Monday 6 February 2023

Personalisation key to travel transformation: Sabre expert

MANAMA, November 10, 2022

By Sree Bhat
Global travel and tourism industry is currently experiencing a huge transformation – some of it is related to technology and many to people’s changing expectations and behaviour.
Last week Bahrain hosted the IATA World Passenger Symposium (WPS) under the theme “Unlocking Value Creation by Putting the Customer First”. One of the speakers at the symposium was Roshan Mendis, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Travel Solutions, Sabre.
Travellers expectations have changed drastically during the pandemic.  The travel industry needs to better understand the behaviours and expectations of the new traveller in order to respond to them. All travel players are seeking ways to stay relevant and succeed in a more competitive landscape, Mendis says. 
On the sidelines of the event, we spoke to Mendis on travel recovery, the changes happening in the industry, impact of the transformation and Sabre’s role in the new travel landscape.  
Excerpts from the interview:
The industry won’t be the same again… this was a common believe during Covid times. Following the pandemic, what has really changed in the travel industry?
I believe the priorities have changed. The pandemic has expedited the technological transformation that the industry desperately needed. Travel businesses are looking for efficiencies in their operations to reduce costs, while travellers are also looking for efficiencies in the travel journey through self-service and automation. All travel players are seeking ways to stay relevant and succeed in a more competitive landscape. 
What has also changed is the traveller. We are dealing with a more tech-savvy traveller with shifting behaviours - some have accelerated; others are entirely new. Some of these behaviours are likely to be abandoned as we are transitioning to the “new normal,” while others may stick around. Travellers are more reliant on technology, accustomed to dealing with companies that know what they want – like Netflix and Amazon – and are relying on mobile and online for almost everything. Their expectations have changed drastically during the pandemic. The travel industry needs to better understand the behaviors and expectations of the new traveler in order to respond to them. 
What are your thoughts on the industry and its recovery? 
Travel has been and continues to be one of the largest industries powering the global economy. Per the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2019 (before the pandemic), travel and tourism accounted for 1 in 4 of all new jobs created globally, more than 10% of existing jobs, and more than 10% of global GDP.  Although our sector was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, recovery is in progress. I’m proud of the industry’s collective efforts in building back a more traveler-centric, sustainable, and resilient industry than we saw pre-Covid. 
This industry has showed resilience and persistence for centuries. With any setback we faced in the past, the travel industry has rebuilt bigger, better and stronger. And it’s no surprise that it is doing this again.  Travel is recovering faster than many people expected. 
There’s much talk about technology transformation in the industry post Covid. What are some of these transformations and how will they benefit the end-user?
Technology transformation didn’t start post-pandemic. It started long ago but was accelerated during the pandemic. Transformation is critical to our long-term success. And it means different things for each industry player. For airlines, it means the need to become true retailers, offering each traveler what they are looking for on the channel they prefer with the travel components they need. For travel agencies, this means automating manual processes like cancellations and rebooking, which overwhelmed staff and ill-equipped systems during the height of the pandemic. It is having the technology infrastructure and the solutions to cater to a more tech-savvy customer that is more accustomed to online, mobile and technology solutions. And for us at Sabre, it means enabling this transformation for all players. Our intelligent retailing strategy puts the traveller at the centre, enabling travel sellers to connect with passengers in a more personalised way. Doing so paves the way for travellers, airlines, agencies and the entire travel ecosystem to thrive. 
What this means to the end-user is an enhanced personalisation enabled by advances in technology. The ability to create highly personalised and contextualised offers that include everything a traveller might need as part of their trip, from flights an air ancillary through to hotels and car hire. 
This will be a game-changer for travellers, who will get the same seamless retailing experience in the travel sector as they have become accustomed to in other aspects of day-to-day life.
How can airlines succeed in what it seems a more challenging and complex landscape? 
First, airlines need to align on their vision with other players in the travel ecosystem, putting the traveller at the centre of it all. Second, it will take collaboration; airlines need to work with agencies and other industry players to help meet customers’ travel needs. 
We believe travel retailing powered by offers and orders is a way for airlines (and agencies) to generate more revenue and satisfy the demands of modern consumers. But achieving the desired ambition of a retail-powered future for airlines goes far beyond technology. We believe that technology is only part of the equation to help airlines succeed. The other part centres on the organisational changes that will be needed. Working with a technology partner that sees the bigger picture, and has a plan for the end-to-end journey, can make a world of difference. 
How is Sabre helping?
Sabre is proud to have been here throughout, supporting our customers and the industry through the good times and the difficult times. And we take great pride in partnering with stakeholders from across the industry to accelerate towards modern travel retailing.
At the IATA World Passenger Symposium (WPS) in Manama, we discussed how Sabre is working with the whole industry to maximise its potential. Our industry has even more to offer. In a recent study,
McKinsey estimated the industry-wide opportunity of advanced retailing to be as large as $40 billion per annum in additional revenue by 2030. To unlock this opportunity, the travel ecosystem needs to work together to becoming traveler-centric, delivering what the travelers want. 
First, we’re helping airlines create targeted, real-time offers with our Retail Intelligence suite of products. These solutions use ground-breaking Sabre Travel AI technology – built in partnership with Google Cloud – to maximise conversion of offers. They also enable dynamic pricing of air and ancillaries and allow airlines to plug in their own machine learning models if they desire. 
Second, we’ve made great strides through NDC.  From an NDC distribution perspective, more than 6,000 pseudo city code (PCCs) are shopping, booking and servicing NDC content from leading airlines including Avianca Group, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines. Also, we are closely collaborating with both Finnair and LHG on the launch of their NDC content in the Sabre global distribution system (GDS), and we expect to make it available on a market-by-market basis later this year or early in 2023.
Airlines are challenged when it comes to the infrastructure needed to manage shopping at scale. This is one of Sabre’s core competencies and an area where we can help. Our know-how coupled with the Google Cloud Platform can truly enable NDC at scale.
Also, the widespread adoption of NDC for all traveller segments must be considered. At Sabre, we work closely with many travel management companies (TMCs) and corporate travel partners through our GDS, and we want to be able to provide both business and leisure travellers with the richer content NDC can enable. I believe airlines have work to do to ensure that the needs of TMCs and their travellers are an integral part of their solutioning. We’re committed to supporting and smoothing the agent experience during this hybrid period by solving for technical complexities behind the scenes and providing integrated, efficient workflows for agents. 
Our progress so far represents the first steps in a much larger journey, but our customers are already seeing great results, and we’re committed to building on the progress made so far. – TradeArabia News Service


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