Where is the Apple of Online Travel?
The title of the latest column by Forbes Publisher Rich Karlgaard in Digital Rules is called “Will the entrepreneur boom miss the U.S.?” He writes about some similarities between the crash and recovery in the 1970’s and the situation today, but what is more interesting is his comment that what otherwise was a dismal decade was saved by innovation and entrepreneurship, marked by such significant start-ups like FedEx, Genentech, Southwest Airlines, Apple and more. Intel also introduced the microprocessor, called by some the most important invention of the last 50 years. Silicon Valley-style venture capital also emerged during the ’70s as did venture debt.
He poses the question: “Will entrepreneurs and innovation bail us out again?” and the answer is they are already doing so, but that most of it is happening outside the U.S. Among the innovation leaders in this country, Karlgaard calls Apple an outlier and an example of a company that keeps re-inventing itself by having a keen sense of cultural shifts that keeps them on the edge.
This leads to the question in the headline. Where is the equivalent of Apple in the travel industry? The first innovators of the late ’90s (OTAs for example) are now the establishment and as the recent PhoCusWright Online Traffic and Conversion Report shows are losing traffic to non-transactional Web sites by newer, innovative market entrants. The shift by consumers from the purely purchase focused site visits of the past, to a search, shop, buy mode of behavior presents an opportunity for start-ups to enter the market. Their smart solutions may capitalize on the seeming lack of attention paid to this shift by the established players, who unlike Apple don’t seem to re-invent themselves rapidly to leverage their much larger site traffic.
Unlike Apple - who regularly introduces radically new products that become instant best sellers even though consumers didn’t even imagine they wanted them before they hit the market - the travel industry seems to move in more incremental steps. There are, of course, exceptions. Who knows, some of the start-ups now entering the market as consumer behavior undergoes rapid change might well become major players in the travel industry. More than thirty of these next generation innovators - the cream of the crop - have been selected to present their solutions at the PhoCusWright Conference Travel Innovation Summit in Orlando on November 17 to be evaluated by a critical audience of over 900 industry leaders. One will emerge as this year’s winner and could, 30 years from now, be mentioned as one of the big winners of this decade.