7 years ago

Fancy user experience will not beat rail search tech for innovation

The first selection of the Travel Innovation Summit featured a variety of interesting contenders, some more so than others, including veterans Goby and 2009 winner Amadeus.

But while the chatter on Twitter might have revealed that the over-arching themes were social, mobile and unique distribution solutions, my “young” – aka comparatively inexperienced – eyes observed something slightly different.

Social and mobile are a given – I’m only surprised when they aren’t a part of a pitch. Not to mention, every year we are all presented with the latest “next-generation of travel distribution” solution without fail.

But this year, what I observed was what went unsaid – the products told the story that user experience design has finally made its way to the forefront as a key focus for any travel company – big or small – that might dare to label itself as innovative.

You could see it in nearly every live – and I use the term “live” loosely – product demonstration during the first round of today’s innovators.

And to be clear, user experience design is an innovation in its own right – it’s just a departure from the technological game-changers we’re used to looking for in competitions like these.

UX is today what social media was three to four years ago – no one understands it completely just yet, but everyone knows it’s sexy, and everyone knows it matters.

Great UX today seemed to forgive many presenters from the fact that some of the products pitched are quite similar technologically to a few of the alumni of 2009.

Take Revinate for example – while it absolutely is viable and unique that its platform is focused on the hospitality sector, I was surprised that any reputation management platform, of which we saw nearly five  in the 2009 event, received rave reviews as the next big thing from the Critics Circle.

Don’t get me wrong – in addition to giving a great presentation, Revinate’s clean, well-designed platform is not easy to accomplish and is unique in that it gives even the most technology-averse property manager the ability to master.

Building a product with that much attention to design takes time, so the feature and function of the platform may not be quite where it will be in 6-12 months as a result. The fact that relevance and influence aren’t a part of the platform yet tells that story.

A similar story followed this morning for Goby, which doesn’t seem to have made too large of a shift from last year other than re-purposing its user interface for a few new features on top of its original platform, while also optimizing it for mobile.

But to be clear, I love Goby’s UI. It’s as lovely as ever.

Overall, the shining star seemed to be the one with the most solid elevator pitch this morning, which in my mind was SilverRail Technologies.


They shared enough key statistics and data about the market size and opportunity that, if I were a VC, might have prompted me to learn more about the company.

But even with SilverRail’s impressive stats and data, when it came to the big reveal of their new B2C rail booking engine, the UI did nothing less than sing… and sing beautifully.  Design is clearly a core competency of theirs as well.

Finally, it seems we are putting our money where our mouth is in the travel industry and truly investing in user experience design with the customers’ needs at the forefront… and I love it.

At the end of the day, people like pretty things. And pretty things mean more pretty eyeballs, which result in pretty media revenue projections… which will hopefully lead to not just pretty, but gorgeous investment dollars for a few of these innovators in the near future.

Can’t wait to see what technological eye candy from the remaining “innovators”.

NB: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabre Holdings, its partners, customers or subsidiaries.

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Sarah Kennedy Ellis

About the Writer :: Sarah Kennedy Ellis

Sarah Kennedy Ellis is VP of Marketing for Sabre Hospitality Solutions.

At Sabre since 2007, Sarah has spent time working in a variety of divisions including everything from strategy and product development to social media marketing and R&D.

She was selected as one of the first members of PhoCusWright's inaugural "Class of 35" in 2009, recognizing the top 35 young leaders under the age of 35 in travel.

She also is invited to speak at a variety of technology conferences & industry events each year on topics including emerging technology and innovation management.

The views expressed by Sarah on Tnooz are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Sabre Holdings, its partners, customers or subsidiaries.



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  1. Timothy O'Neil-Dunne

    Sheex, Sarah, I have to agree with Glen.. its not new. Back in the day (he says dating himself) – it used to be about the “GUI” or those who were more insistent – UI/UE. Now just UX is fine. The user experience makes or breaks the online product – indeed any product. The worst experience of all happens to be the GDS one but we wont go there.

    Unfortunately for SilverRail – a nice UX doesn’t hide the fact that the engine beneath the covers has to work incredibly hard to get you a decent result. Rail services are still rather backward. The providers at the core (The Rail Operating Companies) do a terrible job of providing service. One would think that rail is simple and straight forward. Yet no one has done a good job. Wandrian tried hard and did a half way decent job. SilverRail is better. Do I think its great?… not yet. But perhaps being better than the other blind mice helps make this rat win…


  2. Glenn Gruber


    It was really nice getting a chance to meet you in person last week at PCW10, but on this one I have to vehemently disagree with you. UX is not like social media, it’s not a new thing and the impacts of strong UX is not an unknown. There is a tremendous amount of research on how UX can positively impact customer adoption and customer satisfaction while simultaneously reducing support costs and development costs. I’ve written a few posts about it last year:

    http://www.softwareindustryinsights.com/2009/08/usability-is-underappreciated/ and


    Also UX is how Apple has risen to prominence in the mobile space and taken to a broader definition why many people prefer to shop at Target rather than Wal-Mart.

    All that being said, I think that SilverRail was an excellent choice as TIS winner although personally I was partial to TrustYou. I agree that Hipmunk’s UI is novel although not ground-breaking. But Steve Hafner and others shouldn’t undervalue the power of a great UI as merely “unremarkable”.

    • Saykay

      This is for both macGruber & Timothy :)…

      I certainly can concede that UX is not “new” to those deeply embedded in product design/IT, but I will say there is a difference in it being a core part of the product design process for ages and it being a topic on which an executive doesn’t need talking points or an in-depth corp comm prep session to carry on an informed, on-the-record conversation.

      I think we all understand that if a corporate exec is calling something a “hot topic” in public, then that trend has likely already passed and is nearly dead in the water.

      At PCW, we had the start-ups defining the hot topics, and inadvertently writing the 2011 talking points for the rest of the industry… but for this year, their lack of core technological innovation (other than TrustYou, who I agree was great – but I also propose didn’t win b/c of their UX) by most hinted that they had been bit by the UX investment bug.

      I believe the parallel between UX and social media lies in the fact that inherently in the future, technology will be social at its core… just as it equally has been and should continue be designed based on UX best practices at its front-end core.

      The difference isn’t necessarily what’s ‘brand new’ vs. ‘old’, which I definitely didn’t do a good job of clarifying in my post… the difference is more so in what’s hot and what’s not… i.e. what gets corporate $crilla priority, product investment and overall acquisition interest. It’s sexy.

      The last decade of thin investment in UX in travel tech is a direct cause of the extremely low satisfaction by customers with the online shopping process today… we’ve basically backed ourselves into a UX-thirsty corner.

      So, finally, over the last year or two, that trend has shifted.

      Even while many UX gurus have toiled away and achieved measurable results you can point to (as your posts do), including across all of the businesses under even our Sabre Holdings umbrella (Timothy, bite your tongue), once everyone crowned Apple God of the Design Universe – and executives started buying iPhones and marketers forwarded them case studies about ‘what makes Apple so great’ – only then did the sexy-meter’s needle begin to slightly move UX toward becoming one of the “popular sororities” in terms of investment and perceived value.

      So again, if the start-ups are focusing on it today… the big boys will naturally be tomorrow.

      And just as we all get nauseated hearing how every Tom, Dick & Harry has slapped Facebook Connect & a Like button on their site and called it a “social media innovation” today, I fear the same trend will ebb and flow for UX again… and then in 2018 we will be having this same conversation once again.

  3. Michelle Wohl - Revinate

    Thanks for the mention, Sarah. We’re excited that you, and others, appreciate the value of user experience and our focus on it. Because we want everyone at a hotel to be able to use our product, we have made sure that it is both powerful and really easy to use. Many of our customers provide log-ins for the entire staff so we have everyone from housekeeping to sales to revenue managers using Revinate. We spend a lot of time talking to our customers about what features that want to see and continue to innovate and add features that hoteliers need to save time, increase revenue and drive loyalty.

  4. Tweets that mention Fancy user experience will not beat rail search tech for innovation | Tnooz -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elizabeth Layton, BTCNewsFeed and Tnooz, Kevin May. Kevin May said: Fancy user experience will not beat rail search tech for innovation http://bit.ly/dhfGGL [Tnooz via @saykay] […]


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