Innovators from all corners of the travel and hospitality industry took part in a fascinating dialogue at Phocuswright Europe this year, and it was a pleasure for us to join in.

For those of you who couldn’t be there this time, here are the key highlights:

Keynote: Expedia Worldwide
Gary Morrison, Senior Vice President and Head of Retail

Gary shared his own personal tips and tactics that can work for any entrepreneur, as well as insights about Expedia Worldwide’s “get bigger” strategy: We shouldn’t just create a product, he says; we should create a complete experience. For this, “the benefit of scaling” is key. This means testing things in order to really understand what works best. He gave the advice to “Go out, ask questions—a lot of questions—collect answers, make hypothesis, and test them quickly and constantly.” This, he argues, is the best way to create a better experience for users and to drive more traffic. “Traffic is fundamentally the lifeblood of how many tests we can run concurrently,” he said.

Gary’s four keys to success:

  1. Prioritize real time information. For example, hoteliers need to have tools to understand what their competitors are doing and what prices they are offering in any city.
  2. Deliver an engaging and playful experience. This is really important and is making a big difference to consumers in 2016.
  3. Improved content. Like everyone at the event, Gary stressed the importance of valuable content (including images).
  4. Cross-platform availability in order to maximise revenue through different channels.

He concluded his speech by underscoring the role personal skills play in improving in business. He reminded us that it’s extremely important to test any idea, no matter where it came from; the goal is to get better every day. And it’s vital to be transparent and open to feedback from colleagues. He conceded with humour that this last part can be a bit painful at first (it was for him), but it’s the only way to clearly understand where and how to improve.

Keynote: Google – Google denies joining the fight against OTAs
Oliver Heckmann, VP, Travel and Shopping

Oliver shared deeper insights into Google´s destination, flight, and hotel search engines, as well as on how the company is thinking about connecting discovery with planning and booking. He introduced for the very first time Google trips, an interesting prototype currently being tested. It lets users search for destinations according to activities, either by season—what are the best activities to do in Paris in summer compared to in winter, for example—or by mood—what activities you can do in Milan depending on the mood you’re in.

Oliver also presented the following bit of interesting data: there has been an almost 40% increase in mobile searches in the travel category from Q4 15 to Q16, while the time per visit is continuously decreasing.

Considering Google’s expansion and growing interest in every sector of the travel industry, Oliver felt it important to stress that Google is not an OTA, and therefore does not compete with OTAs.

He also said, “When I talk to individual partners there’s a lot of misconceptions about what we’re doing, and we haven’t been so transparent in the past about what we’re doing and where we’re going.”

TNOOZ´s Kevin May added that it’s not always the case that Google is delivering the best disruptive product in every industry, or that this might happen in the travel industry. The best, or rather “worst” example, he added, was Google+, which never really broke through.

Keynote: Booking.com – “Nobody is forced to work with us”
Peter Verhoeven, Managing Director, Europe, Middle East, Africa

Peter emphasized the power of verified reviews when it comes to booking a hotel. He also pointed out that people who really want to add reviews will do so at the end of their travel experience, to increase transparency for other travellers. Lastly, he underlined the fact that reviews are one of the three key factors for Booking.com, along with price and location.

He gave us some nice facts as well: 50% of travellers are booking on mobile” and “one third of all Booking.com users come from mobile.”

Peter also talked about the launch of Booking.com Messages—an app that helps connect partners and guests, currently being tested with 150,000 partners. The mobile challenge on this is on the operational side, he explained. At the moment the app is in 42 languages, which is already a big project, and they’re investing even more on it.

While on the topic of the chat and hoteliers’ independence from Booking.com, an audience member asked the following: “Will you provide an API for the chat, or will hoteliers have to log in just to your app?” To which Peter replied: “No, at the moment we do it like this, it is instant and we are testing it with our partners”

On the topic of direct bookings, he said: “I understand that hotels want direct bookings,” adding, “Nobody is forced to work with us, we try to be a good partner.”

In discussing rate parity he said that “consumers might think good and bad about different rates,” and that “We will fight to give to customers the best prices, we are working with all chains, and they give us access to the best rates available.”

Peter also talked about a new algorithm that Booking.com launched to help travelers search for destinations according to specific passions, such as food or sports. It’s something than can introduce tourism to totally new arenas. To show an example he presented a video in which two guys set off to find and experience the best ramen in Tokyo: A highly specialized and individual passion.

Executive Roundtable: “Mo’ Meta is Mo’ Betta” – Industry experts discussed the evolving landscape as metasearch continues to rapidly grow

Johannes Thomas, Managing Director, trivago
Hugo Burge, CEO, Momondo Group
Frank Skivington, Chief Commercial Officer, Skyscanner
Jan Valentin, Managing Director, KAYAK Europe
David Gunnarsson, CEO, Dohop

All speakers were asked about their companies’ origins and evolutions, and Johannes explained that trivago was born as a community platform, and then evolved into pure metasearch.

Lorreine Sileo, Senior Vice President, Research, Phocuswright Inc., wanted to know who was actually purely a metasearch, considering that some of the big players sitting on the stage were also experimenting with new forms of booking. She wondered whether this was confusing the customer, or providing them with a better experience.

Hugo from Momondo added that the whole point of metasearch is to make the market transparent and unbiased.

In addressing these concerns, Johannes stressed the importance of clearly explaining and then reinforcing the meaning of metasearch—which is not an easy concept for users to grasp, but is extremely valuable when it does get through. He gave the example of the successful “Mr. trivago” TV campaign, which was created to clearly explain to viewers what hotel metasearch is, and how it’s the easiest way for travellers to find their ideal hotel at the best rate.

He also added that trivago is investing in building stronger relationships with hoteliers, with a dedicated team who is providing them with step-by-step guidance and the right tools to compete online.

Were you following the #PhocuswrightEurope event highlights online this year? What did you think about the developments? Let us know in the comments below. And if you’ve noticed a shift in the types of topics discussed at this year’s conference, let’s talk about it here or on Twitter.

Andrea Ricciarelli

Andrea is in charge of Global B2B PR and coordinates national communication activities to support the Industry Management team at trivago. Originally from Tuscany, he spent almost a decade living in Spain and Germany. He previously designed and managed worldwide, and pan-European communication campaigns and events for diverse clients. Now he's committed to empowering hotel managers to perform better online. He's listening to hoteliers' voices from all over the world and sharing their inspiring stories through our channels and with the media.

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