Travel Convention 2016: Washington aims to inspire with talk on travel and tech

Travel Convention 2016: Washington aims to inspire with talk on travel and tech

The Travel Convention 2016: Travel companies can’t focus only on current trading if they are to keep up with technology, Expedia’s Andy Washington says, Ian Taylor reports

Travel’s future will dominate the convention in Abu Dhabi in October, but not just the future as shaped by Brexit or concerns about security.

Technology will change rapidly whether the industry is ready or not, says Andy Washington, Expedia managing director for northern Europe, who will speak in an industry leaders’ session on the Future of Travel

Washington identifies two areas of rapid change: programmatic marketing, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Programmatic marketing involves the algorithm-driven sale, purchase and placement of advertising, often via bidding.

Washington describes it as “an advance on retargeted marketing”, the cookie-based advertising that keeps a brand before a user as they move around the web. He explains: “It allows retargeting at groups on Facebook – for example, at ‘women in the Manchester area who like to travel to Spain’.”

On machine learning, he says: “I’ll give the convention a vision of where Expedia expects to be. If it makes the travel process easier and helps the customer experience, Expedia is most definitely interested in machine learning.”

He adds: “The travel industry has been pretty slow to adapt to technology compared with other retail sectors. The industry has been built around supply and not how customers want to shop.

“Expedia is more advanced than some legacy travel businesses; we’re not just a booking engine.”

Expedia purchased travel photosharing site Trover last month and Washington says: “Expedia is about inspiring people to travel.

So rather than just show a generic photo of a hotel and say ‘here is the price’, it will bring things to life through content, imagery and personalisation.”

“We see ourselves as a big e-commerce player,” he says.

“We have more than 500 engineers working in London.”

But he also insists: “The convention panel won’t be a sales pitch. We’ll try to create debate that is insightful so people take something from it. There is a lot of focus on the immediate trading position. We’re all very aware of that. But customers still want to travel and we need to fulfil that. The objective is to inspire people, to consider new ways of working and to make a better industry.”

Despite having spent more than two decades in travel, Washington insists he hasn’t lost his excitement at being in the sector.

“Every year is different,” he says. “That makes it exciting.

“No one wants terrorism, but travel is highly resilient and the industry evolves all the time.

“Can our industry, our tour operators, our OTAs keep pace?”

Travel Convention 2016

Date: October 10-12
Venue: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Register: An early-bird air fare is available from Etihad Airways until August 18. The airline is offering reduced fares to and from Abu Dhabi in business and economy class, from October 1-20, allowing delegates to stay longer if they wish. Return fares start at £320 in economy (including tax) if booked before August 18.

‘Forum for debate’

Andy Washington serves on the advisory panel that helps to devise the programme for Abta’s Travel Convention, for which Travel Weekly is once again trade media partner.

“We’ve seen the convention change [in recent years] and it has become a very important event,” he says.

“The industry has been dominated by the big-two operators, but travel is so much bigger than that. It’s not just about the big two; it’s not just about technology; it’s not all about airlines. The UK travel industry is a leader worldwide.

“Many have been in the industry for a long time, but this is a key time. When something major happens like Brexit, people think ‘Do we cut back?’ Networking is so important. A lot of people will want to see how the Brexit vote affected people.

“The industry faces many challenges and the convention is a great time to discuss how the industry can come together to give confidence and trust to the consumer.”


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