When a traveler books a trip, they think they book one end-to-end experience. But what is often revealed when their plans are disrupted is that for each segment of the travel industry they touch, from airlines, to car rentals, to lodging, that customer exists in a supplier silo.
This often causes a customer service scramble for travel agents, suppliers and consumers during events like the major hurricane season or terrorist events the industry endured in 2017.
But, during the opening session of Sabre’s annual client conference, Sabre STC, President and CEO Sean Menke described a scene in the not-too-distant future when a traveler, facing flight cancellations on a routine trip from New York to Dallas, will feel different.
For example, Menke said, instead of the client having to call their airline to be re-accommodated, a push notification will go out to the traveler’s smartphone based on their profile. Once they accept a new flight, say early the next day, their hotel will be contacted to reflect that new check-in date and time.
“Think about how technology can push that to the ground transportation next, and update the car service provider. Since the hotel knows you have changes in your plans, they may give you the opportunity to do early check-in.”
“There is enormous potential for our technology platform to enable all of these fragmented pieces to come together,” said Menke. The concept of collecting a traveler’s entire itinerary under a super PNR, linked through a booking platform like the Sabre GDS, was a key reason why Sabre combined all three of its client conferences for the first time this year.
Hosted at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, representatives from travel agencies, airlines, and lodging all met under one roof to view some of the latest tools Sabre will be delivering to the market later this year, and to encourage suppliers, agents and others to see a collective future dependent on more collaboration.
Processing 20 billion shopping queries each month, and $120 billion a year in global travel spend, Sabre said it is asking the entire travel industry to “reimagine” how suppliers offer pricing and inventory to consumers on the front-end, and to better integrate reservations and client information in the mid- and back-office, so that servicing is virtually seamless. This also will enable smart, entrepreneurial software companies to introduce new travel solutions quickly and easily to benefit the entire ecosystem.
The technology exists
“On the technical side, we’re ready to do this,” said Sabre CIO Joe Difonzo, describing during a press briefing the company’s recent efforts to transform both its internal cultural and its technology infrastructure.
Like many other senior Sabre executives, Difonzo is relatively new to the travel industry, joining Sabre from telecommunications less than a year ago. Airline industry veteran Menke became president in late 2016, joining the company in 2015.
Another new senior executive is CTO Vish Saoji, who joined Sabre from the healthcare industry last August. Difonzo and Saoji bring a fresh perspective to an industry that has operated on legacy computer platforms that have prevented the kinds of rapid consumer advances that other industries have experienced.
“Right now, booking an airline ticket, a hotel, a car, all of these are different transactions. If we can create an umbrella transaction, then all of these activities are linked with each other,” Saoji told the media during the briefing.
Another benefit, Saoji said, is that by linking all of the separate aspects of a trip, the industry will be better able to link that data to better understand the customer, so that in the event of something like a major travel disruption, computers, aided by artificial intelligence, can reach that nirvana Menke described on stage – automatically offering travelers options they are inclined to accept.
“Our vision is to make that PNR something like a live itinerary. We have this notion that this thing is alive through the whole travel experience. Understanding the traveler’s preferences. Interacting with the traveler,” said Difonzo.
This way, Difonzo said, “everything that happens during a trip can get remembered and reused the next time the customer is traveling, to drive specific recommendations.”
Era of personalized offers is near
Referring to the 20 billion shopping queries made on the system every month, Saoji described how through machine learning and AI, Sabre is better distinguishing who those queries are made by and developing a predictive analysis capability the company can use to help the industry forecast future travel needs and assist industry partners in making dynamic personalized offers to specific travelers.
Saoji said a “dynamic offers” Sabre product will go into production later this year.
“Personalization requires data,” said Wade Jones, president of the Sabre Travel Network, and a relative veteran in Sabre’s senior ranks, joining in 2015. On stage later in the day, Jones reminded the audience how approximately 35 percent of Amazon’s revenue comes through its recommendation engine. He also noted that through proprietary research, 50 percent of travelers say recommendations influence their trip purchases.
“There is so much value to be unlocked and it’s going to take great collaboration from everyone in this room,” he told a ballroom filled with representatives across the entire distribution and supplier network.
Cloud-based platform will be less costly
Finally, by making its technology platform more accessible on the cloud, Difonzo expects more entrepreneurial companies will find ways to deliver value to travel agents, travelers, and suppliers, because the cost and complexity of developing applications will drop considerably. Even travel agents with small budgets, but enterprising software resources, could find it feasible to develop proprietary services to create a competitive advantage.
“You’ll just need a laptop and a browser,” Saoji said.