The 3rd World Internet Conference and Expo, organised by e-commerce strategists, World Internet Group, took place on Monday October 31st at Jamaicaå‘s fabulous Half Moon Golf, Tennis and Beach Resort. With the World Travel Awards Gala Presentation Ceremony just hours away, nominees and other guests were keen to hear the keynote speakerså’ ideas on how use of the internet is transforming the travel industry.
Fay Pickersgill, Director of the Jamaican Tourist Board emphasised the importance of e-commerce to the travel and tourism industry: “The fact that travel can be considered an intangible electronic product before it is consumed, makes it quite suitable for marketing and selling online… If you’re not on the web, you’re not on sale. The web is the new destination marketing battleground and if you are not in there fighting, you cannot expect to win the battle for tourist dollars.” Justly proud of the fact that the Jamaica Tourist Board was one of the world’s first to go online, she pointed out that a web presence offers considerable advantages to everyone in the industry, even to the very smallest of family hotels who find that their business burgeons with bookings from around the globe.
The JTB has formed strategic alliances with travel sites to influence the quality and accuracy of information about Jamaica. It also organises regular Industry Internet Training Seminars. “It is critical,” she said, “in a business built on personal service, to understand the difference between sustainable growth and a blind alley, to watch out for ‘fads’, and to nurture relationships with travel partners.” The message from Fay Pickersgill and the JTB came through loud and clear: “Get on to the net by any means possible!”
Geoff Wasson, CEO of TraveNow.com described how Affiliated Marketing Programs can bring traffic and customers to your website. As far back as 1996, the Internet allowed TravelNow.com to sell 100,000 room nights per month, providing the customer with the means by which to make a transaction, and the ability to provide affiliated sites with up-to-date information. The flexibility of the affiliated system allows people to say yes to TravelNow.com’s reservation system.
Richard Lewis, COO of WorldRes.com Europe talked about serving the cyber customer, and how Customer Relationship Management needed to be tailored to be effective on the Internet. Voted “Best of the Web’ by Forbes Magazine in June 2000, WorldRes.com’s booking engine is used by everything from one-bed hotels to major groups, now including Hilton and Wyndhams. The major objective of WorldRes.com, says Lewis, has been to make the customer feel ‘They thought of me!’ This is vital as the online customer is in complete control - and the competitor is always just a click away. The need to think like a customer is paramount: content, functionality, availability, rates and confirmation are the key requirements of a reservation website, with offline support readily available.
On the globalisation of the travel industry, Richard Lewis described it as being akin to “tap-dancing in a minefield”, with translation the major problem. With dates and numbers - two crucial bits of information - written differently in different parts of the world, the potential for confusion is enormous. “Are you ready?” he asks who seek to go truly global. With a massive 82% of many companies’ budgets being spent on technology (far too much, he says) the ‘six-i’ approach to online efficiency is the way forward: individuality, intelligence, interactivity, immediacy, intimacy and imagination. “And remember, your competitors are always just one click away!”
Robert Watson, VP of British Telecom Travel and Transport brought the focus back to the more fragmented tourist industry that exists within the UK. With a £53 billion turnover per year and over 120,000 businesses involved in travel and tourism, there is a great need for a more consistent approach in marketing and online sales in the UK. With 10 different regional Tourist Boards in the UK, all of whom have different destinations to sell, the Internet is poised to make the individual booking and travel experience a less fraught affair. With resorts accounting for only a small part of the UK’s tourism, individually tailored tours, arranged online to include sports, historic sites, cultural trips and a variety of travel options are seen by BT as the way forward. The Internet will enable the interlinking of the whole of the UK’s supply chain of companies servicing the travel industry, and British Telecom’s Travel and Transport department is working towards making this a reality for the many stakeholders in the UK travel industry.
Miguel A. Iglesias, Manager of Operations, NASDAQ Interactive Services gave a great insight into the way in which the Internet is affecting how we invest. With access to so much information, potential investors want to be able to act now. Instantly. And with the imminent arrival of the digital, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, paperless stockmarket, punters will be able to get quotes from interlinked stockmarkets on their car radios, palm tops, wap phones and PCs. With all market information available everywhere, it will become as easy to invest in global companies as it has been to put money into domestic stock. Computers and the Internet are shattering boundaries: 96 million people in the USA now have Internet access and 45% of American homes have computers.
The demographics of investment have changed - more people of all social backgrounds are now investing, with 45% of American households owning stocks. NASDAQ companies have embraced the technology of this new investment environment and are constantly upgrading. Nasdaq.com currently gets 24 millions hits a day, but will soon have the capacity for 2 billion hits. As buying and selling now occurs across international boundaries, NASDAQ Japan is poised to become the world’s leading high-tech stockmarket. With links between NASDAQ stock markets in Japan, Europe and the USA, Miguel Iglesias promised that it would soon become easier and less expensive to invest in any of NASDAQ’s listed stocks. As in the travel industry, the Internet is enabling NASDAQ to eliminate the intermediaries who don’t add value. And this saving will be passed on to the investor.
The new NASDAQ HQ on 43rd Street and Broadway boasts a Broadcast Studio where the ‘Market Experience’ offers a clear insight into what the future will hold for investors. NASDAQ have also erected the world’s biggest LED screen on Times Square where, no doubt, you’ll be reminded that, come 2005, all NASDAQ price information will be available to anyone, anywhere in the world - and in real time!
Bill Hastings, Pacific Asia Travel Association MD for the Americas talked about ‘Giving New Byte to Relationship Marketing’, showing how PATA - a not for profit organisation founded 50 years ago - has embraced and benefited from the Internet. With 41 national government members in countries all round the Pacific Ocean, and with 50% of the whole world’s population living in Asia, the logistics of effective communication had, at one time, been daunting. But Asia, he said, has been very swift to latch on to technological changes - email is now the preferred way to communicate in Nepal and it’s not remarkable to see a farmer wading knee-deep in a paddy field whilst holding an earnest conversation on his mobile phone.
China is only now discovering the delights of travel for pleasure, and this is clearly a massive and lucrative potential market. But despite the availability of e-commerce, relationships remain the most important factor to the Asian. “Before any business is done, they will expect to meet potential business associates socially - and on numerous occasions - before any business is done,” said Hastings, adding that the traditional Asian business route of going to someone known and trusted remains the norm. “So, while Asia is quick to adapt to new technology, it is slow to change its traditions and culture.” In Asia, it seems that the success of Internet travel booking - and of e-commerce in general - depends upon the ability of the information provider to form a strong, personal relationship of trust with the potential customer, one that closely resembles traditional Asian business practice. There’s no doubt that PATA’s 50-year relationship with Asia has done much to encourage that trust, but as Bill Hastings reminded us in quoting Richard Lewis, “The competition is just one click away!”
Justin Cooke, Founder of Fortune Cookie (UK) Ltd. heads up one of Europe’s fastest-growing web development agencies. He was aptly described in the June 2000 issue of Management Today magazine as ‘the Internet in human form’, and his jargon-free presentation was both succinct and refreshing. With the benefits of a web presence on everyone’s mind, Cooke’s ability to identify potential problems and to suggest practical solutions was inspiring. Describing Fortune Cookie as an end-to-end interactive agency, he’s more than usually conscious of the classic would-be dot.com company’s dilemma: there are large overheads on technology; the market share is hard to grab and retain; there are many competitors; there are few sustainable revenue models and there is little opportunity for human communication. He named the three key areas for the successful marketing of a website as its back end facilities, its integration of services, and the e-fulfilment of its potential customers. Fortune Cookie’s online experience assists the client in the development of its relationship with the user, helping it to turn that website user first into a consumer, then into a regular customer. Lastminute.com’s 1.25 million users were cited, many of whom are frequently bombarded with unsuitable material as a result of their not having been properly profiled. This widely used practice of sending out masses of poorly targeted press releases and offers puts people off - and a likely result is that the potential customer will unsubscribe.
The Road to Usability is considered to be a vital factor in the success of Fortune Cookies’ clients. “A website must be used, not just visited,” says Justin. “Anyone developing a new site should try it out at all stages, get friends to try it, do everything possible to ensure that the usability is good, identify and eliminate all aggravating aspects of its use, and they should not, above all, rely on the say-so of computer nerds! Ask yourself and the website’s potential users: ‘Is the design good? Is it clear?’ Because it’s of paramount importance that you keep your focus on the user’s perspective.” Practical advice indeed from Justin Cooke.
In bringing the conference to such a stimulating finish, iPIX ensured that guests left the fabulous setting of the Half Moon with brains abuzz - the impact of the virtual world on the travel industry could be almost as great as that of online booking itself! And with just a few hours until the World Travel Awards Gala Presentation at the Ritz-Carlton Jamaica, conference guests seemed in no doubt that the travel industry was the most exciting business on Earth! Thanks and credit are due to Anthony V. Bevan, Conference Organiser, to the World Travel Awards team under Graham E. Cooke, and to the high-calibre speakers whose words were an inspiration to all who attended the 3rd World Internet Conference.