Digital innovation in the travel industry

It is always good to go back to the university; it makes me value what I have.

I shared the panel with the following speakers:

Sandra Manresa, Head of Travel at Google

David Hernandez, CEO and Founder of Pangea, the Travel Store

Anna Kompaniyets, Global B2C Marketing Manager at NH Hotels

Francisca Zanoguera, Analytics Director at hotels.com (Expedia)

Antonio Lopez de Avila, President & CEO of Segitur

During the session, moderated by Kevin Sigliano, I was asked the following questions:

  1. How is data and technology changing the travel sector?

Data is really not changing the travel sector, yet. It is often used to cluster the population to effectively target audiences and increase conversion rates of e-commerce or advertising. Also, although very slowly we are starting to use data to develop algorithms to evolve our recommendation engines (i.e. while looking for a flight, it might pop-up the hotel that better suits your needs for your next trip).

The two big question marks are, which will be the new revolutionary business model of the future that will enable data owners to monetise these untapped gold mines, and to which extent will legislators allow businesses to use user generated data. For the time being it seems that EU will stand behind the US or Asia Pacific according to the General Data Protection Regulation.

Lastly, for the sake of clarity, big data refers to being able to decide in near-to-real-time. All the rest, is business intelligence (and its cousins), nothing new.

The innovation path should start with the identification of a real problem (a real pain), later will come the ideation process. These first two steps are crucial, and the more accurate you define the problem the more focus you will stay. If you loose track, you can always zoom out, and think about the problem again, re-focus. When it comes to bringing to reality the solution, is the moment when we should think about software and hardware, in this order.

If we now think about new technologies reaching the travel sector, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, or robotics. Are we really trying to solve a real pain or are we talking about a massive disruption? If we have started the house from the roof or not, time will tell but either way, we will need a lot of imagination to define profitable business models. Hardware is not cheap and is difficult to scale. If we disrupt a business but shrink the profitability of the already stablished businesses, we will do the contrary to evolve. We must think about our people and create new good jobs, because at the end, this is what really matters.

2. What are the best ways to innovate?

Fail quickly, fail cheaply, and fail often.

Test your idea, sit as much as possible with your paying customers, and spend time identifying their problems.

How often do we stay in our own premises with our work mates telling to each other how great our idea is without involving our paying customers? We can be wasting our time…

Big companies, think big. They invest huge amounts of time and money, in ideas that are not appropriately validated, instead of having an MVP ready to test; they move too soon to the real solution.

It is better to launch 1000 projects that cost one euro, than one big one that costs 1000 euros. Its all about testing constantly and monitoring KPIs.

3. Why should travel players design a digital transformation roadmap

Digitalization is not the answer for every strategy. Let me put you an example, Spanish airports want to invest in e-commerce.

CMOs are at risk, if you are CMO and your CEO chases you saying that he wants to digitalize the company and that he will pay for everything that you need, the best thing you can do is run.

He will ask you for results, and you will not meet his expectations (too ambitious). The larger the investment, the higher his expectations will be.

4. What is the impact of these challenges and trends on recruiting in the industry?

Best profiles are profiles that are bold. I remember not too long ago opening a position in my commercial finance (a hybrid of business and finance) team at Amadeus, and interviewing a data scientist. He did not know how to use excel and he was brutally honest (and brave!) and confessed it over the phone before we even had met.

You need to demonstrate passion for technology. Make sure you can follow every type of conversation, whether it is financial in nature, or refers to the product definition, development, marketing, sales, etc.

You need to demonstrate that you learnt how to learn. The amount of information that we have available at our finger tips today, is massive.

5. In your opinion, what kind of profiles are most demanded according to the transformation of the sector?

I love technology companies, and I prefer small ones as opposed to big ones.

These type of companies care about two things, efficiency and their employees satisfaction.

Let´s elaborate this two ideas.

How obvious sounds to you that a company whose only asset is man hours, is efficient? It sounds quite obvious, right? Well, not all companies acknowledge this as tech companies do. I know a few of them, and is astonishing how in their introduction the first thing they talk about is their methodology to reach maximum efficiency. Of course, the words ¨agile¨ and ¨scrum¨ are always there. Some companies have even developed their own software to improve work in teams.

Before working in a tech company, I worked in a big four for a few months, like tech companies their only asset is man hours, but these companies do not care about efficiency or their employees satisfaction, they prefer to manage attrition.

I believe companies are changing, and so should do employees of all industries.

I am a big fan of the Netflix culture, be free but demonstrate responsibility. That is all.

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