By Martin Kelly, Editor, Travel Trends

Business investment legend Warren Buffett recently said something along the lines of: "First came the innovators, then the imitators, followed by the idiots."

No prizes for guessing where we are at now. But where does travel sit? Seems like travel is still in phase two with imitation rife..

Unfortunately that’s not going to get the industry out of the mess it’s in.

But innovation will.

"Be disruptive, be different," venture capitalist Sophie Forest told delegates at the PhoCusWright conference today.

"There’s a need for disruptive technology."

She urged delegates to find new and different ways to connect suppliers with customers, believing there’s great scop for companies that can improve the booking process.

Analyst Mark Mahaney from Citi Investment Reserach also listed innovation as a priority (there’s not much of it around at the moment) and said half-jokingly that "things are worse than we think".

He disagreed with initial PCW forecasts for the US online travel industry next year.

"It’s extremely hard to see how online travel growth will reach 15%*."

According to his research, growth to end of October was running at 6% and believes the year ahead will be flat.

Jake Fuller from Thomas Weisel Partners is a little more optimistic. "We see low single digit growth in online travel" with the sector outperforming the general industry.

He believes OTAs are built to withstand the downturn with good cash flows and balance (in many but certainly not all cases).

Fuller says they’ll do everything to preserve cash and doubts there’ll be signifcant deals in the forseeble future.

"The Big Four are not about to become the Big Two any time soon," Fuller says.

Jeff Clarke from Travelport however said there were acquisition opportunities for US companies in the UK and Europe thanks to the strong dollar.

"We have the money to buy innovation," Clarke says.

But does Travelport have the vision and culture to sustain it? That’s the question all mature online travel companies need to address.

*PCW has since revised its growth forecast to 7%.

Travel Trends: November 20, 2008

Share and Enjoy: