Web in Travel Conference Japan & North Asia

The main stage started with an exciting samurai sword fighting display, expressing the sentiment that the current online travel market is truly a battlefield. WIT is a key travel industry event to help players understand the current travel market through presentations from experts covering multiple topics, varying from online travel players to AI, cashless payment, loyalty programmes and lots more.

Euromonitor International attended the event in Tokyo, Japan. Below are the key findings we learned during the event.

Nobody can ignore Google

The name of the biggest internet platform, Google, was heard countless times during the WIT event. Sometimes it was mentioned as a fast-growing threat and sometimes it was named as a friendly neighbour in the market (the most common expression was “Frienemy” – understanding Google to be both a friend and a competitor at the same time).

Whether we consider Google as an online travel player or not, many of the existing players are taking a careful look at Google, and its launching of Google Travel in May 2019 is already giving a huge impact on the market. As Lynn Qu, Vice President, Product & Marketing at Trip.com, pointed out during the session, travel is cost-heavy for a side-business. Will Google commit to entering the deepwater of travel? We’re not sure yet, but with the Google Travel released, we need to keep a close eye on whether Google will take further steps in this area or not.

Technology and disruptors redefining the market

In the fast-moving travel industry, the boundaries between travel agencies and other players, such as airlines and lodging, are becoming ever more blurred. JAL stated that airlines used to sell only air tickets, but now it is common for them to sell hotel bookings and packaged holidays involving their alliance member hotels. Furthermore, JAL considers that airlines to become like online travel agencies in the future is unavoidable in order to succeed in the increasingly competitive travel industry.

There are other examples of this in the Japanese market. Airbnb in Japan started out as a short-term rental platform but turned into a comprehensive lodging platform with many hotels and ryokan. Google is now increasingly being considered almost like an online travel agency. As new technology and disruptors enter the market, each player seeks to expand their business, and this can lead to the redefinition of their business field – hotels to lodging and accommodation, for example – and there are opportunities for any of the players to disrupt other business fields.

Super apps, will they be seen in the Japanese travel market?

One of the interesting discussions during the event was about super apps. In its presentation, LINE – a company that provides the leading mobile messaging platform of the same name in Japan – stated that its aim is to become a gateway for multiple consumer services, combined with location information and payment methods to cover the whole scope of consumers’ lives. In travel, in particular, LINE provides the metasearch service LINE Travel to cover the customer’s tourism journey, from planning/booking a trip to reserving/searching restaurants and other experiences during the trip. Whilst LINE is very ambitious in terms of its expanded application capabilities further penetrating the market, some players questioned whether this new rising concept will enjoy success in the marketplace.

Timothy Hughes, Vice President of Corporate Development at Agoda, stressed that good prices and products can always be found, and the convenience of super apps are likely to fail if the price is even as little as five dollars higher than other online platforms that may offer fewer services. With mobile platforms expanding strongly in the marketplace, their success will ultimately depend on how each player accurately understands consumer behaviour, and how effectively it can secure consumer loyalty.