A travel tech consultancy perspective on 2017 and the coming year

The idea that travel firms need to embrace technology is like saying that motor vehicles need round wheels. Surely conversations have moved on to specifics about what sort of tech, from which supplier and on what business terms.

The travel tech ecosystem is getting bigger by the byte. In the olden days Amadeus, Travelport (née Worldspan and Galileo) and Sabre were the biggest on the block and while they continue to get bigger,  there are other behemoths waiting in the wings – Expedia Inc’s recent narrative around it becoming a tech platform for the industry arguably the most significant.

The options for the person sourcing tech are vast and the decision-making process when it comes to buying or licensing is complex and critical. When it comes to enterprise tech in travel, consultants have a role to play.

DataArt operates as travel technology consultant and software developer, giving it a global overview of the ecosystem, what is (and isn’t) on the market and the functions the ecosystem needs to serve.

Here’s some thoughts from its senior travel and hospitality team – Greg Abbott, SVP; Andrew Sanders, VP North America; and Charlotte Lamp Davies, VP Europe.

The big wow – corporate travel gets it!

The 2017 DataArt Travel Question Time event showed universal agreement from the panel that finally corporate travel policy is changing gear – with travel management companies now seriously attempting alignment with technology-driven traveler needs and expectations. This shift has been long overdue.

The hand of the sector has been forced by changing traveler expectations.  Business travelers are increasingly informed and inspired by the tools they use for leisure travel and expect an equivalent experience when travelling on business. Corporate travel is finally starting to consider the experience offered by the leisure travel space and recognizing that leisure and business collide with increasing frequency.

To make things more interesting, new players such as Airbnb, Uber, Lyft are actively investing in developing business travel programs with sophisticated tracking and data connectivity tools. This will be a game-changer, and all will need to reconsider their offers to create more alignment with what is now available from the wider travel marketplace.

 Tales from the long tail 

GDPR is a long tail factor that is creeping up on the industry.  It’s been interesting to see the GDPR narrative escalate from mild interest to “best get moving” in the travel sector, which is finally gearing up towards compliance.  The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force in May 2018, is now the elephant in the room for some who will not be ready in time.

Part of the travel industry’s confusion surrounding GDPR regulation is down to the fact that it has been slow to grasp the potential power of data.  Data comes with enormous responsibility – and it is this that GDPR addresses.

Some companies in the industry are not prepared, especially small- and medium-sized businesses that do not have the right resources to build a comprehensive privacy programme. Failure to comply could lead to a fine, based on the turnover of the business.  Travel buyers need to work with companies that have created GDPR-ready programmes tailored to travel, and are willing to take on the direct responsibility as data controllers.

Disrupting distribution

In 2018 new technologies could begin to throw down a challenge to the global distribution system providers dominating the travel industry.  Although recently there have been significant changes in the way consumers prefer to book travel, “incumbent” GDS providers are still dominant and playing the major role. 2018 may be the tipping point – when new players start to seriously disrupt the travel distribution landscape.

Data security will also be a major issue in 2018.  Unfortunately, there are likely to be more security breaches in the travel sector.  Companies may try to keep this quiet, but security is still probably the number one thing keeping chief technical officers (CTOs) up at night.

The DataArt team has observed that technology conferences, previously dominated by CTOs and CIOs, now have audiences of up to 40% CISOs (chief information security officers), all interested to know what their peers are doing and what tools and services are available.  Companies are investing large amounts of resources in discovering and analysing where their weaknesses are. We predict this spend will increase even further in line with an increase in integration and dependency between systems which will inevitably lead to more security vulnerabilities.

Augmented Reality (AR) will gain ground as hospitality companies seek new ways of increasing engagement with guests.  This will be hastened by products such as the Apple’s iPhone X – which will be ‘tuned’ for AR, creating the awareness and demand from consumers.

We will see Google and Facebook continue to battle it out in the travel booking space, with Facebook being very aggressive as it tries to level the playing field.

What caught our eye

One story which had more water-cooler conversations that most was Ctrip’s acquisition of US-based travel-planning and local discovery service Trip.com.  The plan to turn it into an English-language travel agency brand will be fascinating to watch – one more step on its path to global expansion.

Although Ctrip did not make acquisitions in 2017 on the same scale as the purchase of Skyscanner in 2016, we remain excited to see what the next moves are for this travel giant.

Similarly, Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce leader, has teamed up with Marriott – a very smart move for both companies. While Alibaba has successfully expanded into online travel bookings, its customer data and deep understanding of the Chinese consumer will allow Marriott to reach the Chinese market, getting more travelers into loyalty programs and hotel properties across the world.

Another big hospitality player, Whitbread, clearly also considers the Chinese market highly attractive. The company has played a powerful strategic move in gaining full control of the Costa Coffee joint venture in South China as a part of the company’s plan to grow internationally.

 

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