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Travelport inks an agreement with Air France KLM

Travelport and Air France KLM have signed an agreement for distribution of content through Travelport’s platform.

Air France, KLM and HOP! content on Travelport’s platform will include rich content, branded fares, fare families and multiple ancillaries. This agreement enables customers selected by Air France HOP! and KLM to access a private channel via Travelport through which they will receive content without the additional distribution surcharge levied by Air France KLM starting 1 April 2018.

Derek Sharp, Travelport’s Senior Vice President and Managing Director for Air Commerce, said: “This is an extension of a long-term relationship which has delivered greater choice to Air France KLM’s customers. We look forward to a continuing productive partnership as we deploy new technology with the airline.”

Travelport partners with ACI Worldwide

Travelport announced it has partnered with ACI Worldwide to offer an intelligent fraud control and settlement solution for its airline customers called Travelport Authorize Plus.

The airline industry is a target for cyber criminals globally. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry incurs losses of US$1 billion per year from fraudsters using stolen, compromised or fake credit card details to buy airline tickets. With the travel industry suffering from high levels of fraud, the impact on the bottom line can be severe.

Travelport Authorize Plus enhances Travelport’s existing Card Payment Gateway by integrating with ACI’s award-winning ReD Shield platform. Part of the UP Payments Risk Management solution, ReD Shield delivers real-time, cloud-based multi-tiered fraud prevention for eCommerce merchants of the UP Payments Risk Management solution. Through the integration, Travelport can provide its airline customers with the ability to seamlessly track ticketing purchase processes right through to the completion of a journey. Additional features include the dynamic fraud screening of card payments used to purchase air tickets via Travelport-connected agents, the ability to flag and prevent ticket issuance, and detailed online management reports of all transactions and status.

Travelport showcases new products

Travelport unveiled its product roadmap to extend its content offering to airline customers using the International Air Transport Association (IATA) New Distribution Capability (NDC) standard.  This will enable travel agency customers to access such content via Travelport’s platform.

These products will allow travel agencies to connect through Travelport’s platform in a single workflow combining traditional content and new NDC content. They will be enhanced and optimised continuously based on an evaluation of users and customers.

Travelport plans to include NDC content within an initial set of products such as an industrialised connection for airlines that connects via NDC-standard APIs, a Point of Sale companion application for travel agencies that offers NDC-enabled content alongside the GDS workflow in our leading Travelport Smartpoint desktop. This integrated app will be launched from Travelport Smartpoint for ease of use alongside the existing processes and will be ready in the second half of 2018. Shortly afterwards a first fully integrated search, book and manage function, combining NDC-connected content and GDS content in the same workflow, will be offered to travel agency customers on the latest Travelport solutions including Travelport’s next generation API Trip Services

This integrated display and search response will be the foundation for all future releases, both through API and desktop. The NDC-enabled content will augment already extensive API content within Travelport’s airline Merchandising Suite. The Company already connects to 24 airlines through APIs and expects to announce the first of many NDC-enabled airline partnerships very soon.

Travelport extends its merchandising lead to more airlines

Travelport confirmed that over 250 airlines now benefit from Travelport’s Rich Content and Branding merchandising tool.

Launched in 2014, Rich Content and Branding allows network airlines and low-cost carriers to differentiate themselves through strong visuals and detailed descriptions of their products and services. This gives OTAs, travel agencies and bookers a real understanding of each airline’s offering.

Having passed the milestone of 250 carriers, Travelport has now extended its airline merchandising by offering richer content to five times as many airlines as its nearest competitor.  Airlines benefiting from branded fares and ancillaries include Etihad Airways, British Airways, Air France/KLM, Lufthansa and Iberia. There are also smaller and low-cost airlines such as Aegean, Ryanair and Loganair.

Major airlines currently or soon offering access to their branded fares through Rich Content and Branding include Delta, Air France/KLM, British Airways, Iberia, Lufthansa, China Southern Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Avianca.

Matthew Powell – A Self-Driven Perfectionist

The one lines that come to mind to best describe Matthew Powell is ‘passion with perfection’. This ideology would span both his professional and personal paths. Reminiscing his early years in the United Kingdom (UK), Powell recollects that post his schooling, there were two opportunities presented – join the University or get a job. He decided to take on the latter for personal reasons, leaving behind a place at Brighton University. The summers were also a good option to start looking for the right opportunity and to his sheer luck, he procured a job in a travel agency in Wembley. This was his entry into the big travel world and he certainly stuck on beyond the summer’s, opting out of university. In his view, the decision was worth the risk as he made much more money than his friends while also getting a foothold in the travel industry.

During that phase, least did Powell realise that there would be no looking back. The summer job was his stepping stone to better opportunities within the travel industry, which resulted in him applying for a helpdesk role at Worldspan (prior to acquisition). The rest, they say is history and that is pretty much the same with Powell’s career. Interestingly though, Powell did go back to university and completed his Masters in 2006. This was a sticking point in his head of a job incomplete so he went ahead and even further achieved an MBA on a part-time basis.

In 1995, he joined Worldspan, which was the entry into Travelport. Years have passed by and roles changed with Powell completing 23 years with the company. The consistent approach with Travelport has seen him taking on different responsibilities and understand the industry from its core. This according to him, “has been a long but beautiful journey.”

The Consistent Approach

Powell also feels that his journey with Travelport has been a learning experience. With a lot of dedication, he has worked his way up, learning the ropes right from the helpdesk with a starting salary of GBP7000 annually. In his view, “being at the helpdesk was the changing point in my career. The helpdesk is known for its very fierce environment, thereby, empowering a person to deal with all kinds of customers and situations. This has in turn been the learning point of life skills and customer behaviour which really stuck with me for my entire career.“

The opportunity with Travelport has been across different roles in different parts of the organisation. Powell has worked with the OTA world as solutions engineer but his preference was more bent towards product. This preference made him head the technical and product teams for Worldspan across Europe, which was also the time that Travelport acquired Worldspan (around 10-11 years ago). He moved over to Travelport, carrying forward his product expertise in a marketing role, taking care of whole of Europe, Middle East and Africa. It was during this period that purely by accident, Powell landed up in South Africa on a holiday. Simultaneously, during the same period, the company was figuring out how to change the business down in South Africa.

This presented a new opportunity for Powell to oversee operations in Africa, which meant, being based in Dubai, managing operations for both UAE and Africa. The tenure which started in 2009 lasted for three years, post which, Powell was given the mantle of the product team again. Over the last couple of years, he took on commercial responsibility for India and until two years ago, took on the role of Managing Director for Middle East and South Asia. In Powell’s words, “the journey has been amazing and I have to actually pinch myself to believe the number of years that have passed.”

The Motivating Factor

The working environment as explained by Powell at Travelport has been fun all the way. This blended with his personality as he is of the belief you have to enjoy your work no matter what the responsibility. It is this fun-attitude that will help an individual give his 100%. He further attributes his positivity to the organization, which is a fairly large company but has a heart and soul of a small organisation. If a problem arises, there is a team approach to solve the issue. There is also a very family environment. Citing an example, Powell says, “Our CEO Gordon Wilson is very much a hands-on person and loves to get involved with everything. He believes in the power of communication and makes it a point to interact with all employees on a regular basis. This makes a difference as it shows ease of functioning.”

Powell is also grateful for the extensive travel opportunities to unique places, the job has presented. There is also a lot of passion that exudes right from the CEO downwards which is a critical factor for Powell. And finally, it is the respect with which employees are treated that makes a big difference and shows the culture of the company.

The Experience Factor

The vast experience factor across Europe, Middle East and Africa, makes Powell feel that the travel fraternity in every country thinks they are unique and do things differently. Nonetheless, when one goes to the core, be it a traditional company or an OTA, the functions and focus are the same –customer experience. Powell highlights one interesting fact on how different cultures in different countries act differently in the way they work and how advanced is their technology. He is all praise for the UAE in terms of technological advancements and highlights some concerns about Africa. IN his view, Africa has limited resources, regular power cuts, sub-standard infrastructure but the broadband connections are even faster than the ones in the UK.

Travel by Choice or Chance

Powell very emphatically says that travel was purely by chance. He recollects his school days and his passion for being a chef. However, the only hindrance to that dream was his hesitance to interacting socially. However, on the flipside Powell feels that in the bargain, he discovered the travel side of himself and feels grateful for all his travel experiences.

Leadership qualities

A leader according to Powell is someone who can listen. They should allow employees to share their point of view, thereby making the discussion, a free-flowing conversation. In his view, he feels that many a times, people confuse a leader with a manager, least realising that the roles are very different. Another aspect of being a leader is to gain the respect of your fellow employees. Powell says, “It is the people you respect that stand out and most importantly, who can take you along in their journey.” Communication is also the next essential quality. Powell feels that a leader with the right communication skills can express his vision and goal, not so much for today or tomorrow, but for years ahead. This keeps his fellow employees motivated and looking forward to a journey of success.

The Driving Factor

A good job done is a plus for Powell, who feels that at the end of a day, one needs to be proud of their achievements. Being a very competitive person, he is very optimistic about succeeding be it both professionally and personally. He dislikes losing which further motivates him in a touch situation to do better. He is also of the view that though money is important, one also needs to focus on other important factors such as their team, having the right work-life balance, being a fair player and finally, employee satisfaction.

Role Model

Motivation for Powell comes from regular people who are not big personalities. His inspiration comes from regular people who start with nothing but have the will-power, passion and drive to make it big. This could even be a homeless person down the road, who picks himself up, gets a job and pulls himself together. Then, there are people like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, where passion and perseverance is spelt out in their success.

On the Family Front

Powell is a proud father of two daughters from his first marriage, who reside in the UK. This is where he spends most of his time. The elder girl is 14 years while the younger girl is 11 years old. Being teenagers, they certainly keep Powell busy on his toes. He remarried in April 2017 to the love of his life and his ‘best friend’. Family values are very important to Powell who stands firm that family is everything. His values can be attributed to his close knit family set-up, where spending time together is essential. Powell’s younger sister also resides in the UK.

Donning the role of a Son, Husband and Father

A very caring and soft-hearted person, who is willing to do anything for anyone is how he describes himself. Family has been very close knit, with his parents being more like friends, which has helped in strengthening the bond. He believes he is a doting father, who is very particular about his kids’ education and their future opportunities. He would certainly like for them to explore the world travelling and experiencing new things. Powell sums up saying: “I am the go-to person as a son, I am the father, who wants the best for his two princesses and I have my best friend in my wife, so it doesn’t get any better.”

Self-introspection

Powell straight-forwardly says he is a fun guy, who works hard. He has a very focussed and driven attitude while also enjoying his responsibilities. This according to him is a great balance.

Hobbies

Sports has been a keen interest for Powell who preferred to be a spectator than participant. He loves his rugby and football. Fitness is his next big passion and Powell enjoys a lot of cross fit programs. Last year, he pursued a crazy idea of going the extremes and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. This achievement has planted a seed in his mind to be more adventurous. However, he is being dissuaded by his wife. He loves to socialise and does spend a lot of time with friends and family. Not much of a movie buff, Powell does watch his fair share of Hollywood, with Shawshank Redemption and Good Feather being his all-time favourites. Reading is not much of a passion as he considers himself a slow reader. Nonetheless, when he does read, it is a lot of action and fiction books, with his favourite current read being the ‘Couple Next Door’. His favourite author is Lee Child. Music is a good eclectic mix of old school and new funky tunes. However, he would like to call himself a rock fan, who adores Guns n Roses.

On the travel path

Having travelled extensively, Powell certainly has a lot of favourites. The destinations that stand out are the United States, which fascinated Powell as a teenager and stuck with him for life. He recently holidayed in Vietnam and loves the country. Powell feels, there is so much to explore in Vietnam, having travelled across the country from North to South for about 10 days. A big part of Vietnam is untouched which is very refreshing. Powell lives by adventure but also likes his fair share of city-breaks. He finally describes himself as an explorer, who loves to discover something new about a destination. The destinations on his future holiday list are Laos and Cambodia, which according to him, are very intriguing.

Food

He considers himself to be a big foodie and enjoys every bit of his meal. Indian food is an all-time favourite and he just can’t get enough of it. This drives his wife mad. Powell also loves experimenting with food and finds cooking a relaxing approach to wind off the day.

Principles in Life

  • It is important to have a vision and purpose
  • One has to stay focussed on their goal and not get distracted
  • Look after people be it your staff or even your family
  • Have fun doing things, or else it is just not worth it
  • Whatever you do, do it well and excel

Mobile Travel Trends 2018

The digital landscape is shifting faster than it ever has before and so too are the needs of travelers. It took airlines 68 years to gain 50 million users, Super Mario Run passed 50 million users in just 8 days1 at the start of 2017 (on iOS only making it even more impressive!).

As we transition through this digital transformation the core challenge for travel brands in today’s fast-moving world is to gain the attention and loyalty of consumers.

Mobile is at the heart of true customer engagement for travel brands, with apps leading the way. While there has been much speculation about the decline in apps, the numbers speak for themselves; in 2017 the total number of app downloads was estimated to hit 197 billion versus 149 billion in 2016 and they are set to increase to over 352 billion in 20213. Furthermore, recent research by Travelport Digital found that 82% of travelers were downloading the same or more travel apps than the previous year.

Last year our experts highlighted the major mobile trends facing travel brands for 2017 – from the rise of intelligent travel assistants and chatbots to apps moving beyond the homescreen and UX being a strategic differentiator, it’s fair to say they were on the money, but what will 2018 bring?

As new technology unfolds the rate of change will accelerate even faster than it ever has before and travel brands need to assess what technology will enable them to connect with their customer at every step of their journey. Smart devices, the messaging explosion, deep personalization, frictionless technology, new mobile payments and voice technology are all shaping how consumers and travelers expect to engage with travel brands in 2018.

We used to think about travel in one place – where brands created a one-stop shop and a traveler’s experience could be catered for in one place. However, the future of travel will be one wherever the customer chooses it to be, using social, messaging, mobile and even their voice to communicate.

Retailers of any category have to go where their customers are, no matter what channel they’re using – because if they don’t, another competitor will.

As we move into next year travel brands need to think about things differently as there are now opportunities to engage at every step and through every platform, with this set to explode even further as new technologies emerge. It’s important to note that this is not about a potential future, it is the here and now – next is now. Travel brands that capture this space will continue to grow and expand, while others that don’t adapt will get left behind.

Throughout this report we reveal the mobile travel trends that the industry believes will be big in 2018, sharing opinions from Travelport Digital experts and drawing valuable insights from our Mobile Travel Trends surveys. So let’s take a look at our compilation of trends that are ready to be embraced by travel brands into 2018 and beyond.

Behavioral Trends

So with our 2018 mobile travel trends revealed, how does consumer behavior align to our predictions? We surveyed 955 end travelers to find out how they are using mobile for travel going into 2018.

We investigated what they use apps for, how often they use them and explored if they were ready or expected to use emerging technology including voice, chatbots and messaging apps.

 

Apps remain the ‘go to’ for traveler engagement

The ongoing growth of mobile has impacted how travelers are using apps on their phone for travel, with app usage stronger than ever. 64% of travelers currently have a travel app installed on their phone and 69% use those apps on a regular basis.

Furthermore, our research found that travelers are still installing multiple airline apps on their phone; 36% of the respondents currently have 2 or more apps installed, giving travel brands a prime opportunity to utilize apps as a marketing platform and drive engagement throughout the end to end travel lifecycle.

With travel brands now putting a key focus on great user experience it comes as no surprise that the primary reason travelers are turning to apps is to search and book a trip, with the added benefits of relevant and timely alerts and notifications making the pull even stronger.

The findings also revealed that app-specific functionality, (such as mobile boarding passes), great user experience, speed and personal preferences play a key part in why travelers prefer to use a travel app over mobile web.

While there is still space for mobile web travel brands, PWAs haven’t quite claimed the app space as of yet – with travelers still preferring to use travel apps over mobile web, especially for searching and booking for a flight as well as to check-in and generate a mobile boarding pass.

User experience plays a key role in brand loyalty

A brand’s reputation is defined by the experiences it delivers. If a user has a bad app experience – if it is difficult to navigate or frustrating to use travelers won’t hesitate to uninstall it, leading to customer churn. It’s imperative that travel brands get the user experience right, building a deep understanding of each of the customer touch points throughout the end-to-end travel lifecycle.

Travel brands who get the user experience right reap the rewards with 85% of travelers saying they would be more likely to book a trip with a brand that had a good user experience, conversely if they had a bad experience on their app 69% would be unlikely to book with that brand again.

Communication at every touchpoint

The power of push notifications is not waning, 52% of travelers find push notifications related to travel useful with trip status and flight search/booking notifications ranked the most important with discounts and offers following closely behind.

However, while push notifications still have their part to play, with the messaging explosion travel brands need to look at every touchpoint through which they can engage their customers, as travelers now expect to be communicated to through whichever channel they choose, primarily preferring apps and messaging platforms.

As we move into 2018, travel brands need to look at every touchpoint with which they can engage with their travelers. It’s no longer just about owning one stage in the journey, there is now an opportunity to own the customer across the entire travel lifecycle – pre, during and even post trip. Those that go to where the customer is, engaging them with relevant, contextual information through the channels the customers choose, will win in 2018.

Conclusion

With technology evolving and growing at such a rapid rate, especially in the mobile travel space, 2018 will bring a huge amount of opportunity for travel brands to engage with their customer throughout the entire end-to-end travel lifecycle. However, it is the consumer who will chose how and where they want to be communicated to.

2018 will bring an abundance of opportunities for travel brands to be clever about the way they engage with travelers in a way that suits them best. It’s no longer about just ‘apps’, travel brands need to also be on other mobile channels including chat, messenger and voice. With changing traveler needs, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will no longer work. Travel brands need to understand and embrace emerging technologies that leverage mobile to further enhance the customer experience, allowing travel brands to be clever about the way they engage with travelers in a way that suits them best.

Throughout this report we have looked at the eight trends that we believe will help travel brands address the challenges they face into 2018 and beyond. From data sharing, enhanced personalization and the elimination of friction points to make the customer journey as seamless as possible right through to the changing face of apps, voice and the messaging explosion bringing travel brands to where the customer is, next year will have it all.

There is so much opportunity and potential on the horizon for the next year, with mobile at it’s core. However, with so much to plan for, it’s important to remember that next year’s mobile strategy doesn’t need to incorporate all the trends, but travel brands need to keep them on the radar going into 2018 and beyond so they don’t get left behind.

 

 

Airline Distribution: The Changing Dynamics

‘Change is the only constant’ that best describes airline distribution evolution. However, for many years rather decades, the distribution medium has been consistent. It was only in the last few years that the fast-moving world of technology has brought about a metamorphosis in not just the thinking and behavior patterns of a consumer in everyday life but their overall business mentality.

“There was no existence of anything like a BSP (Billing Settlement Plan) or even a GDS (Global Distribution System) in the market 15 years ago. This was the pure form of distribution” Nasir Khan, CEO of Al Naboodah Travel

As Nasir Khan, CEO of Al Naboodah Travel reminisces, “If we quickly rewind 15 years ago, one will see there was no existence of anything like a BSP (Billing Settlement Plan) or even a GDS (Global Distribution System) in the market. There was a direct channel between the airline and a GSA (General Sales Agent) or a travel agent (TA). This was the pure form of distribution, where the GSA became the distributor of ticket stock, while also being fully responsible for sales and collection. This, in turn, was reported back to the airlines. Subsequently, agents used to make bookings over the phone while manually looking for connections and flights.”

The manual processes had their own challenges but were soon done away with to give way for more automated and seamless systems. The growing technology made life a bit easy but brought with it, its own challenges.

Matthew Powell, managing director – Middle East and South Asia for Travelport has a different take. He says: “In my view, the change has not been much across the travel commerce platform. The model has not really changed but companies have and the process of percolating it down to agents has changed. Subsequently, travel agents have also changed. However, the core distribution model had remained the same up until two years ago.”

“Today, people want real experiences and more personalized approach. Rich content and branding is all about giving the traveler the real experience”
Matthew Powell, managing director – Middle East and South Asia for Travelport

In his opinion, a lot of working aspects of the industry changed with the rise of low-cost carriers in Europe and the world over. “They changed the way the industry functioned by offering unbundling solutions and going direct. This was coupled with the online boom. The impact of which had its bearing on the GDS-airline partnership, with the introduction of merchandising. It was the GDS that gave the airlines options of really putting a value to their ancillary products. This was primarily done through rich content, branding as well as advertising, which was a major change,” adds Powell.

While the change was evident, the impact it had on relevant players – both travel agents and GDS companies – associated with the airline industry was critical.

The ever-evolving role of a travel agent

The impact of the change has had constant ramifications on travel agents in some form or other. This is surprising considering that industry veterans are of the view that the travel agent fraternity lacks qualified professionals. However, it is the very-same non-professional industry that had to and still continues to innovate or even diversifies their business for survival.

The survival for the fittest best suits a travel agent who has had to work around reducing commissions, regular ADMs, rising fees or even dramatic changes and come out fighters. As Khan explains, “Unfortunately, agents need to realize that it is the need of an airline. Airlines are not working for travel agents but for themselves be it directly or indirectly. It is the agent who is the middleman between the airline and client so inadvertently they have to bear the brunt. In the past, there used to be a heavy dependence by airlines on travel agents but things have changed today. They have learned to diversify their business and look for alternative revenue mediums, one of which is the profitable direct medium.”

“The retail travel business will go down while corporate travel will continue to grow. Nonetheless, travel agents will continue to survive and outsourcing will be key”
V Jayaram, managing director of Sharaf Travel

The direct medium undertaken by airlines has undergone a sea change in terms of statistics. The numbers have moved from single digits of three to five percent to double-digit now. This is a result of the change in distribution methods with more lucrative revenue streams. As V Jayaram, managing director of Sharaf Travel says, “The TA is being squeezed from both ends – an airline and the client – which is a catch 22 situation. Neither party wants to pay any extra costs. This leaves the agent with no alternative but to charge a service fee, making it more expensive to buy from them. This indirectly pushes the customer to go directly to an airline which is turn raises the direct booking numbers. As per statistics, current direct sales to airlines stand at 18-22% in the UAE alone. This percentage should ideally have come from a travel agent. However, the airline is looking at their own benefit and this works fine as they do not have to pay any distribution costs. So, revenue goes straight into profit margins. Looking ahead five years from now, these numbers are bound to go up to even 50%.”

While airlines have looked for alternative mediums, the travel agent fraternity has been very fragmented in their approach. A unified stand for business improvement has failed several times due to competitive individualism. However, the change in business models has made travel agents sit up and rethink their business. A result of which is either diversification or emergence of the new segment such as sub-agents. These set of agents were happy to be mere middlemen servicing clients without taking on any responsibility for bank guarantees or BSP payments. They were happy buying from the bigger aggregators.

Jayaram makes a valid statement saying: “The objective of a sub-agent is clear – they want to make a decent retention on their business and keep clients. It was all about the price and convenience. Corporates were happy dealing with sub-agents as they got the attention and price. So in the bargain, the bigger travel agents had to expand their business or look for alternative options. You then had the emergence of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) who were in a league of their own.”

“There is an ever increasing demand from consumers for more bespoke experiences and effective personalization. This demand is answered by airlines and other travel suppliers with new distribution and merchandising strategies and offerings”
Ramzi Al Qassab, commercial director for GCC and Global Partners at Sabre

Agents had to also deal with changing consumer demands and behaviors with the rise of social media. Customers were now looking for more personalized options. This made the travel agent get up and smell the coffee. They had to evolve in their role and become consultants rather than just remain mere order takers.

Ramzi Al Qassab, commercial director for GCC and Global Partners at Sabre clarifies saying: “Today, there is an ever-increasing demand from consumers for more bespoke experiences and effective personalization. This demand is answered by airlines and other travel suppliers with new distribution and merchandising strategies, which are being offered through direct channels such as an airline’s website, and also indirectly via travel agents. For agencies, they need to master personalization and position themselves as expert advisors and consultants who deliver tangible benefits to their customers.  While this increases pressure on individual agents and needs for powerful technology, this market dynamic towards more personalized experiences presents significant revenue opportunities for all players in the tourism ecosystem.”

The GDS-Airline relationship

Moving away from the travel agent – airline relationship, the next important association was the airline – GDS relationship which has had its fair share of changes and has also been in a questionable position. Interestingly, though impossible to predict, industry opines that the airline-GDS relationship will continue to exist with innovations.

Powell clearly explains, “We do not call ourselves GDS anymore as we are redefining travel technology. We are more of a travel commerce platform. This is critical, cause it shows how we have evolved as a segment. We have diversified and innovated through several mediums; a simple example is rich content which assists agents to showcase their offerings in real-time.”

Innovations have been the only way GDS companies have kept travel agents ahead of the game. This in turn obviously benefits airlines who in turn profit from the sales. Powell firmly believes that gone are the days of booking a two week holiday for January in summer or even advance bookings. Today, people want everything at a touch of button; real experiences and more personalized approach are the game changers. So, undoubtedly, rich content and branding are all about giving the traveler the real experience.

However, despite constant innovation, the role of GDS companies be it with the airline or agent is still being questioned. So would it mean that the integration of the much-talked-about IATA NDC (New Distribution Capability) would mean redundancy of the GDS?

What is the IATA NDC?

The NDC (New Distribution Capability) standard as explained on the IATA website is a travel industry-supported program (NDC Program) launched by IATA for development and market adoption of a new, XML-based data transmission standard (NDC Standard). The NDC standard enhances the capability of communications between airlines and travel agents. The standard is open to any third party, intermediary, IT provider or non-IATA member, to implement and use. It also enables the travel industry to transform the way air products are retailed to corporations, leisure, and business travelers, by addressing the industry’s current distribution limitations: Product differentiation and time-to-market, Access to full and rich air content and transparent shopping experience.

Impact on the industry 

“NDC is nothing more than a vehicle to the next wave and how distribution is will really change. Travel overall is a very personal thing. So, it is important to understand how are we making it personal? The days of just walking into a travel agents office and them being order-takers have changed”
Dean Wicks, chief flights officer at Wego

The implementation of NDC and its implications are yet to be gauged. There are several opinions either for or against it but one common sentiment that resonates with the industry – The NDC will bring about change.

Dean Wicks, chief flights officer at Wego.com clearly describes NDC as just the beginning, it is just about setting a standard. He further explains: “It is nothing more than a vehicle to the next wave and how distribution is really going to change. Travel overall is a very personal thing. So, it is important to understand how are we making it personal? The days of just walking into a TAs office and being an order taker has changed. TAs have to add value to their offering to remain in the business chain. The key is clearly evolution coupled with innovation.”

A further understanding is provided by Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO of TPConnects who says, “The industry is still unclear about NDC, its functionality, benefits, and challenges.  There are concerns from travel agents on the impact of NDC and loss of segment fees provided by GDS. We, as a company, in order to address the NDC issue have set up two separate departments – one caters for airline IT services and the other – travel agent support. Travel agent support is a travel aggregator platform wherein we have aggregated contents from all three GDS – Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. In addition, we also have direct connections with Ukraine International Airlines, American Airlines, and Lufthansa among the many, who are NDC compliant.”

So, how does a travel aggregator platform benefit a travel agent? Rajendran clarifies that the aggregator platform will offer agents a combined feed from all NDC compliant carriers as well as the GDS. This gives them the ability to choose the best option for their benefit. The only area of concern is how agents will settle the GDS commissions and incentives? “This is a question which has to be addressed between the airlines and agents,” affirms Rajendran.

“The industry is still unclear about NDC, its functionality, benefits, and challenges”
Rajendran Vellapalath, CEO of TPConnects

Wicks subsequently highlights other topics such as Big Data, artificial intelligence or even bots. However, he explains that one needs to understand, it is ultimately all about being able to mash all of this together. NDC is all about a standard making it easy for companies to communicate with clients. Now travel agents though NDC will be able to offer more personalised services to their clients, which makes them more engaging. The challenge now is to keep up with innovation while adapting to more technology driven products. There is also a whole new stream of companies that have emerged which are technology aggregators and are part of the new distribution system. These companies are able to deliver a unified product that can actually go out to masses of OTAs, traditional agencies, or people can even take those APIs and tweak it to their own needs.

Wicks further added: “To cite an example, a company like TPConnect becomes an API aggregator resulting in what one would call a Super API. This comes to the question, what is a Super API? Agents are currently able to procure rich content products from airlines such as flight options, seating, meals etc. However, add to this an understanding of a travelers pre, in and post journey details; coupled with additions of a concert ticket, ground transportation options or even hotels. If you have these current standard APIs which are IATA NDC standards and add in all the other ancillaries APIs, you create a super API. This is where airlines are looking for ancillary revenue.

The GDS impact

Having understood the impact on the overall travel business, what will be the impact of NDC on the GDS players? Al Qassab from Sabre asserts that the company fully supports NDC and all other modern API, XML and messaging protocols. “In fact, we see great value in this for branded fares and ancillaries, as well as dynamic pricing, dynamic packaging, and supplier-driven offers and marketing. We continue to be actively engaged with the NDC program and we are NDC Level 1 certified as an aggregator,” Al Qassab explains.

Elaborating further Powell states, “There was a lot of inaccuracy about the NDC program which still exists. One of the important questions – Would the NDC do away with the GDS?  In my opinion, the NDC was not launched with this goal. The idea was to get more standards on how to distribute ancillaries like rich content, branded fares, and fare families. There is also an opportunity for us to kind of go directly to the airline host systems and talk directly to them. Finally, it all comes down to the direction the industry is moving. It is also early days in these discussions and no one knows how this will work economically.”

Taking an optimistic approach, Wicks asserts saying: “The GDS is doing a really good job at aggregating the APIs, so then, all an NDC does is sets a standard. In addition, the GDS delivers data in mass and scale which is coupled with artificial intelligence. A simple example is loyalty programs. There are so many that it becomes difficult to keep track for a corporate. The ideal scenario would be to consolidate all of them into one big program. Just like the airline consolidation in the form of alliances.

However, Rajendran has a very different take. He is clear that the GDS will not become redundant. “If you see the NDC website all GDS companies want to be part in some way. Technically whether they will be able or not yet unanswered? One needs to understand that the GDS currently work on a 40-year-old technology which was pre-internet era. If they want to upgrade, they have to either scrap it all or build something new with an XML API. This is impossible because you cannot build a new technology over a 40-year old technology; it will be just patchwork. So, unless they scrap their current system, it is very difficult for a GDS company to get into the new era of distribution,” he adds.

The new era of distribution

The new era of distribution is all about technology. It is this very technology that is changing the way people live, function or even think. Today, it is all about being connected, being faster and being more personal.

As Powell explains, “The distribution model will continue to evolve. However, we are still in early days. Desktops and laptops are slowly disappearing and mobile will be the go-to device. There are new technologies replacing desktops such as Microsoft Surface or the Apple Pro. You then have a generation of children who are growing up very fast and do not have a life without a gadget or the Internet.”

The next generation and wave of change will see technological advancements manage everyday life which is the case with wearables. Nonetheless, technology is changing travel and traveling patterns. This change is not easy and particularly with the travel industry will come with a lot of resistance. As Wicks reiterates, “Change can be different in different markets, what may be relevant in one, may not be in another. So ultimately, it is all about getting your timing right.”

The distribution model will see many factors of change such as disintermediation and dynamic pricing come in with the implementation of NDC standards. This will also bring to light the role of metasearch companies and aggregators. Industry participants are of the view that travelers will have to pay for a service to be delivered, as there are no free lunches anywhere.

Finally, we can sum up in the words of Khan, who states: “If travel agents compete with each other, they do not stand to gain. They have already spoilt the market by giving customers the best product coupled with the best discount. Innovation is the way ahead and every player will exist if they innovate.”

NDC and the Need for Network Economics

“NDC is a set of standards. The term is used synonymously with new pricing and distribution methods, such as dynamic pricing, or airline-owned offers, but it is not the same. “

David Smith, Manager – Product Strategy, ATPCO

Emerging methods for airline distribution is a fascinating topic, with a wealth of recent publications and opinion pieces speculating on how the chips will fall.  One thing is clear in this complex, brave new world: new technologies and data standards, used together with a mix of capable system providers, industry organizations, and agile start-ups, will continue to drive innovation and serve airlines under the direction of the IATA New Distribution Capability (NDC). This will be a critical infrastructure to get travel-related products to the market in very creative ways.

Recently, I represented ATPCO at the Ancillary Merchandising Conference in Majorca, Spain, where I asked a few people I met how they would define NDC. I heard many opinions about what it constitutes, from a disruption tactic by airlines to dynamic pricing, to a move to direct channel selling. Very few people gave me the same answer.

NDC is a set of standards. The term is used synonymously with new pricing and distribution methods, such as dynamic pricing, or airline-owned offers, but it is not the same. NDC standards take XML and supply chain processes through IATA Resolutions and Recommended Practices to enable new ways of distributing airline products to the marketplace, fundamentally built around personalization, rich media, and the API economy. This set of standards achieves unprecedented levels of airline control of their own product on the shelf, what they choose to offer, and how they manage the order. In other words, the airline can get the right product to the right person, at the right time and in the right place, and the airline can control the content through a very flexible communication medium.

The fact that NDC incorporates the word “New” is also confusing because most airlines have at least some API capability today. The leaders in distribution innovation are trying all sorts of new ways to get their product to sellers, both through direct and indirect methods. They’re also widening the funnel to turn more shoppers’ attention to locked-in revenue bookings at the highest conversion rate, for the best revenue, and at the lowest cost. What was “New” has become current, or just “business as usual.”

But those few at the forefront are noticing a common problem.  Different API and messaging standards mean a long time to market (typically up to 6 months to build a single connection), a high price of implementation (in the tens of thousands of dollars to get a live seller up and running), and increasing maintenance costs to hold down several standards.  NDC brings a common XML standard, but even that evolves by two new versions each year. Stakeholders implement different “flavors” of each message to serve different business needs and interoperability requirements of non-NDC players.  More stakeholders, many connections, and many standards can all add up to a big headache.

Keep a careful eye on this one. The problem is not large yet (because most airlines have only just started creating one-to-one connections with sellers), but it is coming, and fast.  Over the next two or three years, as the API economy for travel and the number of stakeholders exponentially grow, the number of versions will quickly become unmanageable and our industry will uncover the need for an “exchange” or “hub” for messaging.

This is exactly the kind of issue that industry organizations are formed to solve, through the power of network economics.  Allowing the message translation issue to be solved once, centrally by an industry utility, frees all the stakeholders–airlines, their system providers, and sellers–to focus on what they do best: innovating to get the product to the market consistently, and quickly, generating revenue for everyone to sustain a healthy business.

 

 

 

 

Cleartrip goes local

In a bid to get more local, Cleartrip has officially launched an Arabic-language website to support its GCC market expansion efforts. The portal will provide its users in the region localized browsing and booking capability.

The new website includes content and promotions relevant for Arabic-speaking audiences, and also has a host of useful features, tools and functionality designed to allow travellers to easily make and manage reservations. There will also be offers and benefits when booking on the Cleartrip website or its mobile application.

Cleartrip is experiencing increased traffic on its website from mobile devices, with traffic driven by smartphones and tablets growing 30% during the first week of Ramadan, and the launch of a dedicated website in Arabic language is expected to further accelerate bookings. Currently, 86% of Cleartrip bookings in the UAE are by credit card and 14% are by debit card.

Stuart Crighton, founder and CEO of Cleartrip said: “Cleartrip has emerged as a travel platform of choice for consumers across much of the Arabic-speaking world. We have grown by over 45% year-on-year and Arabic speakers represent our fastest growing segment, their numbers increasing by triple digits.

The Middle East’s online travel market is forecast to almost double in value in the two-year period between 2016 and 2018, rising from US$18 billion to US$35 billion by 2018. According to a joint study conducted by Travelport and Phocuswright, online travel bookings, which accounted for 25% of all bookings in the Middle East in 2016, will rise to 36% by end of 2017.

Travelport inks multi-year agreement with Mezoon International

Travelport announced a new multi-year agreement with Mezoon International Travel & Tours (MITT), via Travelport’s distributor in Oman.

By connecting to the Travelport platform, MITT can now benefit from fast, and accurate searching and booking to offer its customers content from more than 400 airlines, including low cost and network carriers, more than 650,000 hotel properties and more than 37,000 car rental locations around the world. MITT can also take advantage of Travelport Smartpoint as its agency desktop to search beyond rate and availability to book more personalised and tailored travel, work smarter and increase revenues.

Matt Powell, managing director in the Middle East and South Asia, Travelport added: “To maintain leadership in today’s competitive world of travel, Mezoon needs access to both extensive global travel choice as well as travel booking technology. This has remained our focus, and an area in which we have continued to invest in and lead in.”

Travelport puts the spotlight on Middle East’s demand for personalization

Travelport is planning to put the spotlight at the forthcoming Arabian Travel Market (ATM) on how travel tech is allowing airlines and travel agents to meet Middle East travellers’ demands, and grow their businesses, by providing a more personalized travel experience with more relevant travel choices to all the region’s travellers.

With today’s youngest working segment- the millennial generation- estimated to become the largest workforce segment by 2030, travel industry players in the Middle East are leveraging technology to meet needs of millennial who tend to be higher spenders than their global peers with regards to travel.

In the GCC, millennial account for a quarter of the population and they have grown up surrounded by and adapting to technology. The region’s travel industry is feeling the clout of their spending power already and it is estimated that millennials in the UAE will generate US$40,000 average annual gross income by 2019 with almost half of them book travel through mobile devices.

Rabih Saab, Travelport’s president and managing director for Europe, Middle East, Africa and South Asia said: “Travel tech is an exciting place to be right now. We are increasingly living in an experiential world. Mobile penetration in the Middle East is astronomical, across the GCC almost 80% of the population are mobile subscribers. Smart travel brands will continue to look at how mobile can help bridge the gap between generic experiences and ones where the end-traveller feels truly engaged and supported. Brands will thrive or decline depending on experiences delivered to travellers and how relevant and personalized these experiences are.”

Travel apps have become the millennials preferred method of interacting with brands, almost 1/3 more than past generations. Mobile applications are great platforms to create personalized offers. For airlines, the key can be the travel behaviour already known to the airline through past purchases tied to the user’s booking account.

ATM 2017 – The Industry Voices

Klaus Ehrenbrandtner – Austria National Tourist Office

Klaus Ehrenbrandtner

What’s new?

We will showcase popular, new destinations and holiday attractions. There will be a virtual reality video section powered by Samsung. Attendees can choose from a variety of 360 degrees VR video clips to dive into an Austrian holiday experiences.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating from the beginning

What is the value to your business?

It is the biggest travel trade show in the region and thus a perfect place to network. We look at it as a platform to get Austrian suppliers together with local travel trade.

In your view ATM means… interaction with everybody active in the travel trade in this region

Hassan Al Ibrahim – Qatar Tourism Authority

Hassan Al Ibrahim

What’s new?

We will be showcasing unique tourism offerings, including top quality luxury accommodation, cultural attractions, family entertainment, festivals and events, as well as shopping, dining and other leisure activities. Along with co-exhibitors, we are providing visitors with insights into the evolution of Qatar’s tourist attractions and services, focusing on cultural attractions and authentic hospitality.

In your view ATM means… a platform for Qatar to demonstrate its willingness and ability to offer innovative products for the regional market

 

 

Daniel Ponzo – Al Rostamani Travel and Holidays

Daniel Ponzo

What’s new?

We will present the second edition of our ART Signature Brochure for families and romantic getaways. We will also be expecting to enlarge our product portfolio this year

How many years of participation?

Personally, I have been attending it for few years now, since I was working in KSA and now UAE

What is the value to your business?

The show is a great opportunity to know new trends in technology, product and innovations. It also helps to share experiences, meet new people and suppliers. The show also gives attendees a chance to meet colleagues from the industry

In your view ATM means ………… collaboration and discovering something new every show. It is a unique event in the GCC that gets together professionals from all over the world to create something for the future of people in travel

His Excellency Faisal Al Nuaimi – Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD)

His Excellency Faisal Al Nuaimi

What’s new?

The show is a unique opportunity to highlight Ajman’s tourism attractions and hospitality offerings. We can showcase the Emirate both a destination of choice for many tourists from the Arab World and an important tourist destination globally. We are also optimistic about the launch of the newly opened Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah, which will be part of the Ajman Tourism stand at ATM. The Ajman Tourism Development Department (ATDD) is keenly interested in showcasing a number of Ajman’s major tourism projects and services. This is part of our strategic objectives in line with the Ajman Vision 2021.

How many years of participation?

Ajman Tourism will participate for the seventh year. The show also gives us an opportunity to enhance bilateral relations, engage with key industry leaders and tour operators in the region through a number of activities and meetings.

What is the value to your business?

ATM provides a unique opportunity for us to connect, network and share industry experience with others, helping us to raise the profile of our destination and harness strategic trade relationships within the industry. The event facilitates business-orientated events and meetings with representatives from various tourist destinations and travel and tourism agencies. We look forward to exploring latest trends and learning about tourism components in regional countries, adopting best practices and applying them to the tourism sector in Ajman with the aim of increasing tourism traffic and investment.

In your view ATM means ………… engaging with key investors in the travel industry, providing a unique opportunity to showcase a number of existing and upcoming tourism projects in Ajman.

Matthew Powell – Travelport

Matthew Powell

What’s new?

We will be showcasing the power of Travelport’s unique Travel Commerce Platform and how it powers technology solutions for the Middle East’s travel industry. Our stand will feature an array of interactive features including demo pods for visitors to experience technologies for themselves and learn more about latest developments including the partnership with IndiGo.

This year, Travelport will focus on introducing the complexity of Power of the Platform. We will be focusing on mobile and ways Travelport is leading digital transformation by connecting all people in travel with all people who travel. The consumerization of travel, driven by mobility and the expectations of the connected traveller will mean true winners in the future.

How many years of participation?

This is our ninth year at ATM.

What is the value to your business?

The event offers Travelport a chance to showcase technology that helps the industry further innovate and exceed the travel buyers’ needs and expectations.

In your view ATM means……. A world-class industry event that provides a perfect stage to highlight Travelport’s power of platform and reinforce its continued leadership in the Middle East

Daniel Naoumovitch – Sabre Travel Network, Middle East

Daniel Naoumovitch

What’s new?

We will be showcasing our New Sabre Red Workspace, the solution that will change the way travel companies work today. We will also be shedding light on two panel discussions – Blurring Lines in Online & Offline Travel: the session will explore the evolving world of travel, online and offline, and discuss the landscape and future of online travel in the region. The second session will be on Sabre hospitality solutions talking about digitalization and pitfalls of hotel websites. The session will highlight why so many hotel websites fail to drive traffic and conversion and what drives success in direct bookings.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating for 12 years

What is the value to your business?

We make sure we are present every year and showcase our latest innovations while we meet our customers and vendors

In your view ATM means….meeting all travel and tourism players under one roof to showcase our latest innovations and present what’s new in this sector

Mamoun Hmedan – Wego Middle East, North Africa and India

Mamoun Hmedan

What’s new?

Wego will be updating the industry on its position as the fastest loading mobile web site in the world, after rebuilding Wego’s static site pages using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), combined with Progressive Web App (PWA). We will also be highlighting a new commitment to direct support of National Tourist Offices (NTOs) through a dedicated co-marketing campaign team, lead by Wego’s Graham Hills, chief strategic partnerships officer. Wego’s chief flights officer, Dean Wicks, will be sharing insights into radical changes in airfare conversions Wego has seen in the Middle East, the move from desktop to mobile purchases and extensive product updates.

How many years of participation?

We have been participating for five years

What is the value to your business?

The event has provided many opportunities for Wego by introducing industry partnership opportunities as well as an opportunity to share innovative ways we can support partners through our market strength, newly introduced innovations and above all, our engagement with travellers throughout the Middle East.

In your view ATM means…….It is the best opportunity to meet up with all local and global travel players sharing experiences under one roof. It is also impressive to see the footprint of digital/tech providers continuing to grow each year which reinforces our decision to focus on this market