Travel technology company Travelport is providing the solutions and services to help the industry cope with seismic changes in the way the world books travel. Travel Daily Asia caught up with some of the company’s key executives at the Travelport Airline & Agency Conference in Kuala Lumpur last week…
Travel industry must prepare for “10 years of change”
The travel and tourism industry is undergoing an unprecedented period of structural change that will last at least 10 years, according to Travelport.
Speaking to Travel Daily at last week’s Travelport Airline & Agency Conference, the technology company’s President & Managing Director for Asia Pacific, Simon Nowroz said the rise of Asia as an economic world power and a rapid advancement in technology are driving innovation and change.
“We’re seeing several aspects of change,” Nowroz told Travel Daily in Kuala Lumpur. “Firstly there is a profound change in behaviours and attitudes, and secondly there’s an economic change. This economic change is about the shift of power back to Asia. Look at the investment dollars going in to the region, look at the number of Chinese banks now in the world’s top 20, look at the aircraft orders coming into the region. All these will have long-term impacts, and will throw up huge implications for everyone.
Nowroz also commented on Asia’s “favourable demographics”, with many countries having young populations. “These guys are more adventurous, have more disposable income, they’re travelling more and booking differently.”
Emerging from these major shifts, according to Nowroz, will be “a very different industry with very different infrastructure and different booking practices”.
“These aren’t temporary of cyclic changes, they are permanent changes. As an industry we need to work out how to deal with that,” he said. Nowroz also admitted that such rapid change can be “a little bit frightening”, but said that Travelport was working with its customers to develop a new range of solutions that can cater for the major changes predicted. “Technology is the solution,” Nowroz concluded.
Airlines still need GDSs
Global distribution systems (GDS) are developing fast, and are now able to sell virtually all airline products, according to Travelport’s Chief Marketing Officer Gillian Gibson.
Speaking to Travel Daily, Ms Gibson countered suggestions by IATA that limited GDS technology is holding back airlines.
“If you listen to IATA, they say we can’t sell airlines in the way they want to be sold. Well we can – we have the capability. We need our customers to embrace it, but our customers would say the airline content isn’t there. So we’re in the phase where we need to bring it all together,” Ms Gibson said.
When asked if Travelport had the capability to sell the entire range of airline fares and ancillary products, Ms Gibson said it could cover pretty much every available product.
“[We can sell] everything we’ve seen so far,” she said. “The only thing we can’t sell is the SkyCouch, although we’re working with Air New Zealand to do that.”
And according to Ms Gibson, airlines still want and need GDSs in order to maximise their sales.
“The reality is that the [GDS] channel still represents 50% of the world’s airline bookings, and about 60% of revenue, so it wouldn’t be logical for airlines to ignore it. Direct selling is becoming saturated. Beyond the 40-50% mark (of total bookings) it begins to slow down. The indirect channel is still here and needs to be embraced,” Ms Gibson concluded.
Strong demand for Travelport solutions in Asia
The Asia Pacific region is seeing some of the strongest demand for Travelport solutions, according to Linda Kelly-Smith, the company’s Head of Solutions and Support in Asia Pacific.
Speaking to Travel Daily in KL, Ms Kelly-Smith revealed that Asia was the higher adoption rate for its hotel booking solution, Rooms & More, with Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand leading the way.
“Having Agoda onboard makes it very popular in Asia and it’s very satisfying to see Asia leading the way,” she said, adding that Travelport was now recruiting extra personnel for its Asia’s hospitality division.
With reference to Travelport’s new agent platform, Universal Desktop (UD), Ms Kelly-Smith revealed that the product has now launched in seven countries, four of which are in Asia Pacific.
“Seven Beta customers already using it in Australia, a couple in New Zealand, while another four ready to go live. We also have customers that have gone live in HK and one in Singapore,” she revealed.
Ms Kelly-Smith also revealed that several new advancements have been made since the product was introduced last year. “People who saw UD last year and have seen it again say it’s come on leaps and bounds,” she said, adding that new additions have included streamlining workflow, queue systems and aesthetics.
Acting as a bridge between traditional technologies and the advanced, web-based Universal Desktop, Travelport is also rolling out SmartPoint App. Having been fully deployed in February 2012, Travelport said the solution has now been adopted by 40% of its existing customers in Australia and New Zealand and by 25% in Asia. The company is also planning to launch an Asian language version in Q1 2013 at the latest.
Helping agents leverage technology
While technological innovation is driving and changing the industry, the role of travel agents remains crucial, according to Travelport.
Speaking to Travel Daily in KL, Jason Nash, the company’s Vice President of Product Innovation Technology, said that while technological progress will continue at pace, it has the potential to help agents connect with their customers, rather than replacing them altogether.
“If you use the example of the ash cloud crisis in Europe, it was the travel agents who got people home. People will always pay for good service,” Nash said. “It’s not about turning every travel agent into an OTA; it’s about allowing traditional agents use the right technology that’s relevant to Gen Y and to offer value-added services.”
While Nash admitted that “nobody’s quite got it yet”, he revealed several examples that Travelport is undertaking to facilitate this connection.
“We aren’t a B-to-C company but we have to put ourselves in the seat of the end traveller. We need to understand that the customer wants, and to enable the agents to serve them better. We need to facilitate better pre- and post-trip dialogue between the agent and the traveller,” Nash said.
Nash revealed that through Travelport’s Software Development Kit (SDK) it is encouraging third parties to build software extensions into its Universal Desktop. So far approximately 25 companies have signed up, but the concept would allow popular sites such as FlightStats or SeatGuru to build connections into the agent’s desktop. “The potential for this is fairly limitless,” Nash said.