Interview: Diane Bouzebiba on the changing face of travel

Interview: Diane Bouzebiba on the changing face of travel

New UK Amadeus boss Diane Bouzebiba has vowed to make the most of Europe’s leading GDS’s new regional approach to drive technological innovation and speed to market.

Amadeus announced the appointment of Bouzebiba last month. She will succeed Tim Russell as managing director in January, moving from the firm’s base in Nice where she has led its rail division for three years.

Although Amadeus is the largest GDS in Europe, in the UK, Travelport continues to reign as market leader.

As well as competing for traditional GDS business, the three leading players, that also include Sabre, are looking to differentiate themselves on the basis of technological innovation and deployment. This is where Bouzebiba hopes Amadeus can demonstrate it has the edge having recently increased its standing on the EU Industrial Research and Development Investment Scoreboard.

“Certainly, Amadeus differentiates itself from its competitors by really promoting the traditional GDS and our ability to accompany the customer through various IT solutions,” she said.

“Just look at the investment we are making in the hotel platform, our own search engine called Extreme Search, ancillary solutions, revenue, inventory and reservations. Once we have the data in our system then we are able to optimise the technology through the travel distribution chain.

“There are two key messages here: global technology is optimising economies of scale, but we are also able to be close to the customer. The recent regionalisation strategy Amadeus has adopted is really about giving more power and autonomy to the regions.

“The UK is one of the key markets in western Europe and we are able to drive innovation at the regional level. We believe this adds up to an acceleration of time to market. We need to work on this and we will continue to do so. Economies of scale in a fast-changing world plus the local and regional aspect mean we can compete.”

Bouzebiba comes from Bolton, but in her 10-year career at Amadeus, she has worked in numerous sectors all over Europe including hotels, package holidays, rail travel and front-office solutions.

She said she was looking forward to reacquainting herself with the UK and getting to know the British travel industry.

“The UK market is a challenging one; it’s a buoyant market and to a certain extent some of the things that happen here are precursors to things that are going to happen elsewhere in western Europe. In the online space, we have some innovative business models and ideas and Amadeus technology can be of benefit to large, small and medium-sized players.”

She vowed to bring a mixture of passion, high standards and courage to her new role. “Throughout my career at Amadeus, I have always looked to listen to customers – that’s been one of the secrets of my success.

“I have always spent a lot of time trying to understand the business challenges, working to pull together the technology solutions that those businesses need.“I have always taken the approach that we need driver customers for any initiatives working in partnership with them to achieve the levels of business excellence required together.”

Although GDSs face mounting threats from suppliers looking to cut them out of the distribution mix and from the likes of Google, Bouzebiba believes again that the future lies in a collaborative approach.

“Today’s world is an exciting one in which we see the threats but we can also see opportunities with Amadeus providing the technology to agents, airlines and travel providers wherever the search is generated.”

Bouzebiba attended the recent Online Connect Amadeus summit in Monaco at which 60% of delegates were said to have agreed that web 3.0 is all about being consumer centric.

“Listening to the consumer is the way forward. One of the major steps taken at Amadeus in the last 18 months has been how we listen to the consumer, how the end consumer buys travel, how they shop for travel. Most of the conversations in Monaco were about how are we going to capture the end travellers’ input so we can build this into product development.”

One of the most eagerly awaited innovations from Amadeus is its Extreme Search which is being piloted in northern Europe with Swedish agency European Travel Interactive.

Offering mobile services is also an area Bouzebiba sees as key for travel intermediaries in both the leisure and corporate sectors to underline their value. “It comes back to listening to the consumer rather than just facilitating and that becomes more apparent when there is a disruption to service like during the ash cloud,” she said.

“This is about technology enabling you to adapt to changes in business and that’s key to services that intermediaries can offer the traveller. This is where, overall, Amadeus can make a difference. We are seeing what providers are doing, what other travel sellers are doing and we can share this experience with our customers.”So how does Bouzebiba see the travel sector faring given the ongoing economic turmoil in Europe and beyond?

“Business is difficult across western Europe. The markets in which I’m working are seeing a slowdown in overall growth and the business trading environment is not looking positive.

“This is where cost-efficiency and productivity gains are going to be key and this suggests that the listening consultancy approach is the right one now.

“Many of the Amadeus customers across Europe that have gone through a solution-re-engineering programme have seen considerable cost-efficiencies through deploying a specific set of Amadeus products.

“I will be looking to follow that model in the UK going forward because I think watching the bottom line is going to be vital.”

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