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Conference Report: Changing distribution channels in the travel industry

The 3st annual conference on Changing Distribution channels in the travel industry was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, London, UK, on the 7 and 8 of December. The conference`s general theme was on New channels, new challenges

The 3st annual conference on Changing Distribution channels in the travel industry was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, London, UK, on the 7 and 8 of December. The conference`s general theme was on New channels, new challenges, it was organised by Access Conferences International Ltd and chaired by Dr Dimitrios Buhalis (University of Surrey). The conference attracted delegates mainly from professional circles and aimed to bring together all relevant stakeholders to discuss the current trends and future challenges in distribution in the travel industry. In particular, delegates represented a wide and varied mixture of players in the tourism distribution chain, i.e. online and offline players, cyber intermediaries, tourism suppliers, e.g. hotels, airlines, Internet Service Providers and IT infrastructure/platform providers, portals, travel associations. This mixed audience of approximately 50 participants guaranteed that all perspectives-embracing debates and lively discussions were developed. The conference was organised in presentations, case studies and panel discussions. A compilation of all the presentations is published in CD-ROM format and can be ordered through Access Conferences.



Dimitrios Buhalis opened the conference by giving a summarised but detailed overview of the impact of ICT on the tourism and hospitality industries. He analysed the aims of distribution and how ICT enhances and revolutionises the way these are achieved. That provided the basis on which the conference presentations and panel discussions could draw upon and develop.



The travel agents` perspective was represented by Ian Reynolds (Association of British Travel Agents). Ian provided statistical evidence of the consolidation that is taking place in the travel agency sector and argued that the challenge for travel agencies in the electronic distribution is not either or not but rather how and when. Stephen Dickey (British Airways Travel Shops) provided similar arguments claiming that S-Commerce meaning the Shop-commerce will be the prevailing distribution strategy. To this end he analysed the competencies and features of the modern Travel Shop while he highlighted the importance of developing and successfully implementing a Customer Relationship Management strategy. Pieter Riebel (Rosenbluth International) illustrated the strategy of his company and provided evidence of how travel agencies can exploit ICT in order to compete in the new competitive Marketspace. State of the art technologies and applications were presented by Nishma Patel (Teletext Ltd) and Richard Thomson (TV Travel Shop). The WAP and the digital and interactive television were the focus of these presentations whereby speakers presented how they managed to take benefit of their capabilities in order to revitalise and futurise their business offerings.



Speakers from the infomediary sector, (e.g. Stuart Level, Travelselect.com; Peter Fitzerald, Pegasus Solutions; Lawrence Hunt, dreamticket.com; Mike Higgins, Bid.com; Richard Lewis, Worldres Europe; Heather Blaseby, Utell) explained their business models and concluded that the major competencies for creating customer value added offerings are:


personalisation and customisation of products and services,

integrated channel management,

online support,

on- and off- line brand development

relationship/loyalty building,

content management and development,

interactive and easily navigational Websites.




Unfortunately, according to Peter O` Connor (IMHI Cornell ESSEC) the majority of the hotel companies still do not know how to best exploit ICT and how to implement successful applications. On the contrary, they usually fall into customer irritating mistakes such as bad channel management and rates` and rooms` inventory, non-functional and unnavigational websites.



Dimitrios Buhalis concluded that electronic distribution is here to stay, challenging the business models of all players in the travel distribution chain. Those that will be able to survive from the fierce competition will be those that will manage to add value, develop a strong brand name and build customer loyalty. Operators that will fail to adapt and customise their offering to the current situation will be sentenced to disintermediation. For more information contact Nicky Davies at [email protected]





Marianna Sigala

University of Surrey

School of Management Studies for the Service Sector

E-mail: [email protected]



Dr Dimitrios Buhalis

Course Leader MSc in eTourism

University of Surrey

School of Management Studies for the Service Sector

Email: [email protected]

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