Executive Interview: Jean Charles Odele-Gruau, IATA

Our chat with Jean Charles Odele-Gruau, Regional Director of the Americas, IATA

From A Traveller’s Lens

There is still a big disconnect between the efforts of the airlines and those of airports, says IATA’s Jean Charles Odele-Gauru

An estimated 3.3 billion airline passengers took to the skies last year, according to figures shared by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

As highlighted by Airline Information in its recently released report, Flying Forward: What the Future Holds for Airlines and the Travel Industry, last year proved to be a significant one from technology perspective. For instance, the year saw flight attendants and airport lounge staff testing wearables technology to personalize passenger experiences. But even as there is talk of mobile platforms locating and connecting directly with mobile-empowered passengers inside the airport, even simple pieces of a journey need to be addressed. On the positive side, airlines are looking at refining their mobile apps, offering timely guidance, directions and updates to passengers travelling from a particular airport.

Let’s hear out what Jean Charles Odele-Gauru, Regional Director FDS, The Americas – involved in NDC and in charge of BSP for the Americas, IATA, has to say in this context.

Ai: What drives you to excel?

One needs to have a defining attitude. You need to love what you are doing and come to work with your heart every day. This inspires your team to do the same and eventually leads to success. It feels like success from a personal standpoint in terms of self-fulfillment, and success from a corporate perspective as it leads to higher achievements and results. 

I still believe in the magic of flying. I love the travel experience itself, from the time I arrive at the airport of origin till I leave my airport of destination. We complain when our flight is delayed 30 minutes or when the Wi-Fi on board is too slow…but we are sitting right there, in the sky, crossing thousands of miles in a few hours. Isn’t that magic? Then I love to see how the people at airlines and airports can make a difference. Everyone with whom you interact has an opportunity to turn your journey into something that creates a great memory! 

Ai: What would you like to see improving as far as operations of airlines in general is concerned?

There is still a big disconnect between the efforts of the airlines and those of the airports. While both strive to please their common customer, more partnership between airlines and airports would bring even greater benefits to the travelers. 

Ai: Do you often catch up with what technology or devices have to offer to travelers, and accordingly delight yourself as a traveler?

There is no “one size fits all”. Not all technologies and devices adapt or meet every traveler’s needs. In general, I welcome all sorts of mobile technology, and moreover when they are easy to use. 

Ai: How do you use your own experiences to enhance your own mandate in this sector?

Being a frequent traveler, I often witness anecdotes that help me when I work with the airlines. Experiences at check-in, at the boarding gate or during the flight are many examples I can provide to airlines and airports on how to improve their approach to the customer. 

On a couple of occasions, I have been in a situation where my flight was delayed and the gate agents were not providing any kind of information. This was causing high frustration but it seems the gate agents just had not been trained on how to handle this kind of incidents. Coming from IATA, the gate agent was open to recommendations on how to address to the passengers and provide regular updates even though those update were sometimes just to say “we know you are waiting and eager to catch this plane but we are still working on resolving the issue”.

Ai: Can you share an instance where you have succeeded in implementing a project or helped in refining a service/ product?

I remember when working on the project called Simplifying the Business (StB). One of the StB project was called CUSS - the check-in kiosks that we now see everywhere. While IATA’s role was to support airlines in the implementation of check-in kiosks, this was only one part of the story: one day, I had to use the kiosk and realized how complex their application was. It made me realize that the project was not only about convincing the airlines to use kiosks as an alternative check-in channel and get them to share kiosks among themselves to achieve economies of scale.  Ultimately, CUSS could only be successful if the application running on the kiosks was user-friendly. I was then able to go back to the airline and make some suggestions on how to re-design the application for better market adoption. It was a success.

In the beginning of kiosks check-in, I could spot some very complex user interfaces that actually frustrated the traveler, having to spend some time at the kiosk, to end-up having to queue at the check-in counter anyway. I also remember seeing some open doors at some airports that looked like breaches of safety. I could then escalate them to the airport director. The staff does not always see these things and regular travelers don’t pay attention. 

Ai: What do you make of the whole conversation around personalization? Where do you see it in airline distribution especially indirect distribution from year on?

I am a big advocate of personalization. Before technology, a face to face interaction always enables a personal service. With technology, we lost that touch in many cases. For example, today, when you book an airline ticket through a travel agent, the travel agents has very limited access to tools in order to personalize your trip….it is mostly based on price, schedule and in which class you want to travel. NDC will bring the ability to pick your meal, add a VIP lounge access, maybe a special “bubble treat” on board, etc. Airlines will be able to make offers that will empower the traveler to customize his/ her travel experience. 

Ai: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?

Loyalty. Although most carriers have a loyalty program, it has been demonstrated that most travelers are not really loyal to any airline brand. There is a lot to work in this area until we see the same sort of loyalty in the airline industry as we see in other consumer brands. 

Ai: What according to you is the next big thing in air travel?

NDC is the next big thing. Not NDC as a standard of course, but what that standard will open the door to. But NDC will allow airlines to retail their products in a consistent way across all distribution channels. It will bring comparison shopping, personalization and innovation. The passenger will be able to visualize what he/ she is buying in advance and customize the travel experience. It will enable to enhance the passenger journey in ways that we have not yet explored.

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Executive Interview: Roy Scheerder, Transavia


Our chat with Roy Scheerder, Commercial Director, transavia.com

From A Traveller’s Lens

Personalization is so much more than just recuperating an abandoned shopping cart; it will require a lot of perseverance, leadership and investments, says Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Roy Scheerder, Commercial Director, Transavia

Recognizing passengers when they get in touch with airlines via any device, any channel, and aiding them with relevant messages and offers as per the phase of their journey is something the industry is diligently pursuing.

Is the requisite technology in place to achieve the desired level of personalization?

Roy Scheerder, Commercial Director, Transavia talks about what is being currenlty achieved and what is complex, and CAPEX intensive when it comes to personalization. Excerpts from interview with Airline Information’s Ritesh Gupta: 

Ai: What drives you to excel?

The Icelandic ash cloud eruptions of 2010 really showed the industries weaknesses in terms of its ability of service recovery and customer service. Despite all best intentions of airline staff to manage the hideous situation, airlines were unable to track their passengers, communicate with them and offer alternative solutions. These learnings drive me to excel in passenger experience, both in the daily happy flow as during disruptive incidents.

Ai: As a traveler, what excites you most about air travel today?

Travelling is increasingly the new standard for mass mobility. The rise in point-to-point connectivity, combined with the increased accessibility in terms of fares and self-service, really impacts the way we live as people globally. The world is our village, and today’s air travel enables new social interactions, cultures, business models and strong economic growth.

Ai: And what would you like to see improving as far as operations of airlines in general is concerned?

Traditionally and remarkably, airline operations tend to be internally focused, or at best focused at the ecosystem of direct stakeholders, such as handlers, airports, ATC. However, our consumers, the passengers, are kept at distance from relevant information and engagement. On the other hand, the digital and social revolution have powered our consumers to be far more informed than many of the internal stakeholders, which drives frustration about the airlines and airports incompetences to involve and inform them much better. As a typical example: passengers standing at a gate are fully aware of the actual arrival time of the incoming aircraft, and its delay, while the formal gate information still communicates no delay.

Ai: Do you often catch up with what technology or devices have to offer to travelers, and accordingly delight yourself as a traveler?

For me, the technology revolution is fully centered about the features of mobile. It’s personal, it’s relevant and always works. It gives me the location based services, it gives me the entertainment and it gives me the ability to be productive in a business context. Combined with Wi-Fi on board, such as with Delta Airlines, it allows me to continue my routines in the air.

Ai: How do you use your own experiences to enhance your own mandate in this sector?

As a marketer, I try to avoid personal experiences and attitudes in my business reflections. In many cases, the target audience of Transavia does not match my personal preferences. However, I am a strong believer in the power of technology and digital. I push this believe into all what we pursue in product and service developments.

Ai: Can you cite examples of some of your inspirations/ experiences as a traveler and how you incorporated the same in your work?

Looking at how my children consume media while travelling, i.e. irrespective of the richness of the provided in-flight entertainment on board they prefer to use their own tablet, this drove me to push the new entertainment concept for Transavia. People can use their own device, select content upfront and entertain themselves when and how they like.

My excellent experiences with the Delta Airlines app, drives me to develop passbook boarding card integration and to work on location based services towards, around and at the airport.

Ai: What do you make of the whole conversation around personalization? Where do you see it in digital experiences offered from year on?

Personalization is a very powerful concept and, finally, the technology is getting into place to really start implementing the first bits and pieces. However, looking at the massive amount of work still to be done in the digital space, it will take another five years to develop personalization as a key value driver. Then again, personalization has many different angles and maturity levels. Pricing seems to a relatively simple dimension to start with, as many predictive analytical tools become available, without impacting the operational, legal and administrative compliance. Contextualizing user experiences is already taking place based on device recognition, i.e. responsive design, but using location, social and previous purchase behavior for manipulating sequencing of offers, content provisioning and service differentiation is really complex and CAPEX intensive. Personalization is so much more than just recuperating an abandoned shopping cart; it will require a lot of perseverance, leadership and investments.

Ai: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?

Loyalty by means of loyalty incentive schemes. Consumers tend to be less and less impacted by current loyalty schemes; the typical value of miles is eroding, while the increased competition on routes amplifies the relevance of price in the purchase evaluation. Loyalty systems can not cope with the price differences, resulting into internal price pressure, leading to loss of affordability of miles accrual, leading to loss of effectiveness of the overall program. Hence, a negative spiral. Airlines should pay more attention to the power of loyalty by means of excellent customer experience.

Ai: What according to you is the next big thing in air travel?

Digitalizing the full travel journey, eliminating the seams between commerce and operations, between on the ground and on board, between airlines and airports, between passengers and employees. Relevant, personal, always on.

Ai:  What do you make of all the talk about airlines being helped with setting up of unique customer and recognizing every passenger throughout their trip planning and booking?

The concept of unique 360-degree customer profiles fits into the overall personalization strategy, in which the customer profiles is one of the data dimensions (next to location, device, time, etc), that will drive customers insights. I believe most likely that this data will be used for commercial optimization purposes, such as pricing and acquisition costs, rather than improving the customer experience.

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Executive Interview: Duane Tough, Payabillity

Our chat with Duane Tough, President, Payability & keynote speaker at the Co-Brand Partnerships Conference held in Chicago on 26 & 27 May 2015.

From A Traveller’s Lens

Aggregation of points/rewards” is the most over-rated concept in the travel sector, believes Duane Tough, President – Payabillity

Nothing like experiencing a product yourself that you are responsible for and then improvising upon the same to enhance its utility.

As an inventor of patents pending in payment acceptance, loyalty, localization and currency management systems, Toronto, Canada-based Duane Tough, President – Payabillity believes there are lots of areas where the overall journey of a traveller can be improved. As for payments, Tough tries to use as many options as possible to come to grips with emerging trends.

Let’s hear out what Tough has to say about the world of payments, loyalty, and his journey as a traveller. Excerpts from interview with Airline Information: 

AI: When you reflect upon your career in the world of payments, what would you term as the defining moment?

I can’t say ‘one’ moment was defining – I think that the whole payments lifecycle of ‘never being boring’ and always being able to learn more is the motivator for me. I try and use as many as payment methods as possible. It really depends on the jurisdiction – cash, open network cards, closed network cards… I was in Las Vegas recently and purposely spent the whole day paying for everything with casino chips!

In Canada they have several wireless and NFC networks that compete for a relatively small market- Interac (a national debit network) Visa, MC, and all pale to what Starbucks does on its network in Canada - adding more seems overkill to the consumer in markets like Canada.

AI: As a traveller, what excites you most about completing a transaction in air travel today?

Many air travel payment items excite me, the progress of onboard payments, the pre-pay and ‘layaway’ plans for ticket purchasing, corporate travel management, flight expense reporting along with personal and corporate reward reconciliations into reporting.

AI: What would you like to see improving as far as operations of the airlines in general is concerned?

Airlines are very good at communicating what ‘they do’ to the traveller, if they enhanced the offerings of communication to ‘time to pass through security’, ‘real time taxi waits’ and more along the lines of what the ‘person’ does in the whole lifecycle of their travel- not just what the person does with the airline – it would be better.

AI: Technology and devices have a lot to offer to travellers, and accordingly delight them. How easy or challenging is it for even a tech-savvy traveller to embrace new forms of payments?

I think the tech involved with airlines is greatly assisted by the “fintech” industry as a whole educating the consumers that in turn understand more of what the airlines offer in technology and payments.

AI: How should airlines gear up for payments strategy today in an omni-channel payment environment?  

Anything you can buy online, over the phone or at the counter you should be able to do anywhere with any device with multiple payment methods, I should not be told at the boarding gate that they can’t take my cash to upgrade or that points (as a currency now) need to be done online – I have been rejected many times in different ways with almost every airline.

AI: Can you cite examples of some of your inspiration/ experiences as a traveller and how you incorporated the same in your work?

Staff - I have seen the staff of many airlines go above and beyond in making the experience much more enjoyable. As a mostly business traveller I dread a lot of flights- when I hear the humour or the attention of that one staff member before during or after a flight I forget about the dread and enjoy more of the experience.

AI: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?

Aggregation of points/ rewards – no one understands code share points and redemption transfers and expiries- all those offers are just confusing to most people and end up being a ‘whatever’ moment that does not contribute to the decision of where, when and who to travel with.

AI: What according to you is the next big thing in payments as well as air travel?

These would be:

  • Open source flight integrations for past, present and future flights (wish lists, reminders, reward levels to next free flight) on a technology basis so that many sites can contribute to the overall airline experience. Imagine logging into your bank account, your cell phone or cable account and getting all the travel management data and tools so that you know if you use your rewards credit cards for xxx more dollars you can take your kids to Disneyland with a free flight or hotel etc.
  • In-flight and terminal real time translation – its close with some smart phone apps, but with NFC- how about when I approach a sign my phone has it in English (or whatever native language) for me – I can ‘tune’ my phone/ tablet etc to hear the in-flight messages in any language or in txt for the hearing impaired or even brail.
  • Anywhere billing- bill my flight to any account – cash, debit, credit, cable, phone bill and more.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtough

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/duanetough

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Executive Interview: Jeff Klee, CheapAir.com and AmTrav

Our chat with Jeff Klee, CEO at CheapAir.com and AmTrav

From A Traveller’s Lens

“It is an outrage that in 2015 it still costs 3% to process a payment, points out Klee, who is all set to complete three decades in the travel industry.

To its credit, CheapAir became the world’s first online travel agency to accept Bitcoin for flights in late 2013.

Klee believes that Bitcoin, and more specifically the technology behind it, is the biggest thing to happen to payments since the credit card.

Klee spoke to Ai Correspondent Ritesh Gupta about the status of air travel, “crazy fee structure” pertaining to the way payments are handled, why he has a problem with code share flights and lot more.

Ai: What do you make of air travel at this juncture?

Sometimes I feel like the only one alive who thinks air travel is actually easier today than in the pre-9/ 11 days. If you talk to many travelers both frequent and infrequent you still hear flying portrayed as a tortuous experience.

It kind of reminds me of that great bit by Louis C.K. popular on YouTube, where he talks about air travel and technology and how “Everything is amazing but nobody is happy.”

To be fair, not everything is amazing and there is understandable resentment from travelers who have to pay for things like bags and seats that used to be free.

But I still think there is a lot to be excited about with respect to how far air travel has come and where it’s headed, particularly when it comes to technology. Things like mobile check-in, so you don’t have to carry any papers around; instant text alerts so you know right away if your flight is delayed; streaming movies or Live TV which make air travel much less monotonous; and WiFi that is now almost ubiquitous.  All of these things were rare or non-existent 5 years ago and now we take them for granted.

As a seller of air travel, I love that airlines are finally taking real steps—and spending real money—to differentiate their product. More so than at any other time since I’ve been in this industry, there is a real difference between the product that is offered by say, Delta, versus jetBlue, versus Southwest, versus Spirit.

For the right situation, each of these may offer a compelling value proposition and it makes our job much more challenging (and interesting) to try to match the right the traveler with the right product.

Ai: So where can airlines improve upon their operations in general?

I think airlines have largely done a good job making the typical flying experience easier and more enjoyable. But when things go wrong, they still tend to go really wrong, and the carriers don’t do a good enough job handling irregular operations.

When flights get canceled due to a storm or other emergency, it’s still the case way too often that a traveler can’t fix the problem himself or herself by going online or to an app. Way too often, it is still necessary to call and hold times during these periods can be maddening. Why can’t an app be empowered to make the same changes, using the same guidelines, as the agent who answers the phone after 90 minutes? I think they’re all working to get there and there’s been more progress than ever in the last year, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Ai: What would you rate as the biggest breakthrough within in the gamut of payments in the travel sector and why?

It may not be obvious yet but I think Bitcoin, and more specifically the technology behind it, is the biggest thing to happen to payments since the credit card.

It is an outrage that in 2015 it still costs 3% to process a payment. That fee is a relic from a time when credit cards had to be hand swiped and payments manually processed. The big banks have gotten away with maintaining this crazy fee structure for multiple reasons, most importantly that there hasn’t been any other viable alternative. The concept of decentralized, peer-to-peer payment processing without a big central bank in the middle taking a cut holds enormous promise. Bitcoin as a currency may or may not reach the potential it’s supporters hope for, but the technology behind bitcoin can still be used to one day process payment in any currency, and disrupt an industry that desperately needs some disruption.

Ai: How do you think alternative payment methods are improving the passenger experience?

There are few things I find more frustrating than trying to make a purchase on a mobile phone and having to type my credit card, expiration date, security code, name, and address in order to submit my purchase. That’s why I love the convenience of being able to make a Bitcoin purchase with just one click or tap, without having to provide any of that personal information. To be fair, there are other technologies that also facilitate one click payments like Apple Pay, PayPal, and Google Wallet. I expect we will soon reach a point where consumers won’t accept any payment method that can’t be transacted with securely with just one or two clicks. If indeed we are one day buying airline tickets from our watches, we better not have to type answers to a bunch of questions about where we live.

Ai: What according to you is the over-rated concept/ theme in the travel sector?

I have a big problem with code share flights. Airlines are going to such great lengths to convince the world that they are not a commodity and that their product is different – and they are finally succeeding in that respect. But at the same time they are willing and eager to slap their code on 5 or 6 completely different airlines, with completely different products, and brand those seats as their own. What makes codesharing even worse is that very few of these marketing partnerships come with any kind of sophisticated P.S.S. system integration. As a result, check-in, seat assignments, ticket changes, or IROP recovery are rarely as seamless as a traveler would expect. Codeshares may be great financially for airlines, but they often create headaches for their customers.

On a totally different subject, one of my least favorite buzz words that I keep hearing is “Mobile First”. Every day another company is announcing that they are redesigning their web site to be “Mobile First”. I think it’s great to optimize your mobile experience, but if this means you are going to strip down your desktop and tablet sites to mirror what you did for mobile, you are doing your users on those platforms a disservice. A phone, a tablet, and a computer are three different devices. Consumers today rightly expect different experiences on different devices, designed specifically for the advantages of each platform. I know that’s easier said than done and, as part of a big site refresh we are working on, we’re working hard to get it right ourselves.

Ai: What according to you is the next big thing in air travel?

I remember when I was a kid hearing an “expert” talk about the impending “atmospheric planes” that within a decade would dramatically increase the speed of air travel. By launching you up into the atmosphere and then bringing you down at your destination, these space planes were going to be able to fly from Tokyo to Los Angeles in just a couple of hours, opening up fantastic possibilities like a “Guaranteed Yesterday Delivery” from FedEx or a guy saying to his wife “I better get to the airport; I have a dinner yesterday night in Hollywood.” I’m still waiting for that plane but am resigned to the fact that the next big thing might not be as grand.

Still, there are no doubt brilliant people out there working on ideas that I couldn’t possibly conceive of, but which years from now will seem obvious in hindsight.  Although I’d put myself in the hardly qualified category to predict the next “big thing”, I do see some areas where the ball will probably be moved forward in the next 12-24 months.

I think there are potentially very big things that can happen in the corporate travel space. I expect a progressive travel management company or two to come along and really shake up a value proposition that hasn’t changed much in a couple of decades.

There are a few very intriguing attempts going on right now to “Uberize” private jet travel, which I think could really have a big impact, albeit only for the very top end of the market.

Some of the recent rulings regarding payment steering could open the door for someone to take a really bold step with respect to payments.

And, of course, Cuba will continue to be a big topic of interest.

LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffklee

Twitter handle: @CheapAir

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