Views on Travel Innovation, Part 3: What’s Needed

Good innovation solves worthy problems.  Here are three problems that strike me as worthy, and their very rough calls to action.  (Part 1 in this series covers major travel innovations to date; Part 2 covers key non-technology factors that will affect the future of the travel industry.)

Problem: Tedious Travel SearchesIt never seems as easy to search for travel products (e.g., a flight, hotel room or car rental) as it should be.  The results border on information overload.  It seems you get 300 flights, 150 hotels and 100 rental car options as your starting point for most any trip.  Sure, you can filter those down, but should you really have to start with that many options?

Innovation: Smarter Searches.  In this age of Netflix and Amazon (“You might like…”), surely there are better ways to suggest travel products.  Consider how much information could be applied to this problem: your past purchase history, your personal and business travel profiles and frequent flyer information, the trip’s purpose, supplier pricing and availability, even perhaps your social network’s recent travel choices or recommendations. Not saying this would be easy, given the need to access a lot of fairly/very private data, but still.  If Google buys ITA Software, we’re closer to not just an innovation, but a smokin’ big disruptive one.  See why here.

Problem: Trip Fragments.  A trip is a collection of pieces and parts.  Ground transfers to/from the airport, flight segments, hotel rooms, rental cars, dinner reservations, meeting times and places…not quite a house of cards, but you know if one piece fails, the rest of your trip can get complicated in a hurry.

Innovation: Connected Content.   Imagine a trip as a series of links, where the downstream links all know the status of the upstream links…and even better, know what to do if an upstream link fails to perform on time.   The rental car industry gets this.  They monitor your flight arrival times and adjust your pick-up time accordingly.  We’re seeing the early stages of this, courtesy of firms like  FlightStats, TripIt and Rearden Commerce. There is so much more to be done.

Problem: Traveler Anxiety. Travelers worry about a lot of things – traffic jams to the airport, long security lines, delayed flights, in-flight meals, cramped seats, lousy beds, lost baggage, lack of internet access… a bunch of individually minor concerns.  But they add up to the point of discouraging travelers from taking trips. Those are not the reasons you want travelers to avoid traveling.

Innovation: True Traveler Support.  This goes farther than the Connected Content concept described above.  Here, the traveler is the center of the universe.  Imagine a traveler being informed, at the right time in the right way, of every aspect of the trip that affects the traveler’s experience.  This comes into play not just during the trip, but during the booking process.

The premise is simple – what does a traveler want to know in order to feel confident about her options and decisions?  Gregg Brockway, TripIt’s CEO, has spoken about a traveler-centric future.  It’s easy to see a trip’s master itinerary as the platform on which to hang a lot of location-based content, such as weather forecasts and flight alerts.  It needs to go further, to the point where the traveler is the platform on which to build the information and services that she wants.

So what do you think?  Where else do we need significant innovation in the travel industry?  And just to be provocative – why have we not seen much innovation from the firms that swim  daily in the seas of travel experiences – namely the TMCs?

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