As Travelport moves forward in its journey to revolutionize the travel industry’s retail experience, the global distribution company unveiled a new, end-to-end brand refresh, with a single focus on delivering travel agents an easy, modern and digital-first retailing experience. Last month, the company also announced an update for its Travelport+ platform, which now offers simplified access to New Distribution Capability content and other self-service tools like TripManager, for both agents and travelers.
Today, Travelport is the only global distribution system having NDC distribution deals with IAG, Air France -KLM, Lufthansa – Europe’s three major airline groups as well as NDC connections with over 16 airlines worldwide, including American Airlines, Emirates, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines.
ArabiaTravelNews.com caught up with Kathryn Wallington, Head of the Middle East and Africa at Travelport, to find out more about their next-generation platform and their promise to revolutionize travel retailing and deliver exceptional travel experiences.
What has been the biggest challenge and learning for Travelport in the last year?
Over the last year, the biggest challenge has been a total restructuring of the travel industry. While we’re trying to rebound, we are also trying to grow and improve the user experience to one that is faster, more accurate, and more automated.
When demand starts to increase it will grow rapidly, but travel companies will be challenged with less human resources than they had before. The successful companies will be the ones that can use data and software to effectively fill these gaps, like creating machine learning algorithms to automate their manual processes.
Our customers, specifically the travel managers and agents, are leaning more heavily on their tech providers like us. They are looking to us to simplify complexities even more now because they don’t have enough people to solve digital problems.
Now that we have launched Travelport+, we’re focused on continually evolving the platform and delivering the features and functionalities that our customers need so they can operate more efficiently and sell effectively.
With the brand refresh, how has Travelport transformed itself to bring that differentiated experience?
The Travelport rebrand isn’t just about colors and fonts – though we’re proud of our new look and feel. It’s an end-to-end rebrand. We’ve kept the essence of what makes Travelport great, but we’ve refined our vision, what we stand for, how we act, how we look, how we market our business, and most importantly, we’ve launched the Travelport+ platform.
What is the vision behind Travelport +? What would you say is the USP/ advantage over other GDS today, especially when it comes to innovation?
The Travelport+ platform is built around three things: enabling more content so that travelers can access the right product for their trip; better retail capabilities, so that they can easily find that right product, and best value, driving down the costs of travel and the costs to manage those journeys.
Travelport+ creates a simplified, capability-rich, marketplace for travel retailing. As travel distribution has evolved, retrofitting new types of distribution into existing platforms has led to increased complexity across the industry, slowing progress. Travelport+ is a true multi-source platform offering more dynamic, differentiated, retail-ready content, delivering better choices for retailers and consumers, in a faster, frictionless way.
Looking at NDC – What are some of the benefits that the NDC standard has brought into the aggregator market segment?
The goal of NDC is to create a new standard that enables improved travel retailing. We’re fully supportive of that idea. We want to provide travel suppliers with the ability to upsell, cross-sell and generate more revenue per transaction.
Is NDC truly transforming air retailing? What kind of offers are you seeing from airlines?
As you know, each airline is approaching this a little differently. For some airlines, we are enabling the retailer to sell bags, seats, and other ancillaries by the time the development is complete. All airlines are progressing with NDC at their own pace and ensuring that we have that necessary flexibility has been key to our thinking around multi-source content from the beginning.
Over the years, NDC has been less of a standard – in the true sense of the word – particularly as each airline does things differently – sometimes in little ways, sometimes in large ways. The companies that will be successful are those that focus development on the original NDC objective – improving travel retailing. But NDC alone won’t always be the answer. In some cases, it may be, Intelligent Storefront, Rich Content and Branding, or one of our modern Travelport+ products.
The bottom line is that travelers need to be able to consume content regardless of source – whether it’s via a legacy standard or a new standard, and companies like Travelport must deliver that to the buyer side in the most efficient way possible.
There could be another change in the next few years. We just need to be flexible and as a private company, Travelport is uniquely positioned to be just that.
What will IATA’s new Airline Retailing Maturity index mean for the Travelport+ program?
All Travelport+ customers enjoy a more modern, digital-first retail experience when connecting through our platform. Modern retailing happens when the consumer gets the right product/offer, at the right time, and at the right price. And in doing so, those customers immediately recognize the value of agencies in solving their choice paradox. This isn’t just a Travelport view, it’s backed heavily by IATA as the primary strategy for change and is the basis of the ARM (Airline Retailing Maturity) index.
What other areas of tech innovations can we expect to see in 2022?
According to Strategy Analytics, in 2022, nearly half of the mobile phones will have 5G. The faster, more reliable, and far-reaching mobile networks provided by 5G will provide a host of opportunities for TMCs and travel agents to improve the service they provide to travelers on the go – especially when it comes to functions that require things like high-resolution video streaming and connectivity to IoT devices and services.
With corporations focusing on sustainable travel programs, how can NDC and Travelport+ help advance that?
The way people shop for, and book travel has inherently changed. We are now factoring in even more information (such as carbon footprints, safety measures, and international restrictions) that will all be part of the travel retail experience.
The technologies that support retail connectivity, greater data intelligence, and modeling in a way that sources and presents the options most important to travelers based on their personal preferences – like sustainable airline or hotel options – will be an underlying factor in promoting more sustainable travel.
What are some of the challenges that the Middle East region pose to Travelport? Can we expect to see new customers, whether national carriers or LCC?
Consumers are eager to get back to travel, but in the current landscape, it’s no longer about being inspired by a destination. Instead, it’s a case of assessing the safety of the destination – in terms of case counts and vaccination rates; the accessibility – how onerous the testing and quarantine measures are; as well as clarity such as how clear the relevant restrictions are to travelers.
Everyone in the travel ecosystem needs to play a part. As countries continue to reopen their borders, we support relaxing rules for travelers who are vaccinated or provide proof of negative PCR and lateral flow tests. With the success of vaccination programs and the steps, the industry has taken to ensure a safe travel experience for the consumer, we are hopeful more countries in the region will continue to return to travel.
As this information is communicated, facilitators like Travelport use technology to make it easier for our agency customers to access information in real-time. For instance, early in the pandemic, we launched various features on our Smartpoint software to give travel agencies seamless access to information about global travel restrictions as well as airline health and safety measures. This continues to be crucial even now – our research has shown that 33 per cent of travelers anticipate an increase in their use of travel agents, with the majority (65 per cent) saying it’s because they feel travel agents are best placed to provide them with the latest travel safety information.
On the part of travel suppliers, they need to be flexible with changes and cancellations. Last year, we conducted a study into trust in travel retailing. We found that ‘having no hidden costs’ and ‘fully flexible or refundable products’ were the two most important factors in determining what made travelers trust airlines or agencies. To put it into context, having no hidden costs is a full 16 per cent more influential on trust than an airline’s long-term safety record. We also found that most travelers currently deem industry performance in both of these areas to be poor – something no doubt colored by their experiences in having to cancel and refund travel plans during the pandemic. With travel restrictions still fairly fragmented and changing frequently, we expect that this will continue to be a key concern for travelers in the near future.
The Middle East will always be an important area of focus for Travelport and our strategic partnerships with both national carriers and low-cost carriers across the region reflect our long-term commitment to support its amazing development.
What new traveler trends have you witnessed in the last few months?
There are many asking what the future of business travel will look like after many have pivoted to working from home. It will probably be a bit awkward at first as people start to return to the office. And during the last two years, many companies realized they may not need to travel all that much (and the virtual meeting space is innovating rapidly to capitalize on this trend) fully remote working and meeting is unlikely.
At Travelport, what we are doing internally and what we’re seeing elsewhere, is that hybrid models might be more normalized – but there’s an urgency in some cases to get employees back in the skies and on the road.
Sales-focused organizations will have a high urgency to return to face-to-face meetings. Once peers begin traveling for sales meetings or pitches, companies will face increased pressure to return to travel to win business among key customers.
The timeline for travel to resume for internal in-person meetings will be longer, with higher levels of scrutiny on what is considered business-critical (and can’t be accommodated with technology) – but for innovation and creative collaboration, getting together in-person will be very necessary.
With Covid still looming over us and travel volumes constantly fluctuating, do you feel better prepared? Even with competition?
Last month, we announced the latest upgrades to Travelport+ which includes enhanced modern retailing tools that are paving the way to revolutionize travel retail, modernize the booking experience, and make it easier for agents to offer more choices and deliver better service to their travelers.
Today’s enhanced features of Travelport+ consist of simplified access to enriched travel content from multiple sources, including NDC (New Distribution Capability) standard content. Travelport customers using the latest version of Smartpoint can also access a suite of features aimed at simplifying everyday tasks. Enhancements include more customized itinerary quotes in Trip Quote as well as faster Assisted Ticketing capabilities that streamline complex ticketing and exchange tasks for agents.
Additionally, the enhanced APIs of Travelport+ make it easier for agents to understand offers and compare brands with similar attributes on a like-for-like basis. Travelport customers will also be able to easily identify upsell offers with NDC and ATPCO fares, for a simpler, more modern browsing and shopping experience.
As of January 2022, more than 80 per cent of Travelport customers are on the upgraded Travelport+ platform following its launch in April 2021. We remain optimistic about travel in 2022 and will continue to invest in our business so that we are poised to take full advantage when travel returns.