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Technology: Finding the cutting edge

We all know that technology is a moveable feast. What’s in one month is out the next. What’s hot one year is old hat a year later. So how is a business owner to keep up? How do you figure out the difference between a fad and a major social swing? We asked five technology players for their take on what lies ahead in the technology arena in 2010.

Looking at technology trends in general, what do you think is the one gadget/piece of technology that every small tourism business owner will need to have and why?

Lawrence Smith, of Cabbage Tree Creative: The one piece of technology every small business needs? Linking their in-house reservation system, a property management system for example, to online. This means they need software internally that is capable of connecting, probably via a channel manager, to the various online travel agencies (OTAs) so that they can sell in real time. No real time availability online, distributed as wide and far online as possible, no business.

Mike Henton, general manager of Centaman: The Blackberry or iphone are two gadgets that have changed the way people do business, no longer are you tied to your desk computer. For tourism operators combining these hardware technologies with software solutions such as Centaman’s SMS & data notifications will provide an operator with the ability to get out and about, while still being in touch with the minute- by-minute happenings in their business. These tools also add new dimensions to sales opportunities providing staff and customers the ability to make bookings from anywhere they are, opening new markets and growing revenue.

Tony Cutting: Director of Talent Pointof Tourism Recruit: For me I think setting up your own social networking site (most probably on Facebook and Twitter) is a key piece of technology for small tourism operators. Both these social networking sites are booming and it is time to take advantage of the numbers of people using these sites - what is also great is that is very inexpensive!

Chris Hunter, CEO of Tourism Exchange: It is not really a gadget; however I believe it is important that tourism business owners have a modern website with the ability to efficiently complete real time transactions. Clearly more consumers are researching and booking their travel and holidays online. Consumer patience for response to a sales enquiry has dramatically changed from previous years with an increasing requirement for consumers to be able to move seamlessly from researching a product into purchasing it. A commercialised website gives the ability for a small tourism business operator to showcase their products and complete the sale instantly at the customer’s convenience. It is an important step in driving the business forward. It allows the tourism provider the ability to start taking bookings from day one and works all day, every day – enabling the provider to dedicate more time to the core operation of the business.

Luigi Cappell, sales and marketing manager at GeoSmart: A free map and directions to the property on their own web site with the AA Maps Bizlocator. Click on “Add Your Business for Free” at www.aamaps.co.nz. I helped run a busy city motel in the past and people always ring from their car asking for directions at the busiest times, when you are checking in other guests. The service provides user configurable maps and turn-by-turn directions which can be printed and used by the car navigator to make sure they get to the right place.

Still looking at general trends – where do you see online marketing going in the coming year – are we looking at mobile marketing; more emphasis on Facebook; Twitter etc or is the picture much wider?

Chris Hunter: It is interesting how new marketing mediums have emerged and the pace of this change. I can recall the transition from competing for a consumer’s letterbox to competing for their inbox and now this has leapt to competing for their screen time.

The screen time battle has evolved from TV/PC to now include mobile and other devices. Social networks become powerful for a brand when the additional unpaid brand exposure from consumer sharing, outweighs the paid marketing spend that is undertaken.

The core business attributes around producing great products delivered with customer service excellence are still relevant to support any social network strategy. I believe there is also a need to be careful with 'social network numbness' - where consumers are likely to be increasingly targeted in social networks by organisations adopting main stream mass marketing or viral marketing practices.
Similar to any other marketing channel, the effective social marketers will be those who can make the communication connection relevant to the target audience. Additionally, there is the continued importance of the search engines and the balance of investing in paid display and keywords versus organic search results.

The interesting aspect is that there is still incredible value and opportunity across all the marketing channels and while social networks are receiving increasingly larger shares of organisations marketing budgets, most consumers still have a letterbox, an inbox, TV, PC, etc.

Mike Henton: The coming year will see more development of connected media, already you can tweet from Facebook and vice versa. For the small business this means they will need to stay on top of these forms of media and ensure that they are doing their best to provide customers with great experiences to tell their friends about. The traditional website, while still an important part of the online marketing mix for up-to-date factual information such as pricing, opening times and real-time availability and booking, will become less relevant to the tourism customer’s decision process, instead relying on the experiences of their connected networks to make their purchasing decisions.

Tony Cutting: The other key marketing trend for those who have not done so yet is to update your website, people should be able to Google and find your business quickly, and when they get there your website should be well designed and very informative – everyone wants things straight away these days and if they cannot find it they will simply move on.

Lawrence Smith: Yes, social media remains the big one, but there will certainly be increasing emphasis on mobile. Then there is the ongoing challenge of businesses understanding and resourcing social media participation.

Luigi Cappell: I believe that we will see two major trends in this space.

(1) More and more websites in the industry will support consumer advocacy. Sites such as Travelocity have done this for a number of years already. Some travel and tourism sites will also support upload of photos and blog style comments on their sites. Properties that are confident they will get good feedback will have digital guest books on their websites. The key to this is that many people don’t trust conventional advertising any more, which applies to all industries not just tourism. We trust people we know or are associated with or feel are similar to us.

(2) Facebook Fan Pages will become very popular in the industry for travel and tourism businesses. They provide a means for people to develop a relationship with a property. Examples are Zorb, Taupo Bungy, Rainbow Springs, Scenic and Heartland Hotels, AA Traffic etc. It does appear that some are not yet maximising their pages, but at least they are on there.

Twitter is another great opportunity and most properties still don’t know all the things they can do to grow their market. It is a more immediate opportunity. Some of the very successful users include Air New Zealand, who has several sites including the popular Air Points Fairy and AirNZ-Deals. AA Tourism is another one that promotes deals etc. I see this as another great vehicle for deals and have seen all sorts of things promoted in NZ including ice cream, accommodation, flights etc. Once you have subscribers, this is a great tool for time- based deals. RTO’s could get involved, for example the West Coast has Facebook and Twitter sites.

I attended a conference in Amsterdam this time last year about Location Based Services and Social Networking and found that the consumer advocacy concept is already common in Europe, UK and USA. For example, if I was in Napier, I could send out a tweet and say “I have a spare afternoon in Napier, where should I go and what can I do?” The replies will come from people who either live there or have had a good (or bad) experience they will share with you. There are Twitter clients (applications) for many modern phones. For example I use an application called Seesmic on my Blackberry that I downloaded for free. Consumers are also able to do their own searches, which many are getting to know.

For your own company what is the main technology issue you will be addressing in 2010?

Tony Cutting: We will be updating our own website and continue to build the Tourism Recruit community, we will also be focusing heavily on the social networking to build our database so it has the very best people for our clients.

Chris Hunter: For Tourism Exchange NZ, the core technology focus in 2010 is increasing the number of connections between tourism operating systems and a common Tourism Exchange platform. This will enable more tourism providers to connect directly to the Open Booking Exchange. In addition, the Eviivo Frontdesk system will continue to be enhanced to support those tourism business owners looking for a cost- effective, simple system (including a website) that is automatically connected to the Tourism Exchange.

Mike Henton: Centaman will continue to grow our online capabilities adding new features to our current online capability providing simple, easy to use solutions for tourism attractions.

Luigi Cappell: The big ‘technology’ thing for GeoSmart this year will be finding ways to support a wide range of Location Based Services products and solutions with dynamic real time information tools. One of the biggest for us is AA Traffic, which is already sending information and alerts to web sites, email, mobile and car navigation. We want people and businesses to be able to use our services to share information and offers to consumers and businesses via a wide range of communications options. A restaurant could use this to promote today’s menu, a bar or club could let people know that they are running a happy hour, a loyalty card company could offer time-based deals based on location. GeoSmart will be developing all the building blocks. Location is key for the tourism sector and we want to find and develop technology tools that allow the tourism industry to support FIT’s and holiday makers by letting them know what is happening, or on offer, near them, right now and in the near future.

Lawrence Smith: Our main technology issue (or opportunity)? The convergence of real-time booking, mobile technologies and social media. Consumers will increasingly expect to do all these things, probably simultaneously, from mobile devices. The challenge is to help our clients lift their game so that they can deliver.

Posted: Sunday 24 January 2010