Who hasn”t heard of Facebook? Or MySpace? There shouldn”t be many hands up there. But who”s heard of Web 2.0?
One or two hands up? Web 2.0 ” if I”ve got it right ” is the technology which powers social networking sites including the above, plus travel equivalents such as TripAdvisor. Last question - who thinks they know how Web 2.0 can affect business travel?
I wouldn”t expect to see too many mitts up. The truth is, nobody really knows yet ” it”s been harnessed mainly for leisure travel agents so far.
A recent online poll of UK business travel agents by Amadeus found that social networking sites are becoming more popular, and 27% of agents said they now use the review site TripAdvisor to find information.
Sabre Travel Network is planning to launch its ”Enterprise 2.0” community some time this year in conjunction with AMEX - designed specifically with business travellers in mind - known as ”cubeless”.
This will make it simple for companies” employees across the globe to share information and advice about travel ” and it”s easy to see how it could save time. Collaboration could mean business travellers quickly get advice from colleagues that do what they do, have the same travel policies, and have been in the same locations - checking a hotel they want to stay in has dependable, fast wireless internet access and a gym that opens early, for example.
And why stop there? Why shouldn”t information be relevant not only within companies, but within whole industries, or for business travellers based in the same country ” or worldwide?
Sabre believes Web 2.0 is on the brink of proving its worth in the business environment, and has the potential to help companies save money ” employees going to the same destination can organise shared travel services once they”ve arrived, for example.
But there is a sense that no one knows how useful it can become ”its intrinsic nature of thriving off individuals” input means the more it is used the more it grows, and then ever more uses are found.
Mike Cogan - a partner at Equinus, a travel technology consultancy ” wonders who exactly is going to harness Web 2.0? Airlines can do it, but can corporate TMCs use it?
”The risk is that the travellers start to share knowledge and experience, and bits of travel products may start to bypass them ” ”why do I need a travel agent now, if I can book direct?” people might think,” he says.
At the same time, TMCs could have a great opportunity here, but they need to add something to the product ” they need to take it to ”web 2.5” says Cogan.
”If I make my money out of business people travelling, I”d want to become part of it, but I need to add something to it ” give extra tips. That then attracts people as the place to make comments, and it”s also the TMCs” way of finding out what”s going on.
”Host it pro-actively ” read it, and find out how I can push my services so people will see the benefits. Feedback is so valuable, but not on its own, you have to work at it.”
If TMCs don”t harness it, he says travel providers ” airlines, hotels and the rest ” will make their own ways of doing it, and cut out the middle man.
”But if travel intermediaries add a bit more value they ought to be travellers” friend, and one who helps them find the best deal, rather than the provider, who says ”I am the best deal.””
And a final point would be, will business travellers be as willing to give the feedback which is needed to make this work? Will they have the same amount of time and inclination to do this as leisure travellers? Even with the cloak of anonymity (in giving comments) some travellers may still be wary of criticising in a business trip context.
A lot of questions then, and the answers will take a while to unfurl ” but it will be fascinating to see what happens. Web 2.0 could be powerful enough to change the way the corporate travel world functions. It”s already altered the way much of society communicates, after all.