Be it for the integration of social search into online travel to Google’s algorithms and Google Labs, to the progression of technology and innovation in the travel industry, there are numerous developments which are being keenly followed today.
From Google’s perspective, its head of travel, retail, and automotive for southeast Asia, Sajith Sivanandan, says delivering the most compelling offers exactly at the time of searching continues to be the biggest opportunity that both search engines and providers (suppliers and aggregators) are preoccupied with.
Sivanandan, who is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Asia 2010 (to be held in Singapore, April 28-29)
Do you think predicting user preference is the biggest unsolved problem in online travel?
Sajith Sivanandan: I will take the liberty of narrowing the scope of your question to search and online travel. Users are expressing a preference through the queries they input while searching. To me, delivering the best available, the most compelling offers, exactly at the time of searching continues to be the biggest opportunity that both search engines and providers (suppliers and aggregators) are preoccupied with. The biggest unsolved problem, therefore, becomes this: how can we reduce the time to perfect fulfillment of the users’ online travel needs?
Today Google’s algorithms are still quite a bit of a black box for professional search marketers. The semantic web should make it more efficient to create and manage online campaigns, because there will be less left to algorithmic interpretation. How do you assess this viewpoint?
Sajith Sivanandan: Google has always done everything with the user being central. We value relevancy to the user highly, and we are mostly geared towards rewarding search marketers that deliver relevancy and a great user experience. This is very well known, and search marketers who follow this concept will do extremely well.
On the subject of semantic web, we welcome any developments that help make the process of delivering relevant results to users more effective and efficient.
Google, which last year had introduced a new experiment on Google Labs called Google Social Search, has added a social element to Google Images. With Social Search, Google finds relevant public content from your friends and contacts, and highlights it for you at the bottom of your search results. What is going to be the next big thing or trend in social search engine marketing?
Sajith Sivanandan: We definitely see that social search, mobile search, and a combination of the two will grow rapidly.
This year, we have already seen a couple of significant moves from Apple and Google towards mobile advertising. How do you foresee the impact on search and social media via mobile phones on the travel industry?
Sajith Sivanandan: Mobile phones will almost certainly and indeed already have a tremendous impact on social media. Reading about latest status updates of friends on the go, latest tweets, et al, are all tailor made for the mobile. As smart phones gather more steam and data packages become more acceptable to the consumer, the rate of interaction with social content, as well as active booking through the mobile, will rise. I see a couple of possibilities for the travel industry:
a) Social media is today widely used on mobile phones. Travel industry players who can figure out a way to reach out to users at the time that they are planning a holiday with friends and family, and are likely tweeting or messaging one another through social media, could well see profitable bookings through mobile.
b) A second possibility is if travel industry players will be bold enough to explore the possibility of a mobile-booking-only offer, special offers that are available for just say the next 30 minutes if booked through the mobile phone. This needs to be thought through some more, but it is basically a possibility to drive bookings through the mobile channel.
Can you provide an insight into how search differs for mobile phones vis-a-vis PCs? What according to you are the striking differences?
Sajith Sivanandan: There are three very important differences. First, the queries are usually shorter on mobile. People tend to put shorter queries while searching on mobile phones and yet expect a high degree of relevancy.
Second, the time spent searching per session is usually lesser than that on PCs. Users tend to search on mobiles while on the go, for instance on the way to office, during lunch time, on the way back home from office, and late in the night before turning in. Usually the session length for searching tends to be short and sharp rather than prolonged.
Third, because you carry the mobile phone with you everywhere, you can do searches based on your location. This adds another dimension of relevancy to your mobile search results. Of course, Google respects our users’ privacy, so we do not store your location or track your movements, and our users have the ability to turn off this location-based feature.
The progression of technology and innovation in the travel industry continues at a quickening pace, and Asian countries are closing the gap on their western counterparts. What according to Google have been the major developments in this context in Asia?
Sajith Sivanandan: The rate of mobile adoption in Asia is clearly an important factor for the future with 44 percent of all mobile handsets worldwide being sold in our region. We are also very social people and this is borne out both by the adoption rates for social networks, as well as number of social networks in the region, some examples being networks like Friendster, Hi5, and others.
What are you most looking forward to at TDS Asia? Who are you most looking forward to meeting at the event?
Sajith Sivanandan: I am looking forward to hearing from industry leaders about the bold moves that they are going to be taking in the next year to two. User demands, needs, and preferences change on a daily basis, and the players that take the risks are the ones who will succeed. I would love to hear more about what these risks and consequent opportunities will be and what industry players will be doing to rise to the challenges.
Sajith Sivanandan is scheduled to speak at the forthcoming Travel Distribution Summit Asia 2010 (to be held in Singapore, April 28-29)
For more information about the summit, contact: Marco Saio, global events organizer, email: [email protected] , phone: (+44) 020 7375 7219.