Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Company Selling Tens of Thousands of Rail Tickets Through Chatbots

Voyages-sncf.com’s COO reveals to EyeforTravel how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is driving the company’s strategy and allowed them to create a Facebook messenger chatbot that has already issued more than 85,000 tickets


London, UK: Arnaud Masson, Chief Operating Officer of Voyages-sncf.com and keynote speaker at EyeforTravel Europe, is keen to point out that the company is at the forefront of innovations, with R&D teams spending more than 160,000 work-days on more than 80 different projects, including major AI efforts. A key result of this is V.Bot, a Facebook Messenger chatbot that provides real-time updates, customer service and even digital travel tickets to travellers.

In order to create smart customer experiences like V.Bot, Arnaud and his team have to deal with more than 90 TB of data per month and have invested more than €10m into new technologies. Alongside chatbots, this investment is also going into utilising voice recognition systems: “Our engineering teams have been working hard to develop the possible use of Amazon Echo and ‘Alexa’ to communicate with our own digital travel companion - Lea - to source the best train travel options, tickets and times for users - all through the use of their voice.”

However, Arnaud argues that deploying AI is about more than just offering a chatbot: “Customers are looking for more convenient options in organising their day-to-day lives, so when ‘smart’ technology is applied that can predict travel patterns and products, book it and deliver tickets instantly - like on our Facebook Messenger chatbot - it frees up our time to concentrate on other life enriching experiences.”

Arnaud stresses that a pretty website isn’t enough anymore to sell anymore and drive loyalty, as “travellers want a personal experience and information to hand at the press of a button or command of their voice. By constantly innovating what and how we offer, we are working to make that vision a reality.”

Another part of enacting this vision has been Voyages-sncf.com’s My Travel app, which allows customers to manage their journey from one place. Alongside “Access to e-tickets, it reacts in real-time to factors such as location and changes to travel further upstream,” says Arnaud. “It proactively offers tailored services based on this information, for example the ability to book a car to the station if you are running late, or offering activities on arrival at a destination, adapted to the traveller’s individual profile.”

The rail company chief adds that “The travel industry is no longer about manufacturing a simple transaction – it’s about nurturing a relationship with each customer to offer a lasting, enriching and valued connection and experience each time they travel.”

Having a customer-centric, chatbot-assisted platform has been a success story for Voyages-sncf.com, but it cannot engage in this complex work alone. Partnerships are key to improving their CRM efforts: “We work with Alcmeon to monitor our social media customer service, with Helpbox from Do You Dream Up to automatically respond to customer queries and with Usabilla to collect customer feedback on our website and areas that we specifically want to analyse.

“As an online ticket distributor selling passes and point-to-point tickets for rail travel around Europe, Voyages-sncf.com has to take a collaborative approach – indeed we work in partnership with 15 European rail operators and many more travel organisations across some 100 countries globally.” The company has even launched an accelerator programme designed to boost new start-ups, known as ACT574.

Arnaud also made a point to stress that the travel industry should be, and generally, is a naturally collaborative environment, regardless of sector or specialism: “Those businesses that realise that working in partnership with other businesses, and organisations, including even governments, achieve far more by working together than separate entities who attempt to go it alone.”

This interview comes in advance of the EyeforTravel Summit 2017 (May 3-4th, London) which Arnaud Masson will be speaking at on a keynote session. The event will host 350+ senior level executives and will be discussing the crucial commercial and digital and API-led partnerships that will make the industry thrive.

Speakers delivering sessions on partnerships and taking the stage throughout the summit include:

Glenn Fogel – CEO – Expedia 
Roland Sch├╝tz – CIO – Lufthansa 
Rod Cuthbert – CEO - Rome2rio
Brenda van Leeuwen – CEO - Eurail.com
Tero Valkiala – Head of Digital – Finnair 
Genevieve Materne - Director of Distribution Strategy – Starwood
Alex Saint – Co-founder and CEO – Secret Escapes
Jose Murta – Global Head of Hospitality – Trivago
Cameron Jones – CCO – SilverRail Technologies
Jamie Andrews – CEO - Loco2
Alessandra di Lorenzo - CCO - Partnerships and Advertising - Lastminute.com
Dan Christian – CDO - The Travel Corporation
Susan Black – CCO - CIE Tours

To get more information on the EyeforTravel Summit 2017 including the agenda, speaker line up and attendees, follow this link: http://events.eyefortravel.com/travel-distribution-summit-europe/

US outbound a complicated picture in 2017

Back in 2016 we released a free white paper that extensively profiled the US outbound traveller and looked at the state of the market. We noted that there was a distinct possibility that the number of outbound journeys in the year could reach our upper forecast range of 8-9%. Well I am pleased to say that it seems to have very much gone that way with journeys growing by 8% over the first 11 months of 2016 according to the most recently available figures from the US National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) at the time of writing.

However, is 2017 looking just as rosy? We might have to temper our expectations somewhat, as the Trump presidency has seen a reverse in the dollar’s recent gains against a basket of currencies, inflation has increased and his bellicose rhetoric might make many destinations less favourable in their view of US citizens. For example, Mexico is comfortably the number one destination for US tourists but talk of the border wall isn’t exactly going down well there. This isn’t even to mention the travel ban, which is already affecting travel plans. One of the few certainties we can have for US tourism in 2017 is that the outlook is going to be a lot harder to predict than 2016.

For more insights like these, why not sign up to our newsletter? Or you can get the best opinions first hand by attending one of our events.

Alex Hadwick
Head of Research, EyeforTravel
alex@eyefortravel.com 

Source: EyeforTravel, U.S. Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO)        

Thursday, 23 March 2017

EyeforTravel San Francisco: Take the opportunity to be a travel thought leader

It wasn’t long ago we traveled with physical maps, no smart phones and a lot of help from travel agents and books. Today personalized travel is the internet, machine learning and mobile devices!
Research predicts that by 2020, digital travel outlays will top $817 billion globally. With worldwide travel rising 13.8% in 2016 to reach 564.87 billion. Now that is staggering!
EyeforTravel are excited about this growth and have positioned our next EyeForTravel San Francisco Summit (April 24-25) to focus on ‘Making sure your digital strategy stacks up!’
The event will bring together 350+ of the best brands in travel to focus on how to develop digital plans, marketing and content strategies, apps and data and personalized experiences to make sure the customer has the best travel experience.
With 6 weeks to the event, the team have released the attendee list of over 200 attendees.
With limited branding, exhibition and thought leadership opportunities available this could be your final chance to get on stage and meet the industry elite. 
Take the chance to network with decision makers from Cathay Pacific, Hilton, Booking.com, Marriott, Virgin America, Hopper, Google, Facebook, Wyndham, Southwest Airlines and more, join us today.
To talk sponsorship, you can reach us directly – henry@eyefortravel.com

EyeforTravel is a community where the world's top online travel brands – from hotels to airlines, online travel agents, cruise, car hire firms and more – come to meet to drive forward growth and innovation in the industry. We aim to provide you with industry focused news, events, reports, updates and information. EyeforTravel Limited is a registered company. The Company Registration number is 06286442. It is also registered in England & Wales. Registered office is 7-9 Fashion Street, London E1 6PX, United Kingdom.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Travel Startups compete in San Francisco at EyeforTravel’s 2017 Digital Summit

EyeforTravel’s Startup & Innovation in Travel Awards taking place at the EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit (April 24-25) now has several start-ups signed up including Wyndow, Pablow, Splitty, Triposo and 8 more.
Applications are currently still open and being reviewed. The deadline for applications is March 31st. The start-ups will pitch their businesses in front of a panel of experienced investors on conference day 1, who will be judging their financial potential. The two best pitches will be chosen to present in front of the 300+ summit attendees, with the winner chosen through a live audience poll with the summit attendees.

 “Start-ups represents a fundamental shift in innovation in travel.  At EyeforTravel we believe that the brands investing and innovating in mobile and new offerings deserve to be recognised”, says Tim Gunstone, MD, EyeforTravel Ltd.

As Charles Ralston from TripStreak said on the previous EyeforTravel Awards “The Start-up Village is a really great value for money, especially for start-ups that can’t typically afford to spend thousands on conference. Bravo to EyeforTravel for pioneering this!”

Travel is being changed by mobile, the sharing economy social media and that constant drive to deliver the best customer experience.  Technology is transforming the way travel is sold – providing exciting opportunities to enhance the customer experience, grow loyalty and ancillary revenues.

EyeforTravel’s Start-Up Awards seek to recognize the young brands who are making significant progress for travel – trailblazing the way for others to follow. Here’s your chance to shout about it!

The judges for the 2017 awards include, with more to come…
  • ·         Matt Zito, Managing Partner, Travel Startups Incubator LLC
  • ·         Brian Harniman, Managing Director, Brand New Matter, Inc
  • ·         Tim Gunstone, Managing Director, Eyefortravel
  • ·         Bruce Rosenberg, Chief Operating Officer, HotelPlanner
  • ·         Jeena James, Global Head for Travel & Local, Food, Drink Apps, Business Dev, Google Play
  • ·         Nancy Hayes, Managing Director, Golden Seeds ( Principal - NKH Group)
  • ·         Seth Rosenfield, Managing Director, Petsky Prunier
  • ·         Amir Amidi, Managing Partner - Travel and Hopsitality Centre of Innovation, Plug and Play Tech Center (TBC)


If you would like to pitch at the event or just attend the boot camp, meet the judges and watch the pitches – 


For all awards enquires contact: -

Shreya Ganapathy
Project and Content Director | Eyefortravel
W:  +44 20 7375 7150


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Is Ctrip already the Expedia or Priceline of China?

Ctrip’s recent acquisition of Skyscanner sent waves through the travel industry and marked another big deal by a Chinese firm investing in leisure and hospitality outside the country. It was also a demonstration of the ambition of Ctrip, which has grown dramatically over the last few years, also acquiring metasearch company Qunar in 2015.  

The figures suggest that this is already an Online Travel Agent (OTA) giant just on the basis of Chinese sales, let alone its ambitions further afield. One estimate from 2015 projected that
the company already oversaw 70-80% of the country’s OTA market and another from that same year reckoned that Qunar controlled around 32% of air ticket sales and Ctrip 39% of hotel bookings.

EyeforTravel has also found that Chinese consumers are heavily mobile- and OTA-focused when it comes to researching and buying travel, giving a further advantage to Ctrip. It seems that the rest of the world might need to look out.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming Chinese Travel Consumer report, which is coming soon.

For more insights like these, why not sign up to our newsletter? Or you can get the best opinions first hand by attending one of our events.

Alex Hadwick
Head of Research, EyeforTravel
alex@eyefortravel.com 

Source: Bloomberg

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Travel start-ups compete in London at EyeforTravel’s 2017 European Summit


EyeforTravel’s Startup & Innovation in Travel Awards taking place at the Europe Summit 2017 (London, May 3-4) now has a number of start-ups signed up including What3Words (www.what3words.com/),Daytrip (www.ondaytrip.com/) , Transfer Travel (www.transfertravel.com/) and Stay Planner (www.stayplanner.com/)   

Applications are currently still open and will close on April 20. The start-ups will pitch their businesses in front of a panel of experienced investors on conference day 1, who will be judging their financial potential. The two best pitches will be chosen to present in front of the 400+ summit attendees, with the winner chosen through a live audience poll of more than 400 attendees.

This year, EyeforTravel Europe will see attendees from all sectors within the travel industry. Some of the confirmed brands in attendance include Priceline, Momondo, TUI, Odigeo, NH Hotels, Eurail, Lufthansa, BMI, Lonely Planet, Starwood Hotels, Eurostar, Heathrow Airport, Gatwick Airport, Wyndham Worldwide, Accor, Aegean Airlines and more.

"EyeforTravel exceeded all expectations in helping us meet key decision makers from some of the biggest travel organisations globally” says Andy Peck, CEO and Founder of Trustedhousesitters, a participant at the 2016 awards. He added “We’ve attended events both in the EU and US and the connections made and insights gleaned have been invaluable. We’d definitely recommend anyone looking to drive commercial exposure to get involved with Eye for Travel. It's really helped us progress business development forwards and we really enjoyed attending the well-organised and informative events."

The judges for the 2017 awards include:
  •         Timothy Hentschel co-founder and CEO, HotelPlanner.com
  •         Callum Lee, Investment Analyst, Angel Capital Group (tbc)
  •        Clive Jacobs, Chairman, Jacobs Media Group
  •         Charlie Woolnough, Hedgefund professional, Quorum (tbc)
  •         Christopher Persson, General Partner, Recapex (tbc)
  •         Dick Porter, Portfolio Chairman and Investor (founder and former CEO, STA Travel)
  •          Brian Harniman, Managing Director, Brand New Matter Inc


  “I honestly believe that the disruptors in the travel scene will be those who can really tap into the latent needs that the market has and deliver a service that beats the traditional suppliers” said Tim Gunstone, MD of EyeforTravel, “For the past 20 years, we have consistently tried to make EyeforTravel Europe the nexus of innovation in the travel industry and 2017 is no different, we expect to see the disruptive technologies and business models that are in the pipeline”.

For more information about the awards and to find out how start-ups can enter, please visit http://events.eyefortravel.com/travel-distribution-summit-europe/awards.php


Feel free to get in touch with Tim directly at tim@eyefortravel (please use 'EU startup awards' in the subject)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The killer effect of terrorism

Terrorism is one of the great blights of the world but particularly for tourism. Attacks can have severe effects on how destinations are perceived and leave long lasting scars that take time to heal. Over the last year it has been Europe that has felt the pain resulting from terrorist attacks.

It is estimated that international arrivals in France during 2016 have fallen by around 5% to 7%, according to the French tourism board. The Louvre reported that it had received 15% less visitors and occupancy rates have been hit hard in Paris during 2016. Turkey has had an even rougher year, seeing arrivals fall by 31% year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2016.

Turkey is suffering more because of it has a combination of issues. Multiple attacks from different groups, mass refugee inflows, political instability and a major war on its southern border are all weighing down tourists’ perceptions of the country. Academic research has largely concluded that it is the frequency of incidents that causes the most reduction in arrivals, with recovery usually experienced within six months to a year if there aren’t further incidents. So, if France can continue to avoid major attacks in the immediate future, then it should already be on the way up. However, for Turkey it looks like the road back to the tourism numbers of three years ago is going to be a much harder, and longer, process.  

For more insights like these, why not sign up to our newsletter? Or you can get the best opinions first hand by attending one of our events.

Alex Hadwick
Head of Research, EyeforTravel
alex@eyefortravel.com 

Sources: Tourism-Review.com, Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism