Gallery: Travolution Digital Masters Dinner
At World Travel Market’s Travel Forward technology show earlier this month several hundred suppliers set their stalls out hoping to attract clients.
All the stands promoting the systems, services and products on offer loudly proclaimed the advantages of opting to go with this supplier over another.
But what none of the stands explicitly stated was that the most valuable commodity they were actually selling was trust.
On the Tuesday evening of WTM, Wex, whose stand was located in prime spot at the entrance to Travel Forward, supported Travolution’s latest Digital Masters Dinner.
This was a chance to get a senior group of travel chiefs together representing a diverse range of firms and hundreds of billions of pounds of annual transactions for a meeting of minds.
The role of trust
While focusing on some of the finer details of the payments sector, the roundtable began and ended with a discussion on the role that trust plays in this sector.
As was pointed out, all third-party tech vendors make fantastic claims about the benefits of their technology, usually pointing out that it basically pays for itself once up and running.
But this is often where the problems start.
It was clear from the discussion that integration, adoption and implementation are the vital factors in determining whether a new technology partnership delivers on its promise.
And this can come down to whether the two parties understand each other’s companies and have set and agreed expectations in terms of outcome and timescales.
In the payments technology sector this is particularly important because, as one of the guests pointed out, it is expected that this stuff “should just work”.
Firms want to be able to offer their B2C and B2B clients their preferred way to pay and be paid and it should happen efficiently and automatically.
Entrepreneurs and industry bosses didn’t enter the travel industry to focus on the niceties of how their payments systems operate or whether they’re using the right supplier.
For that reason many of the executives at the dinner agreed that this is an area that often goes under the radar because, although business critical, can be considered “dull”.
Indeed, it was said that travel firms can been “insanely” obsessed with consumer-facing innovations while behind the scenes armies of accountants battle to make sense of it all.
However, as firms grow, change or add business models and maybe also internationalise, they can suddenly find that while revenues have grown so too have inefficiencies.
As one guest said: “No one wants to be a busy fool.”
This is why travel firms are looking to work with experts who they can trust to take on that complexity for them and provide a simple and streamlined solution.
Our dinner guests agreed this is particularly true for payments as the world of consumer payment interfaces becomes increasingly frictionless, cashless and diverse.
To illustrate this, a hotel company at the dinner said it was now having to offer WePay and Alipay in its properties to cater for a growing inbound Chinese guests.
There is also the growing proliferation in travel of ‘buy now pay pater’ credit providers looking to boost conversion rates by allowing clients to finance their holidays.
Questions were raised over whether the travel sector should be encouraging people to get into debt when buying a product that should be relaxing and stress-free.
But many of the brands said they were looking at this option, and some were already offering it in other markets, so it’s yet another challenge as consumers start to expect it.
Currently, mobile conversions significantly lag desk top in travel, particularly for more complex and costly multi-component holidays.
But it was pointed out that one of the reasons for this was the clunky nature of mobile payments, something which wallet providers like Apple and Paypal are addressing.
And cyber-fraud is an ever-present and growing threat wherever transactions are being managed and sensitive and valuable customer data is being transmitted.
Which brings us back to why trust and industry expertise are such a valuable part of any technology partnership, even if they’re never stipulated in any Service Level Agreements.
There is an increasing expectation today that technology should work when bought in to a company which is why many suppliers are creating ‘off the shelf’ plug and play products.
Travel firms with existing tech stacks face competition from non-travel disruptors unencumbered with legacy, so need to find every advantage they can.
As one founder of a specialist OTA said, you are taught at business school to look for that 10% gain in every area of your business to optimise the overall impact on your bottom line.
Back office and payments may not get the profile they deserve but the proliferation of solutions providers suggests it is something the sector acknowledges needs addressing.
Choosing which one to work with is another question, but just like consumers only buy from the brands they trust, those vendors who can sell themselves as much as their tech will win.
Gallery: Travolution Digital Masters Dinner