The advent of e-business has seen many traditional brick-and-mortar brands that weren’t prepared for the online revolution losing market share with some even biting the dust.
In the travel industry, the emergence of Online Travel Agents (OTA) has had a significant impact on the marketplace. Take for instance holiday booking engines such as Agoda, Booking.com, Wotif and Expedia which record hundreds of thousands of transactions daily round the clock, year in, year out, virtually drowning out even established regional travel agents with trusted reputations.
In a period when the majority of airlines were struggling to break even, a company called Kayak started an airline meta search engine to further eat into their shrinking revenue stream.
It soon became apparent to me that the winner is going to be the one that is willing to innovate and invest in technology to serve the needs of an ever-demanding marketplace.
The Malaysian scenario
There’s a relatively low adoption rate of new technology as far as the travel industry in Malaysia is concerned. But industry players are coming to realise that to stay relevant and solvent, they have to embrace information technology to rejuvenate their businesses.
Most, not being IT-savvy, end up groping in the dark. They simply do not have the know-how, the infrastructure and other resources to challenge the big boys. Their budgets, too, do not permit them to acquire the necessary expertise to compete in a hitherto unknown `battlefield’.
Every way they turn they are faced with tricky problems. How do I put up an e-commerce site? Is it sufficient to have just a website? How much should I invest in online technology and how big an outlay should it be to stay at par with my competitors? What resources do I need to run my day-to-day business? Again, how much will it cost? How do I attract consumers to my site? Should I be more concerned about potential buyers visiting my site or do I get them to view my packages via other publisher sites? What are SEM and SEO?
Doubts and uncertainty reign owing to a lack of knowledge on technological change and evolution.
These are the main grouses of hoteliers, travel agents and other industry players based on my experience of working with them since 1999. Every time they think they have hit on a right solution, technology changes and throws them off balance. Some are persisting but many, especially travel agents, have thrown in the towel. Hotels do have the OTAs to rely on though, at the expense of paying them exorbitant commissions.
These issues are not peculiar to the local travel industry but are also the bane of the Asia-Pacific travel industry players.
It has not been easy but for the past 13 years, I have been innovating for the travel industry. My latest innovation being the introduction of Standard Online Tourism Architecture (SOTA).
SOTA (www.sota.travel) is unique for its value propositions as a solution to the travel industry with one of its features, the Smart Online Travel Assistant, created to serve the needs of consumers. SOTA’s vision is to bridge the digital divide inherent in the travel industry with the following mission:
- To allow industry players to get online at the lowest cost possible
- To enable industry players to independently manage their online businesses
- To create an e-Marketplace and collaboration platform to attract consumers and business buyers alike
- To keep introducing new technology to the travel industry
Progress has been made. Two years ago, when SOTA was set up, less than 5% of the travel industry players in Malaysia were e-enabled. Since then SOTA has enabled 30% of them with an increasing number now understanding the importance of being online. Today SOTA is not only powering the local travel industry but reaching out to the global industry as well.
With SOTA serving the online business needs of travel agents, we set upon innovating a solution for hotels and came up with HAS (Hotel Allotment System) to manage their sales distribution channels and connect to travel agents and consumers through a single platform. Incidentally, HAS is the first system of its kind in Asia.
We will continue assisting travel industry players with information technology solutions that will serve the needs of their customers and help strengthen their strategic positions within the industry’s value chain by developing innovations which the industry must be prepared to adopt and adapt to.
Virtual Travel Fair will be SOTA’s next innovation that is set to revolutionize the industry. The Fair simulates the physical consumer travel fair where consumers are offered travel packages from travel suppliers across the globe over a single website, round the clock.