Travel insiders swap insights on push for better data


Always a high point of The Phocuswright Conference, the Bridge Series brings together travel leaders from across the world to discuss innovations in products, services and experiences that ultimately lead to a better travel industry.

At November’s conference in Florida, the panelists were Schubert Lou, chief operating officer at Trip.com; Damian Scokin, CEO at Despegar; and Fahd Hamidaddin, CEO of the Saudi Tourism Authority.

Moderators Pete Comeau, managing director at Phocuswright, and Siew Hoon Yeoh, WiT founder and editorial director of Northstar Travel Group Asia, led the far-ranging discussion.

Asked about the differences between working in travel versus other sectors, Schubert spoke about the level of data that can be collected through a transaction.

“The challenge we see in the travel industry is we have very fragmented data, where in the traditional e-commerce you have end-to-end data control, and the granularity where you can track that data is so deep, you know exactly how to do the right routes, how to cut delivery time from 43 minutes down to 28,” he said. “We need to come together as an industry and figure out how we can make the data more accessible.”

The panelists discussed some of the obstacles to that, including concerns about privacy and a reluctance on the part of some companies to share what they know about consumers from a concern of losing a competitive advantage.

The problem with that, Schubert added, is that the fragmented data prevents travel companies from fully capitalizing on the promise of artificial intelligence.

“In the age of AI, the granularity of data is clearly not there,” he said. “We need to do a whole lot more than what we’re doing now. And we need to start with a much broader effort than a single company.”

Drilling down on the topic of competition among travel companies, Scokin was asked about what his company learns from others in the market.

“We look at specific things well done by some of our competitors,” he said. “The beauty of our business is that it’s all out there. It’s very easy to learn from the best.”

When the conversation turned to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to become a greater draw for tourism, Hamidaddin spoke of Saudi Vision 2030, a government program to increase economic diversification.

“We embarked on tourism development to transform our socio-economic landscape,” he said. “Saudi was always dependent on oil, so we embarked on this very ambitious agenda of transformation called Vision 2030, and by 2030 we wanted to make tourism play a significant role in that diversification. Our aim is to take the contribution from 3% to 10% [of the country’s gross domestic product]. That would make it second to oil. We wanted to focus on growing human-led sectors like tourism, sports, art and culture. We would like to host 100 million visits by 2030.”

Watch the full discussion in the video below.

Bridge Series – Innovating Travel & Tourism for the Future | The Phocuswright Conference


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