I’ve always been fascinated by technology, even from a young age. I grew up in Eastern Europe, in what was then Czechoslovakia, and as a teenager at boarding school I loved nothing more than spending my free time skiing in the Jeseniky Mountains. Nestled at the foot of the mountains, my school owned a small ski resort and I have many fond memories of my classmates and I turning on the chairlifts at midnight and skiing down the slopes, the leader carrying a glass jar with a candle inside to guide the way.
Looking back now, I guess you could say those nighttime ski excursions and the chairlifts that made them possible were my first introduction to travel technology! Little did I realize how much that experience would come to shape my career and my life.
For me, chairlifts are a good example of what technology is all about – finding a simple yet effective way to make people’s lives easier by solving a problem. Before their invention in the early 1900s, the only way to ski down a mountain was to hike or climb up it first. I would argue that ‘earning your turns’ by having to hike up the mountain rewards you with untouched powder and the freedom to blaze your own trail – but it’s easy to see how the innovation of the chairlift revolutionized skiing for the masses, spawning what is today one of the most lucrative subsectors in the travel industry. A subsector of travel estimated at over 100 million skiers and $20 billion in revenue per year – and it all started with a humble chairlift. Through this lens, chairlifts really do embody the saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.
The next travel technology revolution
Travel technology has come a long way since my childhood ski adventures, but at its core the purpose remains largely unchanged. It’s about finding easier and better ways of connecting people with the travel experiences they want. I’ve been with Sabre for more than 25 years, and worked in the transportation sector my entire life, but I believe the next few years look set to be the most dynamic that I’ve witnessed.
Airlines need to evolve and put the traveler at the center of everything they do if they are to realize their offer- and order-based retailing ambitions.
Here are my top 3 building blocks to help them do just that:
This will increase choice for travelers across the industry, opening up the capability for airlines to create and distribute enhanced travel offers that incorporate more elements of a trip, and ensuring travelers can more easily find exactly what they’re looking for. This rich content could include better access to upgrades, flight ancillaries, exclusive fares and promotions, limited time offers and travel packages – including when buying from a third party. NDC is a critical piece of the traveler-centricity puzzle, and at Sabre we’re working with our airline and agency partners to bring this new content to market and enhance the travel shopping experience.
Complexity is the root cause of many of the struggles faced by airlines in trying to become more traveler-centric. Today, that complexity manifests for travelers in various ways, including multiple reference numbers for different trip elements, slower customer service as a result of different systems and processes for each trip element, and constraints when looking to make changes to an itinerary. ONE Order seeks to eliminate such complexity by simplifying airline reservation, delivery, and accounting systems. By phasing out PNRs, e-tickets and EMDs and combining them into a single traveler-focused Order, travelers will benefit from a more seamless end-to-end travel experience, with no need to juggle between different reference numbers and documents when checking-in or making changes to their itinerary.
Airlines collect more traveler and trip data than any other player in the travel ecosystem. In the future, we expect airlines to be able to apply data in new ways to enhance the shopping and booking process by making travel offers more personalized and contextualized – even for shoppers who are not known to the airline. For example, if a travel shopper is searching for flights for a family (2 adults, 2 children) travelling from London to Orlando for two weeks during the summer, the airline could use those contextual clues to infer that this is a special family vacation. It could then create a tailored package including:
- direct flights in coach with four pre-assigned seats together in the front row of the cabin (because flight transfers with children is nobody’s idea of fun);
- a family-friendly hotel close to the theme parks with guaranteed early check-in (to minimize travel time);
- full-size car or SUV with GPS and child seats (to ensure safety and comfort when getting about);
- a multi-day Disneyland theme park package including priority access to rides.
The use of cutting-edge data science to create contextualized offers that better meet traveler needs – even with no prior knowledge of the traveler – should deliver a superior, traveler-centric experience…and optimize conversion to drive increased revenue for airlines.
Sophisticated modern airline retailing may be at the opposite end of the technology spectrum from a chairlift at a ski resort, but the ultimate goal is the same: an enhanced experience for the traveler.
You can learn more about Sabre’s approach to smarter airline retailing powered by offers and orders right here.
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