By Martin Cowen, following the OpenJaw t-Retailing Summit 2014
Travel businesses need to think like retailers while not losing sight of their core business goals, concluded the closing session at this week's OpenJaw t-Retailing Summit near Dublin.
Fergal Kelly, vice president, travel merchandising and distribution solutions, Travelport, said that "there needs to be a retailing attitude in the online travel space."
While Amazon is often held up as the template for travel companies looking to inspire customers and personalise their shopping experience, Kelly also suggested that ASOS was a good example - "they have broad range of product, it's well presented, has an easy shopping solution."
Inspiration should be high on the agenda for travel companies looking to become more retail-focused, said Mark Lenahan, vice president product strategy at OpenJaw.
"Inspiration isn't a sudden revelation," he suggested, "it's an intangible."
"If you look at past interactions, use APIs to help curate and even personalise the supply, deliver it to the customers at the correct time in the flow, then you can develop a life-time relationship with the customer."
He added that when travel brands develop a continual relationship with the customer, "booking as we know it becomes an artificial concept."
Kelly agreed that inspiration "isn't a discrete event, it's an iterative flow of information in a subtle way."
But he warned that technology and tools "are only an enabler" and that the primary focus should be "not which tools you use but what sort of a business you are."
Andrew Knott, chief information officer at Virgin Holidays, said that it was using tools and technology to find out about the customer in order to develop new personalized content.
"In terms of our brand values, we think in terms of upservicing the customer rather than upselling to them."