Terry Jones, now the chairman of Kayak.com, also told about 250 business leaders at the tourism conference in Sparks on Wednesday they will have to get over the fear of failing when attempting innovative changes if they are going to succeed in the evolving economic landscape.
"You have to realize customers are Internet empowered, technically savvy, time-starved and information rich. That's a different kind of customer," Jones said in the keynote speech on the second of the two-day conference at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel-casino in Sparks.
"Buyers have more power than ever before. They are getting smarter," he said. "Social marketing has changed not only the consumer, it has changed what we used to call a monologue into a dialogue."
Jones said it's important to carry on that dialogue with customers on a daily basis because they are easily influenced by others' opinions when they are so readily available on the Web, including reviews of such things as hotels and restaurants.
"Geographical barriers are eliminated. Price information is everywhere and buyer experiences are shared no longer one-on-one over the backyard fence but with many over the network on sites like TripAdvisor, which now has over 50 million reviews. There's lot of evidence customers trust someone they've never met before more than they trust the brand," he said.
In helping to open the conference on Tuesday with Gov. Brian Sandoval, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki described Jones as "truly one of the pioneers" in the travel industry.
Claudia Vecchio, director of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, said they invited him to be a keynote speaker at the conference because of this year's theme, "Igniting Innovation."
Jones, who has a home at Lake Tahoe, said most companies are afraid of innovative ideas "because they don't know what change will do to them.'
"But change is inevitable, growth is optional," he said.
Jones said innovation is more like batting in a baseball game than competing in an Olympic event, Jones said. He said most Olympians start training at a very young age, often to compete in just one event and lose.
"In baseball, if you fail 70 percent of the time, you are good. We can experiment and fail," he said. "If you aren't failing, you aren't experimenting."
Jones closed his speech and slide show with an image of the famous tight-rope walking family, the Flying Wallendas, to help put the risk factors in perspective.
"I know all of you think what you're doing is hard, but it's not," he told the audience. "These guys have a tough job. I read their mission statement the other day and they have a tough mission statement: 'If you fall, you die.'"