December 1, 2022

Eurocean 2004

Life is an adventure

Webb: Recovery won’t be online vs offline, it will be driven by policy

Travelport doubles down on tech to simplify next gen retailing for recovery

FOR Greg Webb, CEO of Travelport, pushing ahead with its next generation platform – a commitment it made in 2019 when it went private – was absolutely necessary despite the pandemic crushing the travel industry and along with it, the GDS business.

Webb: “What do we need to do to make sure we are the best multi-source content aggregator in the world?”

“2020 was no fun. The environment was no fun –
on a macro basis to see the world economy really devastated by a pandemic, to
see the degradation in an industry that I love, in an area where people I have
known a long time severely impacted. It was no fun to watch that, no fun to go
through it.

“But we made a strategic commitment to our
next generation platform in 2019 and we stuck to that. We got very lean but we
did not pull back on our investment profile.

“In fact, we stepped up that commitment during the downturn. We are trying to make sure that as we look into what is happening and what has happened with the next generation of travel retailing, we are at the forefront of it – what do we need to do to make sure we are the best multi-source content aggregator in the world?”

The company unveiled Travelport+ last week, which “simplifies travel retailing, focusing on the capabilities that travel suppliers and sellers really need”, offering “more dynamic, differentiated, retail-ready content, delivering better choices for retailers and consumers, in a faster and frictionless way”.

Said Webb, “Our new platform will help in the
recovery. It simplifies the environment. This is a very complex industry –
there are independent content sources that make the shopping process more
complicated. We are making it simple.

“We are providing a new retailing environment
that enhances the consumer experience and simplifies the process from the
buyer’s side, so that when recovery happens, both parties will benefit.”

Shift to online
post-pandemic will only be temporary

He disagrees with the notion that most of the
recovery will happen online and thus leave out the traditional travel agencies.
“Recovery will happen in three categories. There is no question that leisure travel
will recover faster than business travel. The pent-up demand for people locked
up for so long is very strong, we see it in shopping behaviour.

“And it won’t be offline vs online. If point to
point, some of that will go airline direct. There’s also a significant amount
of ongoing refunds – vouchers – that will go direct, people burning vouchers,
that will go direct or through agencies, if booked with them.

“Business travel will largely recover indirect – because of the emphasis on duty of care, and the need for employers to ensure employees are safe.

“I don’t believe we will see a significant shift between direct and indirect after this. There may be a temporary shift, based on the reality of refunds and vouchers out there, and leisure travel.”

Travelport+, hailed as the centerpiece in
Travelport’s new global strategy, has been 18 months in the making, and Webb,
calling it a “monumental moment” highlighted three features that made it stand
out.

One, “everything works from the back end to the front”. Travelport has
taken apart the traditional “trip container” where the “back end passenger name
record was highly structured” to make it a more open environment where the
inventory is more individualized and the shopping process more
consumer-friendly.

“The way retail operates today is, a seat is not just a seat, it comes
with certain ancillaries, but the underlying structure still remains pretty
rigid,” said Webb.

Two, there’s more flexibility and customizability that’s tuned to the requirements of different agencies, whether OTA or TMC or mid-size leisure agencies. (See related story)

Three, a single API as part of back end micro services to make sure everything stays in sync. “It allows us to really make sure that people can make use of our micro services, and not a broadbrush. It’s individualized to the people using it, and the shoppers using it.”

He added, “NDC was meant to be a standard across new ways to connect
between suppliers and sellers but it’s not really. Every airline does it
different. This is a way to make sure that regardless of how carriers serve NDC
content, we have a flexible source for customers.”

He said this launch was “not the end point,
it’s not like we’ve finished and will walk away. This is an evolution – we want
to ensure we are again right where we want to be – provide the best experience
for consumers, agency customers, and for suppliers, in terms of a value
creation engine.”

Recovery will be
driven by policy, not demand – important to get consistency

In looking at recovery, Webb said the biggest
component will be safety. “Do people feel safe travelling with the tools and
technology? A lot of work has been done by airlines and hotels and our job is
to disseminate that information.”

Travelport was the first travel tech company to launch a Covid-19 resource hub with airline, hotel and car policy trackers and other resources. In mid-July, it launched a free Covid-19 Smartpoint plugin, which provides comprehensive information on travel restrictions across the world, updated daily. It is seeing active usage, with over 92,000 launches of the plugin in the first few weeks. 

At the end of July, it followed up with a free
Airline Health & Safety Tracker, which provides regularly updated
information on the safety initiatives of more than 80 of the world’s largest
airlines. 

On the subject of travel passes, it contributed to the formation of the Safe Travels
Protocols for aviation developed by the World Travel and Tourism Council. “One thing we should all be doing is get
consistency of not only the tech that we use and the expectations,” said Webb.

“Recovery will be mostly driven by policy, not
by demand. The mitigating factor is a lack of understanding of policy and
what’s expected. The tech implications of travel passports and policy
expectations around travel passport – that’s the most important component where
we need to get to a level of consistency,” noted Webb.

• Watch “Hello Future” video for overview of Travelport+ and vision

Featured image credit: Olivier Le Moal/Getty Images