I returned last week from the annual Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME) conference in blisteringly hot Las Vegas, Nevada. Here are my top 10 takeaways from a great event.
10. Imagini demonstrated some cool and useful technology that wowed everyone. The special sauce is something called “visual DNA” that profiles consumers based on their reaction to photos. Hotels.com in the United Kingdom has integrated it into its booking path—it’s called the Hotel Visualiser—and it’s driven a real uptick in conversions.
9. With great challenge comes great opportunity. Some of the most successful brands were born during the Great Depression. Today, in the midst of a “Great Recession,” new and interesting companies are hatching to define the next generation of online travel. Trazzler, for example, thrilled the audience with its deft integration of social media platforms—Twitter and Facebook.
8. It’s the economy, stupid. Every segment has felt the pinch from destination marketing organizations (DMOs), to online travel agencies (OTAs), to airlines and hotels. Henry Harteveldt of Forrester used the term “neo-frugal chic” to describe the new reality. We’ve seen the end of excess—flash is out, value is in. Absolutely.
7. Social media is inextricably linked to daily business. Case in point: Dan Comenduley, manager of communications marketing at United Airlines, says the airline has created a dedicated Web site for its top 500 travelers (Global Services customers, perhaps?), whereas JetBlue … has leveraged the “twittersphere” to connect with cost-conscious fliers. These two varied approaches work because they enhance the respective business model of each company.
6. ROE (return on engagement) is the new ROI (return on investment) is a hot topic. Jeff DeKorte of Travel Ad Network described the current online booking and shopping experience to be as interesting as withdrawing $20 from an ATM. I heard one person grumble, “If we (the travel industry) were marketing sushi, we’d call it ‘cold, dead fish.’” Ouch. Several emerging companies—Imagini, Nileguide and TravelMuse—shared novel approaches for inspiring, engaging and building trust with users through compelling design.
5. Shorter trips are the norm. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) is seeing “consumers more willing to take a break than a vacation.” Why? People are afraid to go away for more than a long weekend for fear of being laid off.
4. Despite the economic challenges of today, successful companies are building strategic plans for the future. The Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau, for example, is planning conventions out to 2030. How does one even begin to imagine what life will look like 20+ years from now? This video helped get people thinking outside the box.
3. The great American road trip is alive and well. The industry is seeing much greater strength in road travel than in air travel as gas prices are down by 50 percent versus July 2008; airfare is down a more moderate 4.1 percent thru March 2009.
2. The number of people unsure of where to go has doubled in the last 12 months from 11 percent of the traveling public to 20 percent. The need for travel inspiration has never been greater.
1. Twitter has exploded. It was astonishing to see, since last year most attendees had no idea what Twitter was. This year, dozens of attendees tweeted away (read the stream here: #atmeconf) and lots of press, bloggers and industry insiders followed the posts remotely. Questions poured in from around the Web, making the Q&A sessions livelier. Wall Street 24×7 recently posted a story on 10 ways Twitter will permanently change American business.
Here’s an 11th: Meetings and events will never be the same again.