FACE TO FACE: Sébastien Gibergues, Head of the Leisure & Online Travel, Amadeus IT Group

It’s natural for human beings to avoid change, says Sébastien Gibergues, Head of the Leisure & Online Travel, Amadeus IT Group. 

Sebastien Gibergues
Sebastien Gibergues

“We ignore uncertain situations in the hope of maintaining the status quo. But change is inevitable and the unforeseen can or often does occur, whether it’s a ‘Black Swan’ event, which is an occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict or the emergence of new competitors, we must all be prepared to respond.

“In our latest research paper, Online Travel 2020: Evolve, Expand or Expire, we looked at a number of scenarios or possible futures over the next three to five years in order to help online travel players prepare for unpredictable ‘Black Swan’ events.”

Amadeus used scenario planning methodology to map trends and to devise likely sequences of events that paint a picture of what the future may hold.

The company identified the evolution of the following scenarios based on existing trends and selected factors:

The rise of mega online travel retailers: The consolidation between OTA and metasearch business models, as well as the rise of online advertising, could lead to a new kind of online travel retailer.

Introducing digital tour operators: Traditional Tour Operators and OTAs may merge to become the ultimate travel seller. From handling complex trips to servicing with new -generation travel stores, Digital Travel Operators could provide a happy mix of digital and human interaction to create a personalised travel experience.

The rise of more sophisticated mobile travel retailers: Imagine an addictive mobile travel agency app that accompanies the traveller along the entire journey. Rather than being a complementary distribution channel, mobile could become the only means of distribution and the only app a traveller needs – or wants.

The new travel marketplace: With more and more leading IT players and e-Commerce giants creating demand for new and innovative platforms, the players of the travel industry could come together and build their own Travel Marketplace platform for OTAs, airlines, hotels, and other travel-related companies to sell their products and services.

“These disruptors can be the nemesis or the vehicle to success for online travel players. So the question is: what should they be doing today if a particular future was to happen?” asks Gibergues.

Here, Gibergues tells Travel Daily how high street agents can evolve to stay relevant in today’s world of constant disruption. 

What do the report findings mean for high street travel agents? The travel industry is changing, and travel agents will need to make some changes to keep up with it – most notably, they will need to embrace technology. High street retailers can’t rely on people walking off the street to book, they need to build up an online presence with a website and use social media to interact with current and potential customers. Specialisation can also help high street travel agents compete. By becoming known as experts in a particular niche such as luxury weekend getaways or safari experiences, they can attract a particular audience.

How can they compete with the mega OTAs cited the report? Mega OTAs are very powerful and they have a lot of reach online– however, they lack the face-to-face experience high street travel agents can provide. High street agents have the “human element,” where they can take the time to get to know their customers and create a personalised experience based on a relationship.

You talk about ‘digital tour operators’ – what’s required to achieve that ‘happy mix’ of digital and human interaction –  how do you find that sweet spot? This will be the main challenge for Digital Tour Operators. The Happy Mix will be a balance between the higher conversion rate (and loyalty aspect) of the human interaction and the cost efficiency of the digital channel. Most likely the conversion funnel of a complex tour package will be a mix of digital and human touch points: inspired by a destination landing page, getting advice from a human expert, browsing the holiday package catalogue on a tablet, getting a first quote from an agent, making the reservation and down payment online to finally go back to the agent for pre-trip chat… Hence the challenge to invest wisely as all channels will need to work together to deliver the full vision of a Digital Tour Operator.

How far will the ‘Mobile Travel Retailer’ concept go? Can this model survive as a stand-alone concept? We believe it can, as we already have pure Online Travel Agencies with no physical presence; and we have seen mobile-only platforms such as Uber become global. However, it is likely that pure mobile players will initially focus on a specific niche (last minute deals, unique user experiences or specific content such as destination services) ; exploiting one of the many channels offered by the mobile platforms: Apps, Chat Bots, Games, Augmented Reality… The future will tell how creative mobile travel players can be.

Where does Amadeus fit in? i.e. how is the travel tech provider helping TAs and TOs embrace rapid marketplace evolution where the trends you’ve highlighted in the report are becoming the norm? The Amadeus value proposition is simple: we will deliver the core technology components to enable our customers to evolve with the marketplace. We believe that a lot of the investments to make all of these trends happen have to be shared across the different players, in particular all investments related to content integration, Search and Compare features, merchandising functionality and many more core technologies that will power the scenarios presented in our study. Amadeus is already investing in these technology components, which allows our customers to focus their own efforts (and capital expenditure) on customer facing products and services. Partnering with Amadeus is the most efficient path towards a healthy online travel space in 2020.

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