By Maria Paravantes in Rome
The future of travel for the industry and the customer is all about certainty. Broken down, that means suppliers across the travel spectrum are ready to assess bid data, bundle it together and offer the customer personalized options that will enhance and simplify the travel experience while offering virtual “guidance” of sorts into the activities he or she will enjoy.
However, achieving this ideal state of travel requires going through disruption and using it to drive innovation and alternative thinking that will “understand” on the one end, what the customer wants, and on the other, secure the viability and profitability of the supplier whether it’s an airline, an OTA or a TMC.
All this and more was discussed on Wednesday in Rome, during Travelport LIVE 2018 under the prophetic title “Embracing the New Normal in Travel Tech”, which in short, concluded that there’s only one way, and that’s forward. And AI is indeed forward, aiming to “ensure connectivity and enhance the way you interact with the world around you,” said Mike Croucher, chief architect for Travelport, adding that it’s not going to replace the human, AI is going to augment the human experience”.
Speaking to the hundreds of delegates from across Europe gathered at Rome’s Radisson Blu Hotel for Travelport LIVE, Croucher underlined the need to “bring the whole experience together” which means knowing what each user wants. “Data is going to drive the way forward, it’s the key to personalization,” he said, adding that younger generations have moved beyond traditional ways of travel, now seeking immersive experiences.
This is where big data analysis comes into the picture. And once you’ve collected that from as vast variety of sources, you pull it together and sell the experience.
Still Need Know What the Customer Wants
The key for all experts that took the Travelport LIVE 2018 stage this week was understanding more about the user – or traveler-to-be. AI technology can go a long way in this direction, IBM’s Rashik Parmar said, citing an example of using someone’s Twitter handle – among other things – to draw up a detailed personality report complete with likes and dislikes, a portrait of sorts that will enable travel companies to customize a product. Attention here, said Parmar, is to remain within limits and avoid passing the “creepy point” of personal space.
Trial & Error Towards IATA’s NDC
But customizing the product means bringing all the peripheral services together. In comes IATA’s (International Air Transport Association) new distribution capability (NDC), which for the layman means enabling airlines to market their content as a complete suite of options to customers (OTAs and corporate travel channels) from a wide product base no matter the channel being used.
Major carriers have begun one by one to take heed and join IATA’s NDC registry, which for Travelport’s Global Vice President and Global Head of Airline Partners, Damian Hickey, is the only way into the future.
“Airlines are looking to NDC because they want to regain control,” Hickey said on Wednesday, adding that carriers are trying hard to build their merchandising capability and NDC is there to help them capitalize on that.
He did admit however, that it will require a period of trial and error before the strategy begins to pay off. “Only if all parties engage will it move forward. It’s vital to embrace change. It’s an experiment, a 5-10 year journey for it to become mainstream,” he said, urging all stakeholders to get on board.
“There is no other choice. It will be minimally viable at the start,” he said, adding that Travelport – currently at the highest level of IATA NDC certification – would be launching its first NDC version into a production environment by the end of this year.
Crystal Clear, Please
And so embracing new technologies and successfully tapping into data may be the big thing for online travel players, but ensuring clarity of what’s on offer is what will make or break the provider.
“Besides the right content, offering a clear proposition is vital, people should be super clear about what they are purchasing,” said Tina Haslem, head of product at online travel company Travix.
“The whole point is to make it easy for the user, bundle all the content together and present it clearly,” she said, adding that it is one of the market’s biggest challenges at the moment as users often find the plethora of data bombarding their screens overwhelming, which merely turns them away from completing a purchase.
The event’s online travel panel said that Latin America was the next big market despite the currency fluctuations; that online players should keep an eye out for Google and Amazon, as well as China, “which has the money to make things happen fast”; that GDPR is a good thing, and customers should have the right to be able to choose; and lastly, that if they were to invest, it would be in design.
Travelport LIVE 2018 – Embracing the New Normal in Travel Tech comes to a close on October 18.
In the meantime, delegates had a chance to try out some of the latest in VR technology, traveling from Rome straight to Perth in a matter of minutes while adding the final spices to our favourite dish which will be ready and waiting for us once we board the plane… in the near future.