In distribution tech, we need to walk before we run
- Fresh from the stage at the Tourism Innovation Summit in Seville, Impala co-founder and Head of Business Development Charlie Cowley argues that some important foundations need to be laid in travel before we get too carried away with new ideas
When I was invited to join a panel on “The Future of Hotel Distribution” at this year’s TIS, my thoughts naturally jumped to the exciting trends we’re seeing in other sectors - and emerging in travel too. Technologies like blockchain, metaverse and web3 are driving innovation in everything from fintech to art, and it seems inevitable that there’ll be some impact on travel too.
And then, I started thinking about the other panellists: Rafael Rubi from Palladium Hotel Group and Fernando Cuesta from Amadeus. Thinking about the needs of hotels, distributors and room sellers - and the current state of the travel tech stack - quickly brought me back to earth.
If we can’t easily show a traveller pictures of a bathroom for a particular accommodation, we’ve got work to do before we can show virtual replicas of rooms
Back to reality
Our moderator was Travolution Executive Editor Lee Hayhurst, and he steered us through an interesting discussion. We spent some time talking about the metaverse - it’s clear this could have some benefit to potential guests, for example, being able to explore a room type before booking. But it’s no great secret that the hotel industry already struggles to put accurate, up-to-date and complete content in front of prospective guests. If we can’t easily show a traveller pictures of a bathroom for a particular accommodation, we’ve got work to do before we can show virtual replicas of rooms.
I think Rafa put it best: in a world where his control and visibility over what guests are booking his properties, focusing on the metaverse feels like running before we can walk. Fernando described how Amadeus is trialling attribute-based selling, but questions are still to be answered on how this can be applied to hotels on different tech stacks globally. Most notably, relying on the existing channel manager infrastructure requires enormous reengineering of the existing hotel tech stack to make this possible at scale. And with so many different players, with so many different priorities, getting everyone aligned to make things happen feels almost impossible.
We need a far more transparent and straightforward distribution infrastructure in place first to enable meaningful innovation at scale
Getting the basics right
Ultimately, future innovations in distribution need to make life better (and create value for) hotels, room sellers and travellers. So when Rafa says that he’s still hoping for a world where he can reliably target specific guest profiles, ensure higher on-site spend, and focus his efforts on distributing via the most valuable channels, we should sit up and take notice. We need a far more transparent and straightforward distribution infrastructure in place first to enable meaningful innovation at scale.
We also talked briefly about the work Impala is doing, pioneering Open Distribution. This makes it fast and easy for hotels and room sellers to work together. Impala’s platform and API opens new markets - without the need for slow-to-change and complex channel managers. Whatever the longer term future holds for hotel distribution, the underlying infrastructure needs to evolve dramatically to enable better experiences for hotels, room sellers and guests.
It was a pleasure to share the stage with this expert panel. I’m optimistic that an exciting future lies ahead for hotel distribution. But the future belongs to those who’ll be able to power new ideas, and create new experiences that add true value - rather than novelty - to everyone involved in the planning, booking and creating of a trip.
The future is open
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