Lee Hayhurst speaks to chief executive of Swedish start-up Traveknowledgy about the importance of automation for travel agents operating in a competitive sector in which profits are often hard to come by
Technology that optimises of back office processes in travel may not often enjoy the limelight, but in a sector where every penny counts it could be vital.
That’s the message Swedish start-up Traveknowledgy has been preaching for the last couple of years having built its own technology that automates the issuing and manging of tickets.
The firm has secured some significant clients in its native Scandinavia and in other European markets like Italy and now has its eye on the UK having integrated with Travelport’s dominant Galileo GDS.
Chief executive Maxim Sevastianov, chief executive of Sweden-based, said: “OTAs are extremely exposed to metasearch and it’s an extremely low margin sector, often it’s negative margin.
“So they have to turn it into a positive. Our technology helps them to earn additional money. We automate all of the processes and help to reduce costs through automation.”
As well as cost-savings through automation, Traveknowledgy enables OTAs and Travel Management Companies to make money by continuing to shop for lower fares after the ticket has been sold.
It takes advantage of airline rules that mean customers can be sent confirmation of the purchase of their ticket but it does not have to be issued straight away.
Time limits vary according to airline, but Sevastianov estimates that fare optimisation post-sale is possible on around 60% to 70% of tickets.
Of this, on average, 10% will result in a lower fare being found between confirmation and the ticket being issued.
“It does not matter how the ticket has been sold; whether it’s online, via a portal or by hand, as long as we have a booking we can work with it.
“The agency has access to build their own processes. It’s like drag-and-drop, like Lego for adults. The average saving as about £70 per booking. They can do the maths.”
Sevastianov said the Traveknowledgy automation technology continues to work with each booking after each ticket is issued to streamline further processes like customer notifications and changes.
“You can grow volumes without growing costs and there is less risk of human error, plus we work with all GDSs.
“One of the advantages of the system is that it’s very intuitive. An agent can manage the processes on their own as long as they know the process, it’s not technically advanced.
“It runs in parallel with the selling system. We do not touch the selling process or booking engine, or the mid-office or back office. We do not interfere with existing processes.”
Sevastianov the only adaption to existing processes for confirming tickets firms have to make is when they opt to do fare optimisation, otherwise everything happens in the background.
He said some companies keep the savings if a cheaper fare is found, but some pass it on to the customer, often in the form of a saving on a future booking to try to retain the customer.
The individual GDSs all have similar technology available to their agency clients, but Sevastianov said it is not their core business and Traveknowledgy works across all the main GDSs.
“Pretty much every process in the GDS after the booking is created can be automated. As long as we can understand the logic we can replicate it and automate it.
“I have been a travel agent. I have done this myself. I’m not just a technical guy who knows the technology. That’s how I got into this.”
Traveknowledgy has been in existence for around seven years, but only been actively servicing clients for two of those having built the technology with a partner.
Another service is offers is to identify unused airline bookings, either full or part of itineraries, so that the taxes and airport fees can be reclaimed by the agent on any unused coupons.
Traveknowledgy operates a revenue share model for ticket fare optimisation and for its process automation services levies a per-transaction fee based on volumes.
Much of its new business comes from recommendations from the GDSs, Sevastianov said. “They would rather offer their agents a better solution because their interest is in earnings per segment.”
So how do the airlines view what Traveknowledgy does? “It’s in airline’s interests to sell as many seats as possible.
“What airlines don’t like is churning, when agents rebook tickets to extend the time limit. This is not that, it’s looking for a lower reservation class. We do not go against the rules set up by the airlines.”
Traveknowledgy will be exhibiting at Travel Technology Europe this month (February 20-21) as it looks to target the UK market. Two years ago it was in the show’s launchpad section for start-ups.
“The UK market is a large market,” said Sevastianov. “The online penetration is very high and there are a lot of online agencies dealing with the same difficulties as any others in Europe.
“The market is very much meta-driven so margins are zero, if not negative. We are not unique but I think we have been able to figure out how to gain from every opportunity.
“We are turning processes into profit. We have creative customers and they come to us with really interesting requirements. So we can to think about the processes, think outside the box.
“Sometimes you are not aware of the opportunities. We see everything that’s happening in the business and from different companies, so in fact we are a consultancy as well.”
Traveknowledgy will be exhibiting at TTE on February 20-21 and will be at stand T404.