Travolution Summit: Forget owning the customer in the sharing age, says Travelport boss

Travolution Summit: Forget owning the customer in the sharing age, says Travelport boss

The ability of firms to ‘own the customer’ in the age of the sharing economy is becoming increasingly difficult, the Travolution Summit was told yesterday.

Speaking on a panel marking the launch of Travel Weekly Group’s first European travel market report, Travelport managing director for northern Europe Simon Ferguson said travellers are demanding things to be increasingly seamless and easy.

Ferguson said many hotels and airlines still talk about ‘owning the customer’ today “in an environment where it’s increasingly difficult to do that”.

“The reality is it’s a very difficult concept to own the customer. In a sharing economy we are all owning less and getting used to renting. If travel took that approach it would be beneficial,” he said.

Ferguson said this means customers expect to be able to book a Ryanair flight on their favourite OTA, or add an Airbnb booking to their flight reservation.

“Companies are in this rather binary view that they must own the customer. Travellers get frustrated by this lack of interoperability between different travel experiences.

“We all know mobile is massive and we can see mobile itself has evolved so messaging has become more important. Look at WeChat in China. That is a good example of interoperability.

“We are already moving beyond the mobile to voice.”

Ferguson said a large OTA has developed a traveller profile prototype that works with Amazon’s Alexa personal digital assistant that listens and predicts its users’ needs.

“It can tell from Apple Watch that you are stressed, it knows from your calendar when it would be a good time to go away and it has access to your bank account and knows you have airmiles from BA.

“Based in that it recommends a time and location to travel to.”

“Mobile is the most convenient device invented to date but what the traveller wants is convenience and a seamless experience. Mobile may not be the most important interface going forward.”

Ferguson praised travel for making major strides from a technology perspective in the last decade but added the sector has become ever more complex meaning significant challenges remain.

He cited airline app like those developed by easyJet and Singapore Airlines and the functionality available on them like remote check-in payment and flight tracking.

But he said: “What’s getting more complex is the underlying pattern of travel. Business and leisure travellers want to explore new destinations and stay in different types of accommodation.

“Emerging markets are opening up. And look at the complexity of air product. Every day airlines are coming out with some new type of product like bagless fares.

“While we have made major developments from a technology perspective the underlying pattern of travel is more complex.

“Travel will double in the next 20 years but still only one in 20 people in the world have ever been on a plane.”

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