It is always interesting at this time of year to speculate on what is going to happen in the coming twelve months. I will make a few predictions and, as I place copies of all my articles on Genesys` Web site, there will be a permanent record for you to look back on to see how wrong I was.
For example, a colleague just sent me a copy of an article I wrote at the end of 1995 that I titled “Beyond Viewdata”. It read, “My belief is that the industry should be making use of the very sophisticated yet very cheap Internet connection and WWW browsing software. Agents could use it to connect to travel principals over a managed network, just as viewdata does now. I believe this will need to be kicked off by a pioneering partnership of a tour operator and a network provider. The technology exists, so why not before next year`s World Travel Market?”
Perhaps I was a bit ahead of my time. Only in the last two years have the viewdata networks launched their industry Extranet portals, Telewest`s Endeavour and X?TANT`s Traveleye and just in the last few months has a coven of large tour operators convened to discuss getting beyond viewdata. So, my Prediction No.1 is that by the end of the year, a significant number of agents will have abandoned viewdata for something much more usable and sophisticated. (At last!)
Prediction No.2 is easy. Several more travel dotcoms will run out of cash this year and close down. This is in spite of research organisations such as PhoCusWright predicting that the European online travel market is ready to surge. Whereas it is no problem for travel principals such as airlines and hotel chains to make good money online, it is that much harder for pure play dotcoms. They have to fund their operations, technology and marketing budgets out of low rate commission. This only works if you can drive real volume and the online market is simply not large enough for everyone to do that.
Will this be the year that interactive digital TV becomes a viable travel sales channel? Prediction No.3, I think not. TV is great at pushing customers towards call centre operations, just ask Harry Goodman at TV Travel Shop or the many, succesful Teletext advertisers. But I am not convinced that significant numbers of package holiday purchasers are yet ready to submit their credit card details to an automated booking process, whether it is on a TV or a PC screen.
In summary, I am predicting that this year will be one of consolidation and realism. Many more will take on board that e-commerce is an additional sales channel that cannot be ignored, even if it is not an end in its own right. The exception being easyJet. With their Internet sales at 79.4% in November, maybe they will be the first totally Internet airline. Who needs the telephone, anyway?