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Travelport LIVE: Innovations lead the way

Gearing up the travel industry for future technological innovations and business efficiencies is what rounds up the Travelport Live MESA Conference. Charmaine Fernz gives an overview….

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The recently concluded Travelport Live MESA conference held in Oman at the Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa certainly touched the right chords with relevant topics and discussions. The well-attended event witnessed participation from over 200 travel management companies (TMCs), agencies, airlines and hoteliers from over 20 countries. The conference was aptly themed – ‘transforming travel experience through smart technology’.

The presentations were crisp and touched upon key areas ranging from mobile, social, technology, online, traveller safety and agency efficiency to disruption and the future. The well-selected speakers and panellists highlighted current thinking, what lies ahead across the travel industry and how, together, the industry can overcome some challenges.

The event was opened by Kathryn Wallington, country Manager UAE for Travelport welcoming delegates followed by Matthew Powell, Managing Director – Middle East and South Asia for Travelport who touched upon the fast emerging mobile industry. As per estimates, the current mobile travel sales in Middle East and India is US$2.8 billion in 2017 which is expected to touch US$8.6 billion by 2022 with its immense potential.

The conference touched upon the importance of a mobile first attitude within the travel fraternity and also recognised the fact that mobile will be the primary point of sale in future. As per statistics, currently, around 70-80% of travel transactions are completed through a mobile device. Travelport has recognised this growth and hence applied a mobile first approach to its solutions thereby offering a plethora of choice to agents along with performance and results.

Online Travel Agents (OTAs) are the next growth segment which is valued at US$2.5 billion as of 2015 and is expected to touch US$69 billion by 2020 in the Middle East. The changing dynamic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its relevance to the travel technology industry was another highlight though it is just the beginning.

The segment of millennial was appropriately explained by Rabih Saab, President and Managing Director EMEA & South Asia for Travelport, who said:  “One must realise that millennials have become a huge chunk of the consumer base and will continues to grow. As a company, we have done a lot of studies on millennial in the past and realise their expectations are very different. Technology is part of their DNA and they cannot see a world without the Internet. Their expectations are instant gratification to every need to an extent that the expect travel providers to understand their need even before they know it themselves. Witnessing this potential, we have invested almost a billion dollar in technology and product to help travel companies provide personalised service to this generation.”

The two-day event saw speakers impress upon key issues such as the impact of NDC on the trade to relevance of artificial intelligence, implementation of chatbots to e-payments and virtual reality. The highlight of the event was the impactful speech by Nicki Abdinor, an international keynote speaker and clinical psychologist who emphasied on the fact that a disability is just an excuse for non-performance. If one has the drive and passion to succeed, all that is needed is perseverance and determination along with a belief in ones-self.

The conference was well-rounded up with a cocktail networking function and gala dinner with the appropriate backdrop and sumptuous multi-cuisine options.

A Progressive Travel Landscape

Rabih Saab, President and Managing Director EMEA and South Asia for Travelport

The conference was a gathering of industry stakeholders and experts who provided insights on the current geo-political situation in the region while also focusing on trending topics both regionally and economically. The underlining message was clear – technology undermines progress in any industry. We also need to realise that we live in a very fast-paced world and the travel industry is not immune to change be it an airline, tourism professional or a hotel – keeping up with change is very important.

The industry needs to recognise the growth of millenials, who have in recent times become a huge chunk of the consumer base and continue to grow. As a company, a lot of studies have been conducted on millennial and their expectation which are very different. Technology is part of their DNA and they cannot see a world without the Internet. They are looking for instant gratifications and expect travel providers to understand their needs even before they know it themselves. We have also invested a substantial amount into technology and product to help travel companies provide personalised service to this new generation. Today, millennials are looking for an experience more than a product. Travel companies’ needs to ensure that their brand speaks the millennial language and supports the right technology with fast service.

Data analytics is another key focus. Citing an example, if an airline wants to understand consumer requirements, data analytics play an important role. There has been a lot of investment in this side of the business – SmartPoint – the frontend desktop is a classic case – which is one of the mediums for airlines to sell products the way they want to sell them.

With the current industry, there are many early adopters of technology while others are more traditional. As a travel commerce platform, we have highlighted that technology underlines progress so early adopters of technology will be the biggest winners. Those who are doing the catch-up act will have to move as per requirements of a consumer. The ultimate aim of our innovative solutions is to put the travel agent back in the driver’s seat.

The Middle East is a strategic and growing region for Travelport. The company continues to invest in this region be it in products, new technologies and our people. The ultimate aim is to make it easy for an agent to upsell through a complete product. Travel agents should become a one-stop-shop for all their customers’ needs and Travelport ensures seamless integration of its solutions into a TAs business thereby enhancing efficiencies.

Addressing the Millennial Generation

Jason Nash, Chief Storyteller, Travelport

At Travelport, we are working on a Millennial report which will be published in the last quarter of 2017. As per findings of the report, an average travellers use 16 different categories of applications on their smart devices. This has resulted in two trends – people want to make use of more information to make decisions and there is an overload of information. This overload of information in turn paralyses consumer with their decisions.

There is also an emergence of alternative facts, wherein, people are questioning the validity of things present online. The millennial generation are so connected that they are struggling with making the right choice. Ultimately, the research shows that millennial travellers are looking for best guidance and trusted advisors to give them what they want.

It is interesting to note that millennial, if made aware of offers will partner with traditional agents. However, most agents aren’t targeting millennial as they tend to target existing customers. The idea that stems from the research is that if you have to target a new segment; you have to look for new business solutions and take risks in terms of customer segmentation. High touch customer engagement is also essential but it has got to work with digital engagement.

Another factor highlighted in the research was that millennial are looking for new places to visit rather than the older generation (46 – 56 years) who knows what they want and where they want to go. The millennial generation is also budget conscious and are still finding what they like and have an experimental view of the world.

A travel agent who has high touch and good customer service just has to add the mobile element which makes all the difference. This provides customers are easy access and improved interactions.

Businesses today are realising that they have to be where customers are in order to gain their attention. Loyalty is dwindling with millennial so big brands need to re-think their advertising strategies and look beyond traditional methods. They have to look at multiple channels of marketing along with great customer experience.

Finally, it is automation tools that will be valuable take-aways and the impact of AI on any business. Curation of content is also a really important concept that travel providers needs to focus on as packaged holidays are fast being replaced with curated packages. Ultimately, we do realise that challenges are getting harder but travel providers need to move away from price and focus on value and experience to customers.

The Mobile Disruption

Niklas Andreen, Vice-President and Managing Director – Global Hospitality & Digital, Travelport

Mobile is going to be an important part of a travel providers journey be it online or offline. Today, it is being looked as another channel which is constantly evolving. A recent survey revealed that the importance of a mobile for person supersedes even essentials like a passport, toothbrush or deodorant.

The reason for an evolving market is also an engagement economy and constant gratifications through mobiles. However at Travelport Digital, we look at how we engage customers all through the journey and not just a booking process with a mobile-first attitude. This is because businesses are going beyond a B2B approach and moving towards a B2B4C market

The advancement in mobile technologies are being felt across industries. For example, in the UK, you have a mobile-only bank. There is also Hopper.com, an online travel agency that works based on customer preferences and data. It is all about not just selling a product but rather engaging with your customer and making it personal.

Customer service is also a very relevant segment where one seeing the implementation of AI and chatbots being adopted in order to get more qualified answers. This empowers travel agents as there is much information out there. Ultimately, we have all realised that there is no one solution that fits all – so it is not just only mobile or just going direct to an airline or just going through Google. Different people at different times in their lives will need different solutions.

Putting the spotlight on Customer Experience

Fiona Shanley, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, Travelport

Every business needs to realise there are important facets of customer experience – retention and understanding – which makes a big difference to the level of success.

As a company, Travelport is very customer-oriented, which has been recognised by customers over the years. Our people are relationship-focused and understand the customer journey from end-to-end. This ensures that any pain points witnessed during the journey can be broken-down and fixed. Finally, it is the solutions offered that meet market needs.

There are some themes that emerge regardless of geographies. Travel companies are looking for content that is bookable and gives search results at speed. Efficiency in business is another concern followed by customer engagement solutions through innovations.

Here comes our focus on mobile, where it helps customers deliver a rich experience. Insight and data analytics helps understand customers better and performance of their business compared to their competition.

We also keep our customers updated with trending issues and solutions. The millennial are most relevant who want to spend money on experiences rather than things. Their attention span is short and need for results instantaneous. Our solutions to travel providers focuses on search speed which has to be superfast and we have been investing strongly in this area. We are optimistic to see big improvement in this area within the next quarter. With the millennial traveller being more inclined to research, book and manage their experiences online or through mobile interfaces. We are working with our travel agents to ensure that they have the right mobile experience in their business to target this new set of customers and satisfy them.

Travel service providers need to realise that there is a challenge in the offline agency space. However, those agencies that will be able to deliver a unique personalised service, will have a place and a part to play in future. Travel agents today need to find everything possible to really understand their customer needs in order to better personalise their service. Agencies also need to think about the technologies they need such as mobile interfaces, automation, AI or personalisation technologies to offer greater insight.

Millennial consumers have also raised the bar in service and companies need to match it. It is important to also understand your millennial consumer in terms of their behaviour, needs and wants, which is absolutely critical in delivering the experience. One needs to realise that in a world of massive choice, high demand and ability to move on quickly, service is what will make all the difference.