15 September 2015

2015 PATA Technology Forum, Bangalore

06 September 2015, I had the pleasure of attending the first Pacific Asia Travel Association Technology Forum, at Bangalore International Exhibition Center, in partnership with phocuswright.com and connectingtravel.com. PATA is the travel and tourism industry association for the Asia Pacific region, now headed by artificial intelligence investor Mario Hardy. Phocuswright is the global nexus for technology in travel and tourism. Connecting Travel is a new professional social network initiative for the travel and tourism industry by Travel Weekly. (Both Phocuswright and Travel Weekly are now owned by Northstar Travel Media.)

The opening speaker was the prominent investor and philanthropist Mohandas Pai, in his role as chairman of the Karnataka Tourism Vision Group. Pai, who is heavily invested in tripfactory.com, provided a 360 degree overview of the skyrocketing digital economy in India, as well as its impacts on travel and tourism, both domestically and internationally. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was the Aadhaar, or Unique Identification Authority of India, basically the world's largest national identification number project, set to biometrically empower millions of people without conventional paper trail or fixed abode.

Tony D'Astolfo, managing director of Phocuswright, introduced this new "Phocuswright Fast Track", by calling it an event within an event. Phocuswright offers recent research on the Indian travel market, and not only maintains a dedicated team in India, but also is planning a full Phocuswright India travel technology conference 21-22 April 2016 near New Delhi, in Gurgaon.

Chetan Kapoor, Phocuswright research analyst for Asia Pacific, put the spotlight on Indian holidays and package travelers, highlighting the evolution of the Indian traveler, and how their shopping and booking habits are transforming traditional holidays and packages.

In the first executive roundtable, titled "Beyond Air - The Next Phase of India's Online Travel Story", Chetan Kapoor presented three of India's new travel and tourism heavyweights:
In terms of traffic, Tripadvisor is consistently within the top 3 travel sites in India, listing more than 30,000 Indian accommodations, with the largest number of reviews. HolidayIQ is a Bangalore-based travel information and review portal, with over 3 million members, listing 2,000 tourism destinations, and more than 50,000 accommodations, in India alone. Cleartrip is one of the top online travel agents in India, attracting more than $70 million in funding.

In the second executive roundtable, titled "Travel Innovation Summit Alumni Spotlight", Tony D'Astolfo introduced three of India's most innovative entrepreneurs to discuss how they are transforming the travel industry, at home and abroad:

Intuitive travel planner Mygola has recently been acquired by MakeMyTrip, one of India’s leading travel companies. TableGrabber, India's first real-time online restaurant reservation system, has recently launched RezGuru, a middle-layer software for restaurants. TripHobo, a travel itinerary-planning portal, recently announced a partnership with Zomato, a leading restaurant discovery platform made in India.

For the executive interview, Tony D’Astolfo did a one-on-one with Ritesh Agarwal, 21 year old founder and CEO of OYO Rooms, India's largest branded network of hotels. Not only is he one of India's youngest CEOs, but also India's most successful college drop-out. Agarwal was the first Indian to receive a $100,000 fellowship grant from Peter Thiel, which he invested in developing OYO Rooms. And mostly recently, he has raised $100 million from Japan’s SoftBank for OYO Rooms. Legend has it that Agarwal started OYO Rooms, which stands for "On Your Own", because his relatives would not let him control the TV remote when he was a child in India. On a personal note, I can say for sure that I am staying in better places in India, and paying less, now than I was a year ago, due to the phenomenal concept that is OYO Rooms.

Following lunch, Connecting Travel organized the "Technology Trends Defining Business Strategy" session, moderated by Tony Tenicela, IBM executive and global leader managing business development. This session focused on how global market players are redefining business models to adapt to the accelerated pace of communication, marketing, and loyalty initiatives. Social media, and virtual networks, figure prominently in creating vertical platforms that are aggregating professionals, consumers, advisers and investors into communities.
Helena Egan, director of industry relations at TripAdvisor, is primarily concerned with building relationships with destination marketing organisations, as well as educating the industry on the benefits user-generated content. Kenny Picken, CEO of Traveltek, a leading provider of travel technology solutions, shared valuable insights of how Traveltek empowers industry stakeholders, rather than by-passing them. Philip Napleton, VP at Open Destinations, providing software for tour operators and wholesalers, emerged as the voice of the younger generation, with his insight into social media and mobile applications. Rika Jean-Francois, head of corporate social responsibility for Internationale Tourismus-Boerse Messe Berlin, was the only person to emphasize the potential of travel technology in developing sustainable tourism. Mike Kistner, CEO of RezNext, a real-time hotel distribution technology company, provided perspectives of the seasoned travel technology professional. Daniela Wagner, Connecting Travel at Travel Weekly, spoke of how their new social network platform can benefit travel professionals.

Note, YourStory is the largest platform for news, reports and analysis on India's booming startup ecosystem.

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