Flight Centre shrugs off Airbnb threat and claims disruptive start-ups are over exposed

panel2Flight Centre marketer Keith Stanley has dismissed the threat of start-ups like Airbnb, insisting they are minnows in the industry who do not deserve the exposure they receive.

Stanley said operations such as taxi firm Uber and home stay accommodation site Airbnb are handed too much publicity and will “always be a small part of the industry”.

The comments came during a question time panel at the Mumbrella Travel Marketing Summit, which saw Accor vice president of marketing and communications Bridie Commerford praise the “disruptors” for keeping traditional players on their toes.

“We don’t see Airbnb as a combative issue but one of the things that is really important in any category is disruption – it makes everybody sharper, it makes consumers more interested, it makes it more fresh and dynamic,” Commerford said. “We see Airbnb as another disruptor, similar to Uber.”

Stanley responded by suggesting start-ups like Uber and Airbnb are spoken about “as if they are going to take over the world”.

“They are always going to be a small part of the industry,” he said. “Yes they are disruptive and it keeps us sharp and keeps us aware but to think that 90 per cent of people are going to stay at someone else’s house is just ludicrous.

“I think they almost get too much air play for the contribution they make to the industry.”

But Commerford said Airbnb is possibly broadening the travel market by targeting younger travellers who will, in later life, choose to stay in hotels rather than someone’s house.

“They are enabling more people to travel which means good things for us in the future,” she said. “It’s not a big [competitive] concern for us at this point in time, and we have our own strategy to appeal to the youth with our Ibis properties.”

Later, Stanley and Helloworld chief marketer Kim Portrate robustly defended the bricks and mortar travel retail model, arguing the plethora of choice available to consumers was playing into their hands.

Stanley said the demise of the physical agency had been greatly over exaggerated, while the supposed dominance of online travel agents (OTA) had also failed to materialise.

“I remember 20 years ago when the Internet was really the big thing someone asked Skroo [Flight Centre managing director Graham Turner] is this the end of travel agents,” he said.

“We have grown every single year since then and I am still looking for the profits from the other guys. I am not undermining the OTAs but, a little bit like Uber and the others, they are not the major part of the distribution channel.”

Meanwhile, new Tourism Australia (TA) chief marketer Lisa Ronson confirmed the tourism agency’s food and wine push, Restaurant Australia, will continue under her watch.

She also reiterated that TA would turn its marketing focus on the nation’s aquatic and coastal areas.

“In the past we have had a competitive advantage in that area and while we are still on par, others have focused on it. We want to get our mojo back,” she said.

Business and consumer events and luxury will also be a feature of TA’s marketing efforts while marketing the experiences available in Australia to an increasingly independent Chinese traveller will also be stepped up.

Constantine Frantzekos, founder and chief executive of creative and digital agency Penso, advised companies to focus their marketing and media spend on reach and not rely on customer retention or loyalty.

“All brands churn and lose customers so move towards reach and acquisition. We advocate that very strongly and thankfully we are seeing an over-investment in loyalty and an over-investment in owned social media channels,” he said.

“It’s very easy for us as marketers to assume that people are thinking about our brands all day, every day, but we always like to operate under the assumption that people don’t care, or share and they don’t know or they have forgotten or are not interested.”

The focus should be on becoming “as distinctive and memorable as possible”, Frantzekos added, a strategy particularly relevant in travel where brands need to inspire.

“If brands are not visible or noticed or inspiring people to travel then we have failed in our jobs,” he said.

Steve Jones


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