must for travel sellers wishing to achieve extensive distribution. For trade distribution, the Travel Technology Initiative set up the TOPAS and TORIX XML formats. The Open Travel Alliance has set standards for other types of travel such as car hire, hotels, cruise and destination activity search and book. The Internet has also given rise to other types of XML standards such as Real Simple Syndication.


Secondly, technology is having an impact on browsing and user experience. Approximately one third of UK adults use the Internet to search for leisure holidays every week, according to Ofcom. The pollster YouGov has found UK broadband users spend, on average, a staggering 23 hours a week online.


Trends in the travel sector have mirrored this phenomenon. Consumer-generated websites such as HolidaysUncovered and TravelPost have grown rapidly. Content tools are emerging on travel sellers’ own websites, such as blogs and wikis, that let people collaborate and share information online.


Broadband is a major catalyst in the growth of e-commerce in travel. Travel and rich media fit well together, with broadband supporting the application of video, podcasts and 360-degree panoramic images. Every inch of the planet is now covered by digital mapping and aerial photography. These mapping technologies allow the layering of geo-coded locations such as hotels and restaurants on top of maps and aerial photographs.


Thirdly, technology is impacting customer service. The opportunity to overcome the barriers presented by finite staff and telephone lines has driven the development of technologies that empower customers to gain access to pre, during and post-sale customer services online.


However, consumers may prefer to be contacted in different ways at various stages of their interaction with travel suppliers (e.g. iTV, e-mail, SMS, voice, fax and post).


Somewhat surprisingly, the ‘My Account’ service is still only available on a few travel websites. While most reservation systems have this functionality it is not generally made available to the consumer directly.


The use of technology to provide additional services will be a key differentiator in travel e-commerce. Therefore, technology is ultimately shaping the direction the industry is taking.


Ed Whiting is product director at Comtec (Europe)

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