10 months ago
 

Mobile in travel: startups that are moving the needle

Mobile is inspiring a new generation of travel entrepreneurs, while also giving established tech-focused organizations the chance to aggregate their experience and knowledge to launch new mobile business lines.

NB This is an article written by Tnooz in conjunction with Sabre. It follows on from a special report “Mobile in Travel – The End-to-End Impact“.

One compelling aspect of mobile is that it resonates across geographies, verticals and business models. Global travel startups are as engaged with mobile as the established players, and Sabre is working to make its technology and expertise accessible to that community.

For this article we talked to a number of innovators, all of whom are using Sabre technology to help create exciting products and services that would not have been possible without the emergence of mobile. Here’s a quick overview:

● Devon Tivona – co-founder and CEO – PANA
An on-demand service that gives busy people access to a personal travel assistant to help them plan, book and manage their travel. Pana combines real humans with machine intelligence to deliver personalized and efficient travel support.

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● Dean Curtis – co-founder and CTO –  Fandeavor
A consumer-facing brand concentrating on providing the total trip experience, all based around a specific sporting event.

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Lisa Israelovitch – founder and CEO – Umapped
A collaborative B2B2C itinerary and experience platform, white-labeled for use by travel and hospitality brands as well as by travel advisors. The platform delivers interactive, media-rich consolidated itineraries and takes advantage of the travelers’ mobile device to communicate real-time offers, content and advice at the appropriate stage in the journey while optimizing the business workflow.

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●  Mat Orrego – co-founder and CEO – Cornerstone
An established technology business focused on optimization and automation for travel management companies, corporations and their travelers. It is drawing on its experience to launch 4Site, a product designed to bridge the gap for the TMC and the traveler between what is in the itinerary and what is actually happening.

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The relationship between apps and the mobile web
Within the mobile world, arguments over the role of apps and mobile-enhanced websites is one that is never far from the surface. Both have a role, but that role is changing rapidly in response not only to tech but also to what customers want.

● Dean Curtis, Fandeavor:

“We’ve set Fandeavor up so that customers can do all their research and then book via their mobile browser, so our blogs and guides have been built with rich content and are mobile-friendly.  And we’re able to work mobile ad campaigns and mobile SEO.

“We think the mobile phone browser is becoming mature very rapidly and the things you can do via a mobile browser are expanding by the day. As a rapidly growing tech startup with limited resources,  we’ve had to fine-tune our focus.

“The technology behind mobile browsers means we can offer an interactive shopping experience, such as allowing users to save trips.

“All these factors point to why we feel we don’t need an app.”

● Devon Tivona, Pana:

“We’ve found that we can provide a much more engaging user experience via an app than the mobile web. Though the web is a powerful platform on desktop, even today mobile web still has several limitations, including lack of access to device APIs, complex UIs slowing down, and poor support for animations. All of these factors are critical to get right for an engaging mobile experience—and on mobile, engagement is king.”

● Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped:

“Studies show that 65% of travelers cited simplification as the most important factor in the mobile travel experience. Giving travelers the choice to access consolidated details around their trip from either a mobile app or mobile website delivers that.

“We’ve found that the mobile-enabled web app is the go-to place for just about every traveler before they travel. While they are traveling, there’s a preference shift to mobile apps, but many continue to use the web. Travelers feel comfortable downloading the white-labeled mobile app because the link comes from their travel provider. “

“Initially, when we developed the iOS and Android apps, a big focus was on offline functionality with everything cached locally so that travelers didn’t need wifi or data to access their itineraries. Given the proliferation of “app-fatigue” by many consumers, we have upgraded our mobile responsive web itinerary to take advantage of the Google initiative around progressive web apps, providing offline functionality and notifications with no app install required.”

● Mat Orrego, Cornerstone:

“We deal with around 3.7 million travelers, most of whom are single-trip travelers, but there are 500,000 or so who travel more than three times a year. And we’ve found there’s a big difference between frequent and infrequent flyers. The more frequent the traveler the more likely it is they will have established their own information services around their mobile and will have all sorts of apps on their mobile.

“The challenge is for us to be able to aggregate their personal app usage into our own tool, so it’s a question about how accessible these app-based APIs are and how much of the in-app usage the traveler wants to share.”

The role of text, email and live chat
While mobile-enabled website and apps might get the lion’s share of attention, traditional mobile functions such as text messaging and live chat are still important.

● Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped:

“Text messaging and live chat are essential to stay engaged with travelers. According to a Phocuswright report, nearly 50% of U.S. travelers used text messaging, and more than three in 10 used chat apps to share their travel experiences in 2015.

“One of the most popular new features we have introduced is the Umapped Messenger, which enables multi-channel two-way messaging between travel brands/advisors and their clients.  They can access the Messenger from the web app (mobile and desktop), mobile apps or via email and SMS, allowing everyone to communicate on their preferred channel.

“Another important aspect around live chat is keeping the context around numerous booking reservations within a trip. The Umapped Messenger keeps the conversation within the relevant segments of the trip, which is especially helpful for complex trips with multiple bookings and/or destinations.

“Group chat functionality also allows everyone involved in the trip to be part of the conversation.”

● Dean Curtis, Fandeavor:

“If you’re smart with email and smart with text messaging, you can enhance the online shopping experience.

“Email tech is mature and it is possible to create highly personalized and customized emails, providing of course you’ve tagged and segmented the customer at the outset and that you send the appropriate messaging at the appropriate stage in the funnel.

“It’s remarketing, but the secret is to be strategic not spammy. It’s possible to adapt a personalized tone even in a text message.

“Live chat is our most popular channel for customer service, but interestingly it’s new users coming across our site using it to check us out, make sure we’re real. As the brand gets established we expect this type of traffic to drop, but it is important for any up and coming online shopping brand to have that option for people who want reassurance before making the online purchase.”

● Devon Tivona, Pana:

“Our entire customer experience is based around live chat—all travel planning, booking, and changes happen in a chat-like conversation in-app that’s augmented by widgets that we call ‘cards.’ These cards are helpful because we can show visual or contextual information to our users. For example, we could show three hotel options to a user to swipe through and compare in-line in their chat conversation. They can also book right from these cards.

“SMS and email are also great because they work everywhere. We use both of these channels as fallbacks when a user is on their desktop or doesn’t have access to wifi. Their ubiquity makes them a powerful platform to build on.”

● Mat Orrego, Cornerstone:

“The two-way communication offered by text and chat functionality is critical to continued service of the traveler…. It’s not about a fancy app – it’s about communication. It’s about providing help. It’s about providing assistance when plans change due to a disruption, bad weather, or a change in someone’s schedule.”

Mobile as a facilitator for automation, human curation and improving overall productivity

Another recurring theme we heard from our interviews is that many mobile-based products and services are dependent on the human touch. Mobile and add-ons such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are not replacing humans — they are instead making them more efficient.

● Devon Tivona, Pana:

“The elements that we build on top of Sabre — our proprietary layer — makes the agent feel like they are enabled with all the knowledge in the world.

“By taking the text queries that a user sends in, and transforming it automatically into structured data using artificial intelligence we can then plug that structured data into Sabre. We’re not the only business applying AI technology to convert text into structured data, but what we do is introduce a human travel agent into the layer to do a bit of curation and vetting of the content before it’s sent back to the user.

“We looked at the typical workflow for a travel agent and realized that there’s, say, 80% of what they do which can be automated. It’s the other 20%, the functions that need to be serviced manually, which is where the value can be added.”

● Dean Curtis, Fandeavor

“We still do some direct contracting with suppliers which we need to manually input into our back-end. There are some elements of the travel experience we want to offer which cannot yet be fully automated and which need to have an element of human curation so they can then be integrated with intelligent systems. And once we’ve done that then we can really start thinking about economies of scale.

“This manual element in the back-end doesn’t impact the customer who can still book everything they need for their trip automatically. We do have customer support staff, but they are servicing existing bookings made, not acting like a sales-led call center.”

● Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped:

“While automation is important, we don’t think it will ever replace the need for human interactions and expertise when planning travel. Companies and travel advisors using the Trip Publisher and Umapped API take advantage of automations and integrations with Sabre and ClientBase, email parsing, destination content, live flight updates and more.

“The Umapped platform aggregates all of the details around a trip, which streamlines the workflow for our customers so that they can focus on servicing their clients. The ability to communicate in real-time also leads to additional bookings, especially since 85% of travelers decide on activities only after they have arrived at their destination.

“We’ve transformed the process of creating proposals and itineraries for travel providers from a manual, time-consuming bottleneck to a simple and efficient process, resulting in a productivity increase of 5-10X per itinerary.”

Mobile to deliver personalized options
Mobile gives travel firms unmediated access to their existing and potential clients, which puts a greater emphasis on ensuring that messaging is targeted to the individual.

● Devon Tivona, Pana

“One more piece of automation that we’ve built on top of Sabre is that when we get the results from our inventory sources — Sabre is one of them — we automatically apply data that we know about the user, either that they have told us explicitly or that we can infer from previous bookings. We then stack rank the options in a custom sort, tailored for that specific user. So from an agent’s perspective, picking the best three options is typically as simple as picking the top three.

“Our sorting algorithm factors in preferences, whereas OTAs tend to rank generically using star ratings, price, review scores.”

● Mat Orrego, Cornerstone

“We aggregate all the traveler information into one dashboard. The app for the traveler organizes their itinerary onto the mobile device, but importantly we sync this up via the back-end with the travel adviser, who can then deal with the individual travelers while also being able to see where all the clients are.

“Our dashboard prioritizes the problems going on globally and travelers that need to be helped based on criteria that the TMC defines. It helps focus limited resources on those travelers who most need it.

“Agents can use our predictive intelligence to pro-actively communicate with travelers. So when say, there is a storm coming into New York, the adviser can remediate any disruption by pushing options to the travelers so that the travelers can re-accommodate themselves using our API connection to Sabre.

“Because all business travelers use their mobile device on the road, we are able to solve a basic communications issue — linking up into a single platform what the traveler is actually seeing and experiencing on the ground with the tools the adviser needs in order to help the traveler in real time.”

Mobile to drive business transformation and flexibility
The emerging mobile ecosystem is leading to the creation of new and exciting businesses and creating new opportunities for established ones. And even within startups, there are examples of how businesses started with one idea and pivoted to another in response to changes in their customers’ demands.

● Mat Orrego, Cornerstone

“Cornerstone has traditionally been a B2B player, but we are finding that there is a demand from our travel management and corporate customers for us to start operating in a B2B2C way. Mobile-enabled APIs are helping us to do this and it’s one of the drivers behind 4Site.

“And some of our customers want access to our platform to be able to do their own analytics on the data we’ve accessed, particularly around the data we’re able to source from mobile. We’ve always kept this private, but we’re looking at options around externalizing it.”

● Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped

“Umapped was always focused on mobile and collaboration between travel companies and travelers. Along the way, we discovered that streamlining workflow and optimizing productivity was a significant pain that needed to be solved in order to drive mobile adoption.

“Sabre has been an incredibly supportive partner to Umapped, helping us to connect to our customers’ live data. We have also opened up the Umapped API, which allows travel companies to integrate bookings from their own systems and into their own applications.”

● Devon Tivona, Pana

“There are pieces of tech we can build for exception handling as well, and a big part of that is being able to make changes and re-ticket automatically through the Sabre system. Now Sabre gives us the chance to do this direct to the traveler’s mobile, which frees up the agent for the high-touch, high-service needs.

“In turn having a lot of the functions automated means our agents have more time to handle more customers, which helps us to scale the business.”

● Dean Curtis, Fandeavor

“As we’ve grown, we’ve expanded our integration with Sabre. On the search side, we’ve used their APIs for flight and car rental, and will soon be integrating with their hotel APIs. The REST APIs have allowed us to build highly personalized travel profiles for our customers. It also allows us to have a flexible dynamic packaging system that really gives the customers an intelligent customization interface. We’ve also began integrating our automated booking processes to book directly through Sabre via their SOAP APIs.”

Sabre’s role – listening and learning
Being a technology provider to not only some of the world’s leading travel suppliers but also to growing community of innovators and start-ups means that Sabre, too, is learning all the time and having to respond to what our customers are telling us.

● Lisa Israelovitch, Umapped

“We originally developed our own Sabre & ClientBase parsing integrations. When we brought this to Sabre, they quickly helped us move to native integrations, which now enables live data, streamlining the workflow for our Sabre agency customers.”

● Mat Orrego, Cornerstone

“APIs have to be able to scale and it’s a concern of mine that some businesses get carried away with what APIs are capable of doing in theory, but lose sight of how they work in practice and the extent to which they can actually slow down processes. Not all APIs are created equally and our experience is that the best APIs come from systems that have been built with APIs in mind from the outset.

“In travel there are a lot of legacy systems in place which work well unto themselves, but don’t necessarily take to having an API on top. Innovation can be restricted by this.

“Sabre was one of the first legacy players to realize this. It took a big commitment to re-architect its back-end for this, and as a result it now has what we think is a best-of-class suite of products.”

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NB This is an article written by Tnooz in conjunction with Sabre, as part of Tnooz’s sponsored content initiative. It is the first of three articles and follows on from a special report “Mobile in Travel – The End-to-End Impact” and a webinar featuring Expedia titled “Mobility in Travel: Trends and Industry Insights.

NB2 Image by masta4650/Bigstock

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About the Writer :: Sponsored Content

This is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles that are part of our sponsored content initiative. Our sponsored content is produced in collaboration with industry partners to share a diversity of opinions, perspectives, and viewpoints.

 

Comments

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  1. Alexei

    How much of a stake has Sabre taken in all of these companies?

     
    • Lisa Israelovitch

      I can only speak for Umapped Alexei but the answer is none though I suspect that’s true for all of these companies. They are however a great strategic partner

       
 
 

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