Travel Technology Europe 2013: Key Takeaways

For the last day and a half I’ve been wandering around (and tweeting rather heavily about) Travel Technology Europe 2013. The exhibition and conference designed for travel technology buyers to source, learn and network with each other. I attended in my capacity as consultant for Keene Communications who heads up their digital PR and social media strategies. It’s good exploring where the travel industry is currently at and where technology is heading.

Whilst all conference materials were based around tourism, many themes were universal. The internet has created a gigantic splash across all industries but travel has their own challenges.

Google is a Threat
Guardian Technology Editor, Charles Author, kicked off the conference with his talk “Google: Organising the world”. He explored how organisations cannot beat the internet but have to join in. In particular, whilst improvements can be made to SEO there is no escaping Google’s fascination with improving their own travel real-estate. Their takeovers of ITA, Zagat and Frommer’s indicate that travel is obviously one their key development areas. This is best shown through Google’s very own search results where, no matter how personalised search results may be, Google’s real-estate will appear at the top of listings.

On the second day of the conference I was pleased to have the opportunity to question Nate Bucholz, Industry Head of Travel at Google directly about this occurrence. He admitted that Google wants consumers to come to them but they are not interested in transaction services. An observation that Charles Author had made the day before after Google’s poor track record of handling customer relations.

Google is a goliath across every industry but for travel, the company has started to take the power away from online travel agents. Just how far will Google go? It is a question that more of the technology buyers attending the conference should have questioned Google more heavily about. Plus, plenty of antitrust questions should be asked.

Whilst Google are not evil, they have to walk a very difficult line. For the travel industry, Google is a threat.

SEO is PR
The conference also explored changes happening in SEO. Frequent changes being made to Google’s search algorithm means the SEO industry has to face huge changes every few months.

February 2011 — Google introduced Panda
November 2011 — Fresh Update
January 2012 — Google search plus your world
April 2012 — Google introduced Penguin
June/July 2012–86 search algorithm changes

Google is making their search results more credible and personal. In turn this is making it much harder for SEO agencies to deliver results for their clients because traditional link building exercises are not effective in the same way.

Essentially:
Traditional SEO was about search engines.
Modern SEO is about being people centric.

One of the biggest factors affecting Google search results today is social media, especially Google+. SEO agencies have begun involving social media activities as part of their responsibilities so that they can deliver clients better page ranks. The PR industry is already experts at creating diverse content, we are experts at starting conversations but unless we become good at SEO, we may start losing clients.

We know that a valid Google+ profile helps search results but we still don’t know much about how Google influence is measured. The latest industry knowledge indicates that the influence of a Google+ user is measured on the basis of:

– Their +1s
– Amount of comments per post
– Amount of search queries
– How many people they have circled
– Number of circles they have
– Engagement levels
– Average page rank

Any website at the centre of an SEO campaign needs to involve a Google+ profile. Especially with the introduction of Google Author Rank. A subject which I hope to learn more about at Stephen Waddington’s #CIPRsm talk later this month.

Working with Bloggers
One of the most interesting sessions of the conference was how to work with bloggers. Increasingly PR agencies are looking at spending less money with journalists and instead turning attention towards bloggers instead. Especially for online campaigns this can really help:

– Raise awareness
– Target customers
– Amplify marketing activities
– Increase website referrals
– Deliver Quality content
– Supporting SEO

However, each blogger is very different. One of the best travel bloggers out there is @mrsoaroundworld but she believes that bloggers should not be handled like journalists. Whilst PR agencies may pay for a journalist to visit a destination, it may be wrong for a blogger to accept the same treatment as it removes them from being editorially independent. I’m not too sure what I think about this yet but the idea of PR becoming weird advertorial activity actually makes me feel slightly queasy.

Essentially agencies need to consider the KPIs of using a blogger in the first place and understand a campaign’s overall objectives. In turn, bloggers need to sell themselves more to agencies by selling on the stats they can deliver. Digital PR and social media is completely driven by big data — looking at the results of a blogger outreach campaign should be no different.

As always, let me know your thoughts and thank you Travel Technology Europe 2013 for such a brilliant set of talks.

What do you think?