MIAMI: Imagine a travel search engine so smart it can find you a hotel based on your kids' favourite activities.
Or an app that finds you a better hotel rate just by reading your receipt.
Or a bot that answers personalised travel questions, like where your departure gate is located.
Travellers will soon find all these features online – and in some cases, already can – as attendees of the second Future of Travel Tech Summit, hosted by LAB Miami Ventures at The Historic Lyric Theater, learned recently. More than 400 registered participants, as well as representatives from some of the biggest brands and investors in the travel tech space, took part.
"This sector is incredibly international and Miami is becoming an important hub to bring everyone together," said LAB Miami Ventures CEO Tigre Wenrich.
Wenrich observed that many of the technologies coming online are being pitched to enterprises – though they'll still have instant benefits for consumers.
For the summit startup pitch competition's five official judges, the favourite was Destygo, a French company that has built a chatbot that answers simple questions about the destination they're visiting.
Think of it as a hyper-local Google. As CTO and co-founder Pierre Pakey put it, "A lot of people have stupid questions that they don't want to bother a human with."
For example, Destygo can build a chatbot for an airport that answers questions about what gate a passenger's flight is leaving from, and whether it's delayed. Its bot has already been put to use by airports in Paris and Lyon, as well as operations for Disneyland Paris, Accor Hotels and Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
Dave Harris, vice president of digital strategy at Carnival Cruise Line, said the best idea he saw came from another French company, Adrenaline Hunter, a web portal that allows travelers to find and book adventure activities worldwide in advance.
Harris said that, for years, companies have attempted to find ways to aggregate micro-businesses – think the guy on the beach who runs a parasailing outfit – onto a single platform.
Adrenaline Hunter, he said, appears to be the one to do it.
"It's hard to go to a source you trust for that type of thing," he said. "If they can take that power as a collective and provide something like Yelp, they will succeed."
If brand trust is what every company hopes for, few founders are willing to bank their own name on it. Barb Parshall, a former programmer on Wall Street and travel junkie, is betting she can. One day, she simply was fed up with trying to find the perfect hotel on existing search engines, so decided to build her own, called Baarb. Travelers can type in preferences such as favorite type of music or a child's favorite fantasy series, and Baarb will select a tailored hotel or resort.
For summit-goer Claudia Ojeda, a Miami-based principal at Boston Consulting Group, the trend toward curated and unique experiences – rather than the same old sightseeing trip – will allow companies such as Baarb to thrive.
"People want something distinctive, or even experimental," she said.
There were plenty of ideas for consumers. If you've had the sneaking suspicion after booking a hotel room that you've paid too much, you may be right.
According to CNET, the chance your room rate will drop after you've booked it is about 40%. Plus, if there's a free cancellation option, you can rebook at the lower rate.
The scenario helped propel Israel-based Pruvo to the People's Choice winner at the summit's startup pitch competition, which featured nine travel tech companies from around the globe. Pruvo has set up an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, where you send your booked hotel rate. Pruvo then feeds the information into an algorithm that scans a host of other booking sites for a better price, and notifies you when it's found one.
Of course, buyers aren't the only ones looking for the right price. BeyondPricing feeds pricing data about properties into an algorithm so that vacation property managers never have to think about how much they should be charging for their space.
Douglas Skoke, a summit-goer and co-founder of Coral Gables-based Benjamin Skoke consulting, said the idea represented an ideal product market fit: applying technology to a niche market that desperately needs an update.
"If you're not sure completely where to price, they give you the optimal pricing based on their algos," he said, referring to algorithms. – Miami Herald/Tribune News Service