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Google think tank: Travel innovation in Asia needs a push
Linda Haden, Singapore, March 30, 2012

ASIA’s travel industry lags behind the West in delivering revolutionary products and ideas, according to a panel of experts at the inaugural edition of Travelthink with Google in Singapore.


Rob Torres, managing director of Travel – Google, believes travel firms in Asia, both online and offline, have failed to embrace and leverage new technologies.


"Nothing has really changed since the Internet explosion of the late 1990s," he said. "OTAs have reached a comfort level and are stuck, thinking they don't need to keep innovating. Many firms in Asia across the travel spectrum are followers, not leaders."


According to Steven Greenway, Scoot’s head of commercial, airlines were the least innovative of all travel segments. "They are highly resistant to change and innovation, not only because it is a difficult task, but because it is a costly exercise,” he said.


Juney Ham, CMO, Airbnb said the reality was that small start-ups were Asia's primary drivers of travel innovation. "Larger players in the travel space are just happy to go along with the status quo, and are happy to keep things going the way they have always been," she said.


Some audience members, such as Bev Taylor, marketing officer, Buffalo Tours Vietnam, disagreed with the panel.


"The level of innovation in Asia varies from organisation to organisation, and from country to country. Innovation is happening in Asia, but the level of sophistication might not be as high as it is in the West, due to limitations such as the adoption rate for new technologies, infrastructure and consumer behaviour," he said.


Mice Monkey Shanghai co-founder, Mimi Vong, added that innovation in Asia was being hampered by a lack of talent. "In China for instance, young, brillant individuals prefer working for themselves rather than for companies," she explained.


Dean Wicks, CMO and general manager, Australia and New Zealand, Wego said it was essential for online and offline travel firms to first identify specialist niches based on their core compentencies, before attempting to exploit technologies and deliver innovative products.


"One way to do this is by utilising social networks - it's all about C2C now. Draw feedback from customer conversations and user content, and align strategies to these dialogues," he advised.

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