?Empower consumers to organize content themselves, and create conversations with consumers,? urged Philip Wolf, founder, president and CEO of PhoCusWright, Inc. in his opening address on ?Travel 2.0 Confronts the Establishment? at the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International?s (HSMAI) 8th Travel Internet Marketing Strategy Conference, which took place in Las Vegas.

Featuring a ?state of the Internet marketing landscape,? the event, attended by more than 200 industry professionals, featured industry experts and Internet marketing specialists debating online behavior and travel search. Held recently at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, HSMAI partnered with the Travel Industry Association (TIA) as the conference was presented in conjunction with TIA?s TravelCom.

?This is such an exciting time in Internet Marketing, and these strategy conferences are designed to present the latest trends and tactics available to marketers today, as well as to look at what?s on the horizon,? states Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHA, president & CEO of HSMAI.

?Consumers have changed from just searching for the lowest price to finding the best experience,? said Wolf in his keynote address. He stated the Travel 2.0 five tenants are:

- Complete transparency ? code for truth;
- Peer collaboration ? a way to personalize experience for customers;
- Basic, time-honored things have become much easier ? nothing new about getting recommendations from friends, keeping scrapbooks, etc.;
- Factor predictive information into info queries and responses ? most subtle, elusive;
- Speed ? gather and assimilate information fast.

He explained that Travel 1.0 was a movement driven by price, and price alone, which drove online adoption. ?Travel 2.0 has put price on par with other significant factors.?

Wolf stated that users are taking charge. In this real-time world, social sharing sites are on the rise, not just something you do trivially. ?It is absolutely the most exciting time in travel since the rise of the Internet, and if you don?t understand why MySpace went from last to first in Internet traffic, you couldn?t be a good enough strategist for your company.?

In the new ?long tail scenario,? Wolf advised attendees:

- Embrace the sum of your niches;
- The size of your reputation matters more than the size of your marketing budget;
- A good product can cut through the fog;
- Customer experience and message should be in sync.

In the realm of 2.0 technology, Wolf recommended, ?Empower customers and get to one individual one at a time?you can?t do this without 2.0, where virtual becomes reality.?

To further the discussion, Wolf participated in a one-on-one interview with Dr. Daniel Connolly, assistant professor, with a joint appointment in the School of Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management and the Department of Information Technology and Electronic Commerce, in the Daniels College of Business, at the University of Denver. The Q&A session revealed:

- Who is making money using Web 2.0? You can?t use ROI to make decisions on utilizing 2.0, but need to do testing, slowly and constantly change.

- Do today?s 2.0 consumers have the discretionary income to spend? They will have the income one day, and it?s too expensive to put things off.

- With limited resources, where do you start to prove success? Look at skill sets of employees verses what your needs are to make sure you can do what you need.
- Do a ?critical needs? assessment of human resources and use a small group to experiment.

- Should companies put consumer generated content on their home pages? You need to know what?s going on outside your world. Embracing user-generated content should be part of your strategy.

A Travel Search Panel, moderated by Wolf, with panelists from Google, Yahoo! and MSN search engines discussed the realities of search marketing and the implications on the hospitality industry.

Brad King, senior director, travel category, Yahoo!, Inc., noted advancements based on how people use the Web: consumers focused on content make search more relevant; improved relevance will come from searching within your own network. ?He said, ?people will find better ways to use your products if you open them up.?

James Colburn, group marketing manager, adCenter Communications Group Microsoft, focused on how to get sites visible to engines, such as well-formed HTML codes, allowing search engines to crawl your site and understanding the qualities search engines are looking for before you build your site.

Carrie Davis Fabris, senior account executive, Travel, Google, Inc., suggested submitting site map feeds, analyzing keyword buys to make sure you maximize your spending, beta testing different cost models, and looking at cost per action and cost per acquisition.

King said to be more proactive in paid inclusion by creating a data feed with keywords, URLs, etc., and he suggested putting your search money toward your brand first ? the lowest hanging fruit and cheapest clicks ? and then expand out into the tail beyond the top 500 travel words while being creative with niche terms.

Discussing key metrics for hoteliers, Colburn noted that the cost of acquisition is important, but indirect conversions are also important ? people who return a while after the first click.

?In a presentation on ?The Travel Consideration Process Study: What Consumers Do Before They Book,? Yahoo!?s King discussed findings from Yahoo! Search Marketing?s in-depth look at what travelers do on the Web before buying from an OTA or a supplier for its recently-completed Travel Consideration Process Study.

Among the findings:

- Travelers on average visit travel sites 35 times over 90 days before they book. The bulk of pre-travel research starts early; nearly half of research takes place more than one month before they book, and consumers actively engage in the week leading up to booking.

- Consumers actively turn to search before buying travel; a lot of value is happening well before booking. An average of 10 travel queries occur before purchase.

- Destination search activity is critical; it?s all about the long tail, being creative to give customers what they want. Destination terms are used earlier in the shopping process and offer the most potential to connect with travel bookers. Consumers don?t always know what they want and it?s a great opportunity to introduce your brand.

- Online hotel bookers are active comparison shoppers.

The agenda also featured roundtable discussions highlighting:

- Visitor Satisfaction
- Content Management ? Consumer and Supplier
- Group Booking Online
- Affiliate Marketing
- Analytics ? AB Testing and ROI Measurement
- Organic SEO
- .travel

To close the program, findings from the latest iPerceptions and HSMAI ?Voice of the Customer? report on leisure travelers in mid-scale hotels were released. This unique quarterly Web metrics report includes experience and satisfaction benchmarks for the growing online marketplace in the hospitality industry.

Related Link: HSMAI