I attended the travel tech geekfest known as PhoCusWright last week and penned this rundown of interesting new travel tech that could make your life easier. I came away energized but frustrated, awed but annoyed, and impressed but yawning.
My mixed feelings were shared by many other attendees who are trying to make sense of the tsunami of change occurring around us. Much of it is invisible to us travelers who are booking flights, hotels, and tours, the tech happening behind the scenes or “under the hood” of all those websites and apps. Often I bristle at the thought of travel being sold as a commodity like peanut butter or cell phone plans, but for the booking sites, that’s their reality.
Here on the content side of things, we’re more concerned about the experience—what happens in your dreaming and doing, what happens after you’re on the ground in a new and exciting place. The booking part is just a means to the end.
Thankfully for us, people seem to spend a lot of time on travel websites and blogs before making up their mind. The Experian Hitwise company’s research found, for example, that in the 45 days leading up to a purchase, the average person visits 50 different websites before hitting the “buy” button on a site like Expedia. (So any advertiser or PR person looking for “conversion” from one website is deluding themselves that this is even possible.)
It’s all about Facebook?
Here’s the other factoid of the week from Hitwise: one out of every pageviews in the U.S. now is Facebook. It’s one in six in the UK. Here’s the full report.
Many companies that presented at PhoCusWright took this as meaning we all want to see where our friends went, what they did, and how we can use their recommendations to book travel. I’m not sold on that. Some of my friends are like-minded, but some love cruises and RVs. I meet strangers on my trips that are more attuned to my likes than either group. Kids in their 20s may feel differently though. Time will tell if these companies looking to connect us all and broadcast our likes and locations will actually survive. As the leader of Kayak said at one point, “Social [media] is overhyped—at least when it comes to making money.”
Or maybe smartphones?
The other big wave is mobile, which of course is important and fast-growing, but there’s a tendency to project one’s own experience outward and assume everyone has an iPhone and wants to use it to do everything in life. Being that the attendees at this conference were almost all educated, white, and reasonably well-off, that’s a dangerous projection to base a business plan on. Internationally, smart phones are still a novelty in many countries. Where I am in Mexico, finding someone using an iPhone is almost as hard as finding a good Chinese restaurant. Blackberries, yes, but that’s about it. The data plans are just way too expensive for anyone but the elites or those who need to stay constantly connected in their job. (The one person I know who has an iPhone is a property manager with multiple rental units.)
Plus let’s face it, being constantly connected is not good for your health, your stress, or your creativity. There’s a whole great book on this: Hamlet’s Blackberry. We know this intuitively, but the science backs it up.
What do you think? In the future will you be making all your travel plans through a little handheld screen and relying on your social network for booking tours, restaurants, and hotels? Will you just pack a bag and show up? Or somewhere in between?