8th November, 2019
How often do you book a holiday, even for a planned destination, in one or few sessions? Have you ever felt a travel e-commerce brand has managed to pleasantly surprise you with the tools and the overall shopping experience?
It is fascinating to assess how online shopping tools, along with data signals (contextual, behavioural etc.), UX design and content, can understand “in-the-moment” intent and deliver a superlative CX.
Viewing the customer journey as a sphere
What is limiting personalization? Tedd Evers, CEO, TripTuner points out that it is vital to connect with travellers “in a non-sequential manner around their ever-evolving set of core beliefs, attitudes and preferences”.
Evers added that in order to personalize in an effective manner, travel e-commerce companies need to drift away from the practice of crafting different personas to identify target segments. “These personas may even have their own purchasing journey mapped out. But such personas are static representations. If we’re trying to connect with a person’s current state of mind and inspire them to travel, we need to provide fresh, relevant ideas about where they want to be. We need to connect with their current aspirations, recognizing they may be in flux as they move across the surface of our sphere,” he says.
Ai’s new 2020 conference dates: http://www.airlineinformation.org/upcoming-events2/370-2020-conference-dates.html
5th November, 2019
How can airlines workout an apt structure for their respective FFPs?
Be it for integrating within an airline, working out it as a distinct segment, or carving out, there are several options, and as usual, the debate continues to be in the limelight. It is being highlighted that working out an apt FFP structure is not a binary decision.
Ai’s new 2020 conference dates: http://www.airlineinformation.org/upcoming-events2/370-2020-conference-dates.html
25th October, 2019
Ai Editorial: Share of ancillary revenue shouldn’t be the only criteria of how good an airline is when it comes to digital retailing, according to Iztok Franko, founder, Diggintravel
There are ample indications that airlines, be it for full-service carriers or LCCs, are not averse to transforming internally, for instance, opting for two tracks (one for running the organization as usual and one for innovation) and even setting up dedicated units to capitalize on the dynamism of the technology ecosystem.
Such initiatives have resulted in a culture of constant learning and adjustment as there is collaboration among cross-functional teams and development teams are focusing on iterating faster than ever.
Counting on digital assets to sell all trip essentials, vacation packages etc. and even running a data platform with focus on only selling products that they haven’t sold earlier (for instance, a hotel brand selling an experience in a destination even if the traveller isn’t staying with them), travel suppliers have come a long way in today’s digital economy.
As highlighted by the findings of the recently conducted Diggintravel’s 2019 Airline Digital Retailing Survey, when it comes to digital retailing, having a great business model and great product strategy is not enough.
Some of the key findings from the survey, featuring 45 airline digital professionals, include:
Ai’s Ritesh Gupta interacted with Iztok Franko, founder, Diggintravel about the survey and its findings:
Ai: In your latest research, you have observed that the pressure on airlines to find additional sources of revenue is greater than ever. Can you share some of the trends that are emerging?
Iztok Franko: We all see the yearly reports about how ancillary revenue is increasing and how more and more airlines want to generate more revenue from it. In our 2019 research, 60% of the 45 surveyed airlines said increasing ancillary revenue is one of their top 3 priorities. Less than 20% of airlines claimed that increasing ancillary revenue is not among their priorities in 2019. These percentages are almost identical to the research Diggintravel did in 2018. So, this is really nothing new or a novelty.
However, what we see as a new trend is that more and more airlines openly talking about becoming digital platforms, digital retailers. This combined with more investment into digital teams, platforms is something that we look into deeper when we do airline digital retailing research.
Ai: Airlines have been trying to innovate and expand digital offerings by focusing on opening digital labs, via their corporate investment/ VC units etc. How are these initiatives helping in becoming a digital company that sells all kinds of travel products?
Iztok Franko: Airlines realized that they are not digital companies, like OTAs, or companies like Skyscanner, Airbnb, Uber who sell only digital products. Digital is not in a “traditional” airline DNA. High level of regulation, avoiding risk is something that airline industry was built on and in most cases rightfully so. However, consequences of this are large, hierarchical organisations that move and decided slowly and have yearly (seasonal) planning cycles.
On the other hand digital companies move fast, are built on experimentation and agility. To catch up airlines mostly innovate from outside (for example through start-ups, hackathons…), however we see the ones who are serious about long-term digital transformation investing in their own digital units. Like digital labs (example Ryanair), or Eurowings Digital which is a separate digital company under Eurowings. Eurowings stated the difference in how digital companies think and work compared to airlines as the main reason of why they created as separate digital company.
Ai: What according to you is the role of a Chief Digital Officer (CDO) in an airline, and how can CDOs play their part in airlines becoming digital retailers?
Iztok Franko: Personally, I’m a very hands on person who does digital marketing, ecommerce in everyday life, with a hands-on approach. So, my view on CDOs is sometimes a bit critical. Airline digital narrative is very tech vendor driven, where airline tech vendors tell airlines they need to do very advanced digital stuff like artificial intelligence, 1-1 personalisation, etc. Consequently, airlines go for this silver bullet concepts, big bang digital projects or platforms that will solve their issues. In reality, we need to master digital basics first, a step-by-step approach were we build our digital skills and competences, instead of buying the best or the most shiny tool. With our Digital Retailing Framework we try to help airlines systematically asses their digital maturity in different areas and then provide them guidelines on how to advance step-by-step.
Ai: If you were to assess the goal of a group like Lufthansa vs. the likes of Ryanair and AirAsia in becoming digital retailers, what differences would you like to highlight?
Iztok Franko: The biggest difference is the business model and complexity. Airlines like Lufthansa have complex IT, distribution landscape and digital (ecommerce) was never their only sales channel. This reflects in people, backgrounds, organisation…Although Lufthansa is doing some very good things. On the other hand, for LCCs ecommerce was only the sales channel, their organisation is more flat and they can move faster.
Ai: You mentioned that ancillary revenue generation isn’t an apt barometer for excelling in the arena of digital retailing. Can you explain the same via an example on how airline should gear up for digital retailing?
Iztok Franko: What I meant is that share of ancillary revenue shouldn’t be the only criteria of how good an airline is when it comes to digital retailing. During my projects with airlines I’ve seen LCCs that generate high share of ancillary because of their business model (very unbundled model), however they still have big gaps and opportunities when it comes to digital retailing. For example how they use their data to create more relevant offers, communication, UX…Or how adept are they at digital analytics, conversion optimization, using marketing automation platforms.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen more traditional airlines doing some very innovative digital stuff when it comes to digital retailing. So, by comparing only ancillary shares one cannot get real picture of how good airlines are when it comes to digital retailing. This is why we evaluated airlines in 5 different areas when we did our research.
Ai: As per the study, only 7 airlines (15.6% and only 1 FSC) were classified as “Leaders”. Can you explain how these carriers are going about finalizing people with the right skillset, then nurturing creative, cultural and processual freedom to prosper?
Iztok Franko: These airlines, the ones we identified as Leaders really recognise the importance of digital retailing. They have built their digital capabilities, like analytics, user research, they invest in UX development and build great digital experience on all digital touch points, have systematic experimentation programs, etc. They use data to be more relevant to their users, instead of one-size-fits-all approach. Again, it’s not one thing that makes them Leaders, rather systematic long-term investment in building their digital capabilities.
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17th October, 2019
Amidst all the talk around simplifying travel, there are times when even simple aspects like checking-in or selecting a seat can be a tedious task or even results in abandonment of a session.
Finding ways to streamline the same also works in favour of an airline as air ancillaries are already playing a key role in stepping up the average order value.
Taking note of painpoints such as copy-pasting of the PNR or e-ticket code on the airline’s site and then going through several clicks, SeatAssignMate worked on an offering that allows passengers to pay for seats, select meals, and check-in bags once they open up their confirmation email.
As Duncan Sham, Founder & Product Manager, SeatAssignMate explains, his team has worked on a dynamic seat map. It is an integral part of an effort that transforms a static email into interactive content. For airlines, this gives their travellers the ability to assign or upgrade a seat directly in their email with minimum friction. The map is displayed right within the customer email, showing real-time airline data. According to Sham, SeatAssignMate connects the email content to the airlines’ PSS system in order to streamline in real-time data.
By Ritesh Gupta
If you are keen on knowing how the dynamic, interactive emails/ messaging to increase ancillary revenue is shaping up, then join Brad Berkson, Chief BD and Strategy Officer, SeatAssignMate.com at this year’s MegaEvent (to be held in St Petersburg, Florida (29-31 Oct, 2019).
20th September, 2019
API-led or headless commerce as a concept is being increasingly considered to offer a unified brand experience across all the touchpoints - web, voice, social platforms etc.
In such approach, commerce and content offerings are detached from the front-end and linked straight to all customer touchpoints through APIs.
Airlines, too, can focus on the same to control their respective ancillary offers, for instance, air ancillaries, by abstracting and enriching their API to support any front-end delivery, says Jonathan Newman, Chief Commercial Officer, caravelo, a Barcelona-based travel technology specialist. “Headless air commerce is about taking an airline’s product and abstracting into byte size widgets,” said Newman. “Deliver widgets ready to be embedded in any front.”
Focus here is on introducing widgets faster and ensuring a superlative experience across all the channels. Such e-commerce set up works by passing requests between the presentation and application layers through web services or API calls.
As for how to go about the same, specialists recommend evaluation of `front-end as a service’ to overcome hurdles linked with working on a custom front-end. It is being highlighted that such service paves way for experimentation for including new front-ends, learning and executing on a regular basis etc. “As an airline, if you have to re-render your seat map or recreate your booking engine for every new app, chatbot or mini-program it dramatically slows down your time to market and increases your cost and inefficiency. Instead, through headless commerce, your back-end is embedded in your front, making the deployment eminently scalable,” explained Iñaki Uriz Millan, CEO, caravelo.
For more, watch the video featuring caravelo’s CCO, Jonathan Newman
5th September, 2019
IATA’s NDC standard is under constant scrutiny – how far it has come and how far it still has to go?
This week, as shared by IATA, the name of five airlines emerged - American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss International Air Lines. These airlines have demonstrated that their NDC deployments have a set of recognized capabilities to drive volumes of NDC transactions that will contribute toward their 20% target by end of 2020. In all, 21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC.
There are several ways to market with NDC, but it is the role of GDS that is being closely analysed. And it could very well be the deciding factor in assessing how close airlines (especially with a majority of these carriers being full service ones) are set to meet the 21/20/20 target.
“GDSs are critical to the adoption of NDC,” stated Ian Tunnacliffe, who presented at the recently held Mega Event Asia Pacific (#MegaAPAC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Is the 21/20/20 target feasible? This is a critical landmark for sure. As Tunnacliffe says, “If that happens (meeting the target) then NDC will definitely have arrived.”
He added that certification of GDSs in this context is only a “small route”.
So are GDSs going to drive big volumes in the foreseeable future? What about others that are also focusing on the NDC content?
For more, watch the video featuring Ian Tunnacliffe.
5th August, 2019
Ai Editorial: The option of going “off-PSS” was being suggested for being in control of the offer. But in an industry where the status quo isn’t easy to change, have the so-called “laggards” caught up with the challengers, probes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
There was rather a prolonged period in this decade when travel B2B specialists, including the likes of Amadeus and Sabre, faced a barrage of questions around the waning utility of industry-specific systems they were coming up for operations and commercial interests of airlines. Airlines were recommended to explore scenarios which would help them to focus on real-time offers, personalisation, rich content and ancillary revenue generation.
All of this hit its peak post developments such as IATA’s NDC XML standard (the talk around being in control of the offer, then differentiation between NDC and non-NDC content etc.), dealing with the issue of look-to-book ratio (cost considerations) etc.
However, the status quo didn’t change that easily, even though there were constant discussions around going off-PSS for retailing.
Specialists or ‘best of breed’ with reference to a particular system or even more came into the equation owing to their flexible infrastructure and overall agility, being relatively faster to market with their offering and also being responsive to specific requirements. There have been cases where established airlines have gone ahead with implementation of products, for instance, for merchandising, from relatively newer players. But whenever the possibility of opting for a new offering emerged, the question around the risk involved in running routine operations and integration cropped up. This is because to switch over to a specific product/ company and operate such systems requires considerable technical expertise. “Every system that is in place has a certain role to play and so it is there for a reason. It is designed to work in totality with the entire product IT suite. Is the backward integration streamlined?” these sort of critical issues were raised, and hence airlines chose to pull back or it prolonged the decision-making of airlines.
Reflecting today on the last couple of years, it seems the same players have managed to thwart the danger to an extent, and already singing different tunes today.
And they are backing it up with new contracts for the standalone products, and not for the entire IT suite.
As Amadeus shared details of a deal with Alaska Airlines to optimize revenue across its expanding multi-hub network, it underlined that Amadeus is capable of integrating seamlessly with another passenger service system (PSS). It is ready to offer its technology for revenue optimization to any airlines regardless of their PSS. The deal made Alaska Airlines the first non-Altea carrier – and the largest globally – to implement the Amadeus Revenue Management solution.
“…as other suppliers fail to keep pace with out-dated TPF mainframe technology, the Amadeus Airlines Platform is filling the gap with leading technology that is simple, agile and open. This technology is particularly useful because it gives third parties the ability to develop solutions on top of our solutions. Amadeus’ targeted investment in critical technology reinforces our commitment to address key customer challenges and enable their success and growth,” wrote Mike Douglass, Senior VP of IT Sales, Airlines - North America, Amadeus, in a blog post.
He also added, “This technology is particularly useful because it gives third parties the ability to develop solutions on top of our solutions.”
Sabre, with moves such as the acquisition of Farelogix late last year (a highlight being connectivity across nine leading airline reservation systems (PSS) and NDC integrations with every global GDS), is keen on GDS- and PSS-agnostic solutions for dynamic offer and order management, plus NDC-focused development across scheduling, pricing, shopping and fulfilment. Sabre has been considering integration of NDC offers into GDS, plus the ability to scale NDC volume quickly across the travel ecosystem; integration of a PSS-agnostic merchandising engine with PSS and gain ability to deliver value to airlines on all bookings regardless of PSS system or distribution channel. Sabre even indicated that Farelogix products will help address a potential $2 billion opportunity across the world’s 300 largest airlines.
Travelport, prior to its acquisition by affiliates of Siris Capital and Evergreen Coast Capital, had moved to the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) methodology for its product organization.
Even as aggregators, GDSs are now counting on artificial intelligence for search technology i. e. for the requests coming from travel transactional platforms/ traffic sites. In this context, companies like Travelport assert that today they intelligently cache at the edge of the cloud. So while they still hit an airline system to seek relevant, up-to-date information, it is being pointed out that they are relying on data analytics and AI tools, along with data models for speed, accuracy and relevancy. More the system of airlines is hit, higher the expenditure for them. This is relevant for airlines considering the fact with NDC; it is the airlines that are going to make the offer, and not GDS companies that are going to make use of data to make an itinerary. Travelport has grown to more than 11 billion searches per month.
Interested in NDC and travel tech? Must attend the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 august 2019).
Event site: www.megaapac.com
25th July, 2019
A multitude of considerations need to be focused on by airlines before they embrace the NDC standard, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
Benefits of NDC, a technology standard based on XML, continue to be highlighted and discussed, but the fact remains that embracing NDC is riddled with challenges.
In terms of where NDC’s adoption stands, an attempt is being made to attain a critical mass of volume of transactions. In all, 21 airlines have committed that by the end of 2020, 20% of their indirect sales will be made using NDC.
“Airlines, as an industry, haven’t at large taken a big leap in terms of being in control of the offer or even selling non-air products,” said an industry executive.
Beyond their own products, the industry is also pointing out that airlines can tap mobility as a service (MaaS) segment, offering an interconnected experience via their own digital assets covering all of the transportation requirements. But according to CarTrawler, only 59 of the world’s 473 airlines currently offer mobility services to customers.
Preparing for the NDC world
If airlines are going to create and distribute offers, what sort of impact it will have on their organization structure? What sort of investment is needed in systems, technology etc. for the same? How commercial relationships are going to evolve?
Companies having a minimum set of recognized capabilities to drive volumes of NDC transactions towards 2020 are going to be awarded NDC@Scale. It is based on four main elements that are important to quantify the capacity to scale to volumes of NDC transactions:
Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) recently highlighted that NDC can have a significant impact on industry-wide processes, from ticketing to servicing, credit card billing and debit memos. ARC stressed on the importance of working out a business case with a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate return on investment for the entire organization.
There are several ways to market with NDC. Options include a direct connect, via a GDS, a non-GDS aggregator, a meta-search engine and a message hub. An important consideration from distribution perspective is going to be the chosen focus. For instance, with whom and how to work in case the objective is ancillary content or reduction in the cost of distribution. ARC also explained that airlines also need to consider the options available for an agency to “integrate NDC transaction data into their corporate booking tools, back- and mid-office processes, customer invoicing, post-ticket servicing and duty of care”; impact on commission, fare and corporate discounts and net fare mark-ups impact the NDC rollout etc.
From e-commerce perspective, if airlines are going to make the offer, and the indirect channel is going to approach the airlines (earlier in case of GDS, traditional filed fares and scheduling was used), then the impact of hits on an airline’s system needs to be assessed. On a positive note, the use of intelligent caching is already coming into play.
Similarly, airlines focused on NDC also need to look at technology-related (for e.g. normalizing content) and payment/ settlement related considerations (for e. g. which party is responsible for the authorization and billing for credit, debit and related forms of payment).
Another area is interlining.
Interline NDC is still the missing puzzle. Interlining is the sale of seats on an airline partner, to offer a wider network to consumers. Interline also covers the ability to cross-sell ancillaries. Read more about: “Why without interline, NDC is incomplete?”
A session about NDC is scheduled to take place at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 August 2019).
Event site: www.MegaAPAC.com
10th July, 2019
Ai Editorial: Established TMCs are trying to ensure that they have access to all the offerings as far as air shopping is concerned, and in this context, owing to NDC, a lot of interesting developments are emerging, writes Ai’s Ritesh Gupta
Many TMCs are currently engaging in testing initiatives around NDC (New Distribution Capability), a technical standard created by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
For instance, working on a new graphical NDC-enabled user interface and gearing up for booking of NDC airline content. TMCs are looking at real NDC use cases in a test-and-learn environment to deliver improved capabilities.
There are several reasons behind the same. One of them is related to having access to all the relevant travel content. TMCs offer several services including reporting, duty of care requirements etc. to corporations, but having access to content and facilitating comparison shopping with rules is of paramount importance. Options to access in-policy travel options include accessing what’s available in the GDS through a corporate booking tool or through a TMC.
GDS or non-GDS route – can’t wait for content
While certain organizations opt for NDC content via the GDS, there are others who don’t opt for such option and have been exploring alternative options.
As SAP Concur shared recently, Business Travel Direct is offering access to British Airways’ NDC through Concur Travel. Plus, Travel & Transport Stateman, has been testing BA NDC. Businesses are also looking at cheaper fares and avoiding any surcharges (being levied by airlines on booking non-NDC content). (Read more – Are GDSs falling behind?) In case of SAP Concur, their Select Access feature allows clients to enable an airline’s NDC content within Concur Travel, and the fares and schedules for the Select Access-enabled airlines are offered to the traveller alongside the fares and schedules of other airlines sourced from the GDS.
For their part, GDSs, too, have been focusing on content. Companies like Sabre state that their APIs are in a position to integrate and normalize air content from all the sources.
TMCs are exploring options to pilot airlines’ NDC content, but at the same time they are also working closely with GDSs on their evolving NDC solutions and looking to test them as they mature.
AmTrav has complemented Amadeus for enabling connections to content from many different sources, including NDC.
Amadeus underlines that NDC can curtail the gap between the business and leisure experience, and revitalize the business travel by incorporating the element. This can be done via a customized package, including priority seating & boarding, Wi-Fi, or access to the lounge, all in line with corporate policies, and available in a secure and transparent booking environment.
Making an apt choice
The industry has also witnessed interesting moves from various stakeholders to improve upon flight shopping.
Jeff Klee, CEO, AmTrav, in a blog post, mentioned that for travellers visiting airlines’ sites, the overall experience wasn't consistent since options presented weren’t available through most of the distribution platforms in booking tools. To overcome the same, the team at AmTrav worked on a proprietary technology offering in order to streamline and simplify the online air shopping journey “for travel arrangers and the CXO-level consumer”. He further added that rather than waiting for the NDC standard to emerge, AmTrav made most of the rich content available and tapped it for the company’s platform “in a way that is very similar to NDC”.
“Travellers coming to our site can search fares and airline offers and at a glance see what amenities are available on each flight along with any extra fees. It wasn’t easy, but it clearly provides real value by helping the traveller make the right choice,” shared Klee.
Irrespective of the preparedness of the industry, including that of airlines for NDC, TMCs aren’t willing to play the waiting game.
In a recent update, FCM Travel Solutions’ Global Managing Director, Marcus Eklund mentioned NDC will increasingly become a reality in 2019, “but our goal has always been to balance the short-term priorities of NDC with building a long-term, workable solution with our technology partners at Amadeus and Sabre”.
“If you draw an analogy with moving into a new house, the ultimate vision for NDC is the perfect smart home where everything works and you have Alexa in every room. However, the airlines are pushing us to move into a half-built house. There is still a lot of work to be done. That’s why we are piloting solutions with our technology partners to make sure that when we do move into that house, we can give our customers an even better business travel experience. The last thing we want to create for ourselves and our customers is more inefficiencies when booking flights and managing data,” stated Eklund.
TMCs are looking at richer content, and at the same time intend to sustain efficient booking management and seamless fulfilment. Plus, they are trying to overcome possible NDC servicing gaps such as refunds and booking changes. As Sabre pointed out in its recently released NDC-related study, TMCs are going to benefit provided “future releases of NDC can solve for work processes such as interlines, schedule changes and PNR synchronization”.
Hear from senior industry executives about NDC at the upcoming Mega Event Asia-Pacific, to be held in Kuala Lumpur (20 – 22 August 2019).
Event site: www.MegaAPAC.com
18th June, 2019
Installment payments for travel allow travellers to book instantly but pay for their trips over time through fixed payments each month.
“Flexible payments (as an option) have started to evolve (in travel) in the last couple of years, stepping up the conversion rate and drive new revenue (for merchants),” says Chris Stacey, VP, Business Development, Uplift. For instance, targeting travellers with modest disposable income and low credit scores, and letting them pay via this payment option.
The fintech company recently indicated that it is on track to exceed its goal of facilitating payments for one million customers in 2019.
Stacey, who spoke to Ai during the recently held ATPS in Brighton, UK, shared that Uplift settles with no changes to existing flow. “No impact to payment processing or revenue accounting workflows,” he mentioned.
Some of the highlights:
The team also asserts that Uplift’s offering is not only mobile friendly, but it also purpose-built for travel, powered by AI-driven, point-of-sale lending and payments technology, which empowers travel brands to drive increased conversion rates, spend, and attachment of high-value ancillary sales.
Uplift does not market directly to consumers.
By Ritesh Gupta
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