By Yeoh Siew Hoon Where to next, meta-search and will technology rule the day? Yeoh Siew Hoon recaps her first day at ITB Berlin. And oh, by the way, 23,000 bookings in one day for Accor Super Sale.
One down, two to go. I've just finished my first full day at ITB Berlin, and what a packed 24 hours it's been.
I arrived in Berlin midnight on March 9 and right away, the morning after, headed to Hall 7.3 to attend the PhoCusWright conference at ITB.
I was curious to hear about the new developments in Europe. Turned out we may be on different continents but essentially we face similar issues and challenges.
Take the issue of meta-search. It's been difficult to expand the model beyond national borders. As big as Kayak is in the US, it hasn't had much success in Europe or Asia, for that matter.
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare UK, said, "It's not just a question of having a cool product and taking it somewhere else."
And so his company is jumping in very slowly. "We will stay in the UK for now. We are not sure about Europe but we may consider Asia."
As for the next stage in meta-search, companies in Europe are also struggling for an answer. Kayak has moved to a transaction model with its announcement that it will take bookings on mobile this year but Seaney as well as Gareth Williams, CEO of SkyScanner, are not convinced that's the answer for them.
For Seaney, the next stage has more to do with social media. "The most difficult challenge is having the staying power to be in social media. I believe in a couple of years, this will generate transactions."
Williams agreed that meta-search 2.0 would involve booking facilitation. "Some people will go that way but flight search isn't solved yet."
Also consumers need to be further educated on meta-search, said Christian Saller, CEO of swoodoo, Germany. "Users like the independent comparisons but they still don't understand it. So we lose conversion to sites when bookings don't go that easily. Either you lose independence or you lose conversion."
Similarly, hotels in Europe are increasing efforts to go direct to consumers and are investing more in their own websites, thus reducing reliance on tour operators.
Dominik Sobotka, Head of Online Communications and Strategy, Travel Charme Hotels & Resorts, Germany, said that the shift from tour operators to online direct happened because operators weren't doing anything on the web.
"Hotels are also getting more active on their own, especially with social media. Smaller hotels are very successful because they don't need big budgets, they just need to be authentic and tell their story. An operator like TUI has no story to tell about the hotel."
In the evening, I attended an Accor dinner and learnt that the company's 3-day Super Sale for Asia Pacific generated 23,000 room bookings in one day. Some of the main markets where the bookings came from - Australia, China and Singapore.
It's an indication of how hungry and willing the consumer is to go online for the right price.
Sitting next to a leading tour operator in Switzerland, I asked him what had changed about his business and he said, "Everything." He agreed that tour operators have been slow to adapt to the new market and that they have to change quick.
He is a specialist though. "That's why I still enjoy what I do - people still want the personal touch and we get a different type of customer."
Sighing, he said, "The good old days are gone. It used to be a people business. Now it's all about technology."