Lee Hayhurst spoke to Amadeus’s innovation evangelist Julia Barry about the tech giant’s approach to working with start-ups and external experts to bring Netflix-level customer service and personalisation to travel.
Travel start-ups that have the expertise to develop a Netflix experience for travel are being placed at the heart of innovation strategy at one of Europe’s biggest investors in technology R&D.
Amadeus, the Global Distribution System turned technology giant, says its approach to innovation starts with the end consumer, the traveller, and what they are expecting from their travels.
Julia Barry, who is leading Amadeus’s approach in her role as innovation portfolio evangelist, said its approach is a mix of in-house development and external collaboration with expert start-ups.
She said: “Innovation, for us, is really about doing things differently at scale and in a way that generates value in the short-term and long-term for our customers, but also for travellers.
“In terms of the way we manage innovation, we really put travellers at the heart of everything we do.”
Amadeus has been identified by the European Commission as the continent’s top investor in technology R&D in travel with around €220 million spent in this area every quarter.
Barry said Amadeus has identified three key areas it believes are ripe for taking an innovative approach to transforming the customer experience of travel.
The first is empowering the traveller, giving greater autonomy to manage travel arrangements and transparency over offers including what is and what is not included in the price quoted.
The second relates to day-to-day travel, helping travel firms tap into the half of travel budgets that are spent on products linked to the original travel arrangements.
This requires opening up access to a wider range of inventory, particularly in-destination product like concert and events tickets, restaurant bookings, activities and ground transport arrangements.
But it also brings in personalisation and is seeing Amadeus looking at how artificial intelligence and machine learning can help OTAs and other agents understand their customers’ requirements better.
Among the start-ups Amadeus is working with is one called MyLittleAdventure, a B2B and B2C in-destination inspiration engine and booking platform currently aggregating content from 40 different suppliers.
The third area of focus is developing technology to take the friction out of the travel experience.
This is where the Netflix analogy is most apt, because it is brands like the video streaming service that is setting standards in terms of ease of use and customer experience in the digital age.
It is also the area in which travel is most challenged because of the number of players and regulations that have to be brought into line to provide a truly frictionless travel experience.
Barry said Amadeus is working in digital traveller identity backed by blockchain technology with a start-up called Civic that has developed a variety of live identity verification tools.
Amadeus is also working on innovations in one-click payments, biometrics and facial recognition.
Barry pointed to a project it partnered with Lufthansa last year which saw a full A380 superjumbo loaded in Los Angeles in less than 20 minutes using new self-boarding gates and facial recognition.
“Our goal is to look at large disruptive projects that are transversal and how we can incubate those internally. We have innovation specialists able to manage and structure innovation,” said Barry.
“How can we have no stress travel? How can we remove the friction and the pain points, especially during travel?
“Consumers today are using Netflix and Google and are getting a high level of experience, and no stress. Travellers are also digital consumers, this is the reality.
“They have this experience in their private lives and they expect it in travel, whether it’s leisure or business travel.
“So, how can we offer solutions to remove friction and transform travel so it’s a seamless and enjoyable experience? How can we generate value to make our customers happy?”
Barry said Amadeus will work with external experts and start-ups where it makes sense for it to do so, for instance if they can offer a faster route to market or skills it does not have in-house.
And the firm has developed three ways in which it works with start-ups: Amadeus Ventures, a strategic investment programme; Amadeus Explore, a partnership for firms not looking for investment but needing to scale, and Amadeus for Developers, its open API platform.
One start-up Amadeus has taken a minority stake in as part of the Venture programme is Avuxi which offers a worldwide location rating system that aims to rate the popularity of every place on earth.
“Sometimes we have start-ups come in and complement what we are already doing, sometimes they bring in a totally different offering, sometimes it’s faster way for us to offer a solution to our customers instead of starting from scratch in-house.
“We look at it in terms of how we can leverage our internal capabilities, incubating projects, managing innovation and how we work with start-ups and other companies to collaborate externally”.