Big Interview: Travelport’s Paul Broughton

Big Interview: Travelport’s Paul Broughton

This year Travolution, and its founding parent company Travel Weekly Group, will be marking the publication’s 10th anniversary with a series of partner profiles.

The first is Travelport and a Q&A with UK and Ireland managing director Paul Broughton

Q. What or who has been the biggest disruptive influence in travel over the last decade?

A. I believe smartphones and tablets have had a big disruptive influence and have shaped innovation in the travel industry today. The proliferation of this technology has meant that travel companies and travel suppliers have had to adapt the way they operate to meet changing consumer demand and the consumption of smartphone travel applications.

Q. What or who do you think will be the biggest disruptive influence in travel in the coming decade?

A. The mobile space continues to evolve at a rapid pace so I believe that companies which have the ability to combine social media, mobile and travel will reap the rewards. For example, WeChat, the Chinese mobile messaging service, has 450 million users. It features flight search, payments and even the ability to order room service from WeChat-enabled hotels, all from one integrated app. So travel companies’ mobile strategies need to evolve to reflect these changes.

Q. What today about the travel industry surprises you the most given the predictions made about what we should expect 10 years ago?

A. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more disruption in the corporate travel management space and I expected technology to have a bigger impact. In addition, I believe we all thought that wearable technologies would be more popular than they have turned out to be. Technology in both is on the rise but have progressed slower than I thought. I’m also slightly surprised that we haven’t had a replacement for Concorde yet.

Q. Do you think the pace of change will quicken in the coming decade compared to what we saw in the last 10 years, and what will influence the speed of change?

A. I think the pace of change will definitely quicken because a higher proportion of the workplace will be more technology-savvy than it was a decade ago. Additionally, as we move into a more cloud-based environment, some of the areas that held us back in the past, such as storage, have almost disappeared. There are also more people working in the fields of technology and mobile these days. This means that there is much more of a strategic focus around these areas and more investment is being put into them.

Q. How do you think travel rates against other areas of business and commerce in terms of how it has met the challenges of the digital era?

A. In certain areas I believe that travel is at the forefront – for example, the extent to which travel dominates the mobile applications space. However, I would also say that there are more opportunities out there for travel companies in general when it comes to mobile and social media but particularly in the corporate travel sector. One could also argue that the distribution sector has been slow to change. This is why Travelport has evolved in recent years from a traditional GDS into more of a ‘Travel Commerce Platform’, in order to respond the needs of its customers.

Q. Do you think travel is well placed to meet the challenges of the coming decade? If yes, what gives you that confidence? If no, why not?

A. We recently attended the Travel Technology Europe event and I found the debates and sessions encouraging. Coming away from the show, I felt that the travel industry is well placed to meet future technology demands and challenges. While we who work in the travel industry can and do achieve great things, we are undoubtedly impacted by things that are out of our control – from natural disasters and terrorism to economics and politics. So, all things considered, it shows how resilient this industry is and how flexible we are to react and adapt to these events. We bounce back stronger each time.

Q. What has been the most disappointing aspect of the travel industry over the past 10 years?

A. Coming from a corporate travel background, I have been disappointed that a large number of organisations view business travel spend as a cost and not an investment. This could also be part of the reason why the corporate travel sector hasn’t been as ‘disrupted’ as other sectors.

Q. And what has excited you most about the industry over the past 10 years?

A. I would have to say the evolution of the global distribution system, and the part that Travelport plays in this has been fascinating. I would go as far to say that it is more of a distribution revolution and that Travelport is leading the way by redefining itself as a Travel Commerce Platform and providing so much more than just distribution services. Also, clearly, we are continuing to see big growth in demand for air travel and, in addition, growth in a population which has more disposable income and time to travel. The world continues to shrink as a consequence, and our industry is at the forefront of that.

Q. Has the internet proved to be a broadly positive force for travel intermediaries or are the forces of disintermediation still at work?

A. The internet has created more opportunities which far outweigh the challenges and we have all been forced to change our approach as a result. Airlines want to maximise revenue and customers want more choice and value, so the airline industry has responded by unbundling products and we are now in the position to sell them more effectively. The internet has also enabled a number of disruptors, such as low-cost carriers, to enter the industry, which has increased demand and given customers more choice. These developments have also opened up a lot of opportunities in ground transportation and hospitality.

Q. If you were given £1 million to invest in a travel start-up today, what would you look for?

A. I would invest in a system which enables sophisticated voice recognition for mobile applications so that smartphone users can have a more intuitive response to instructions they give verbally.

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