Google top of industry buyers’ agenda

The search engine’s power was the main topic of debate at the Meridian Club Think Tank. Google’s power in the travel sector was the major topic among the technology buyers at the latest WTM Meridian Club Think Tank.

A dozen of WTM’s Meridian Club buyer members were in attendance, all of whom have responsibility for their businesses’ online and technology spend. The meeting took place under Chatham House rules, allowing guests to comment without being directly quoted.

An accommodation specialist admitted it had taken its paid search spend in-house after five years and has reduced the spend by 35%. It was using other online channels, including social media, as part of its marketing mix. “We bought a proper web video camera and taught staff how to use it. We have built up our own library on YouTube over the past few years, and we are earning advertising revenue as a result.”

Social media was also a topic of note, with an aviation specialist saying that many airlines in emerging markets were interested in social media as a distribution and sales platform, with many employing dedicated social media managers. Other guests with small specialist businesses were less convinced about the value of social media in their sector.

Another challenge for guests was the online travel agents. It was felt that OTAs were expensive, in terms of their commission, but the returns could be strong enough to justify the expense. Some admitted to using their OTA partners tactically, sharing inventory on their own terms.

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Familiar arguments emerged about how consumer technology made pricing difficult for small specialists, as even the most upmarket of clients would take a bespoke itinerary, price it up themselves online and ask the agent for a discount. “[Price transparency] is here to stay,” one Meridian Club member said. “We are all having to learn to deal with it.”

The response was that agents could charge for their service.  Another Meridian Club member observed that “customer service generally doesn’t exist in the UK, so there is an opportunity.” It was pointed out the travel management companies are doing this, but it is more difficult for leisure agents to adopt this model. Another guest was interested in technology – reservation systems, back office, CRM - which would facilitate good service by simplifying every part of the chain.

One of the tech-savvy attendees thought that the iPad would have a bigger influence on the travel sector than the iPhone.

World Travel Market Meridian Club Marketing Manager Ajay Ahluwalia said: “The Meridian Club Think Tanks are now a real fixture in the calendar for our members. The Think Tanks are the only forum for the industry’s senior buyers to discuss the key topic affect there business and the industry as whole.

“The technology and online travel Think Tank generated great debate around the table regarding the key issues in the sector including the use of Google and the role of online travel agents.”