Travolution Summit 2009 - Stuff I Learned Today

Started the day twittering, lured by candy and water in the 'reserved' front rows (and @foxychops of course), and did not stop. Trying to twitter and concentrate and make notes all at the same time is a tall order - but a powerful way to get a sense of the atmosphere out to people following around the world. For that it works - though not sure the on screen twitterfall added much, except cues for questions - next year, as Kevin May suggested, they should have a separate questions twitter feed, and display only that. Otherwise its all jumbled up with witty comments about socks, and the questions got lost.

Enough of twitter. The key messages I took out of Travolution 2009 were:

- Dennis Thatcher - I mean Turner - chief economist from HSBC, on his riveting presentation. Not exactly 'PC' but fun all the same. The good news? He *seemed* to have a streak of optimism about the recession, despite jokes about an L shaped one.

- The Frommers survey and presentation - alot of it was pretty predictable and as expected, such as 55% of poll said they would book with a site that offered destination information, and biggest complaint about travel sites is "insufficient pictures", but still it gave me a warm fuzzy glow to see that users rated 'recommendation' highly, but felt that they were as yet ill served by online players.

- Gillian Gibson, Amadeus: Airlines are looking for as much ancillary revenue as they can get - accounts for over 25% of revenues in some cases - averages 18%. No surprises that Ryanair are leading ancillary revenue earners here, followed by Easyjet. She showed us that we buy our travel products at different times - air 44.1 days in advance of travel, hotel 41.7 days, car rental 19.4 days. And that in the long run 'airlines lose money'. So come on guys, we need to figure out everything and anything we can sell to ourselves when stuck in an airline seat. Some ideas I was pitched over coffee are not printable.

- HomeAway founder Brian Sharples telling us that there are - wow - over 4m holiday homes currently available for rent in Europe and the US, that 66% of UK travellers have booked a vacation home, and that there are 16m holiday homes in Europe/US that are, on average, occupied just 30 days a year. HomeAway currently markets 400k+, with 40% growth in revenues annually. Average transaction value is 1500 USD, and 300 USD listing fee buys the average advertiser 75 qualified leads per year, representing 20k USD in revenues. That's a 1 in 6 (17.7%) conversion. I am amazed. Favourite quote from him: "hardest thing to do in this business - build the trust of the consumer" and "It's amazing how far you can grow an online travel business by growing horizontally". He also said that online booking generally does not work in that market, as home owners want to vet who rents their house - single fee classified model works best. However, homeowners don't like their properties 'rated' and 'starred'. He invited partners to come in with him to help 'fulfill unmet needs'. Not sure what he has in mind, but we should all study HomeAway carefully.

- Marc Charron of Trip Advisor: Facebook app 'Local Picks' generated huge interest and brand awareness for TA, but little or no direct revenue. Still, considered a huge success. One useful piece of intelligence (other than they launched their site in China today - is that they will soon open up their forums to partner affiliate sites.

- Marko Ahtisaari CEO of Dopplr and Peter Matthews of Nucleus spoke about the need for simplicity - and more than one speaker said - do one thing well. He extolled the virtue of 'Digital delighters' - to drive 'happiness and usability'. He struck me as a kind of online travel buddhist, with Dopplr as the temple.

- Google - average holiday booked online takes 29 days, from 12 separate searches and visits to 22 different travel sites. How that has changed over the years, we all said over coffee? It would be interesting to track. There was alot of talk about dropping conversions - I tackled Google about this afterwards and was told this was compensated by continued growth in online search. Still, for adwords advertisers, it must surely mean each conversion is costing them more in online ad spend.

- the Microsoft Surface thingy - looks cool, I demo-ed it, but lots of grubby fingers groping around on the screen felt a bit.. grubby. What are the markets for this thing I asked? Hotels apparently, and financial services. Not sure that this piece of kit is not for now a bit of a gimmick - what's more pertinent is that very shortly the mouse will be gone. We'll all be interacting with the web and links and bookings on a touch screen. We'll be doing alot of this cool stuff on our PCs, just like we do on iphones already. Opening multiple windows on a site will no longer be a no-no, nor slow down site speeds, as broadband gets faster and faster. However, for now, we need to remember latency: "one user experience often forgotten is latency - speed - directly impacts revenue"

- Kuoni - short term trend is beach holidays to popular destinations, despite all the talk of emerging markets. Depressing perhaps, but true.

- hotels sites - someone suggested replicating how people searched - ie luxury hotels, beach hotels - into hotel results of OTAS (and not just cheapest etc). Seems like a no brainer to me.

and last, from coffee talk this afternoon - today for the first time there are more pensioners in the UK than children. A different emerging market to consider...

Comments by other travellers

First of all I would like to appreciate your blog, nice efforts made here,I especially like the bits on Frommers and Home Away.. interesting indeed. Shangrila Murree

I agree with the Frommers survey results. Visual representation of a destination goes a long way. What most travel sites do is have tons and tons of destinations but very little data associated with it. I personally prefer quality content as against quantity. And this may be one of the reason why, as pointed out by Google, booking a holiday takes 29 days, 12 separate searches and visits to 22 different travel sites.

Great round up, I especially like the bits on Frommers and HomeAway.. interesting indeed.

Google cannot explain dropping conversions?

Back of the envelope (ignore pre-planning traffic):

100 bookers previously comparing 5 sites on average = 500 overall visits with overall 100 bookings = 20% aggregate industry conversion.

The same 100 bookers now comparing 10 sites on average due to credit crunch, price wars, more and more content, etc. = 1000 overall visits = same 100 overall bookings = 10% aggregate conversion, or 50% less.

Looks quite simple to me...;-)

Cheers, Daniele

As a past attendee (but not this year) I was struck by how much churn there has been in topics covered in the web travel market in the last 10 years; simplicity (do one thing well; tell that to the OTA's), search based on terms consumers use ("beach hotel"), decsion time periods and content content content...and no mention of Web 2.0 or 3.0 or "infinity and beyond" for the buzz-types.

You can read my summary of the day here:

excellent round up, thanks James

Thanks for the post. I was looking for an overview of the Travolution Summit and I appreciate the timeliness of this post.

Post a comment

I want to
My comment - optional
Rating - how would you rate this place or experience?

About this author

  • James Dunford Wood

    Founder and former MD of, James teamed up with online publisher James Blackwell to launch Worldreviewer …

Also by this author

Latest travel blog posts