The travel firms considered the most innovative in the sector are those that take technology and successfully apply it in the real world.
The ones operating in the consumer retail space Inevitably attract most of the acclaim because of the profile a consumer-facing brand gives them.
Last year’s PhoCusWright Travel Innovation Summit showcased some of the most innovative, like web performance specialists TagMan and Triometric, European taxi pre-booking firm Cabforce and multimodal, door-to-door trip planner Rome2rio.
But in the UK, one small travel management company based in Bradford has been quietly applying many of the best practices associated with the consumer travel world to its operations and has seen some remarkable results.
Last year Redfern Travel was awarded its largest contract to date from central government and, it claims, the biggest ever given to an SME, to supply its services to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), which predominantly involves UK travel.
It was set a target for the duration of the contract (three years with the option of a one-year extension) to take the level of travel bookings online from about 50% as of last March to 95%.
It achieved this within just one month of the start of the contract, resulting in an estimated saving of £140,000 a year for its client and the taxpayer.
So how did it do this?
Mark Bowers, joint chief executive, said the secret was to do all the hard work integrating technology and multiple suppliers behind the scenes so that the end user is presented with the most user-friendly interface possible. This is the philosophy behind booking platform tRIPS online.
“It’s all about the automation of processes through the booking so we don’t have to touch it. It’s all booked online by the client and we capture data through the booking tool.
“The clever bit is what we do at the front. We can offer cross-modal data providing air and rail alternatives all in one search.
“From there clients can make their decision – they might go one way by rail but come back by air – it all goes in one bucket and it’s one click to confirm. At the back end, all we are interested in is data delivery.”
Redfern takes its data from multiple sources including the Sabre Travel Network for GDS fares, Multicom for low-cost flights, Evolvi for rail, Conferma for payments and LateRooms.com for hotels.
But the key to achieving these impressive results has been to mould the data available through API feeds, enhancing and adapting it according to customer needs.
“There is always going to be resistance when it’s not just a new supplier, but a change of culture – there has to be trust. But fundamentally if you make the user experience straightforward, then they will buy into it.
“It’s about data delivery, not flashy front ends. It’s very technology driven. We are managing eight times the number of transactions others in our sector are and that gives us not only a competitive advantage but a cost advantage.”
That advantage is clear from the numbers: when Redfern won the HMRC contract it was turning over £45 million.
This year it will turn over £185 million and yet staff numbers have gone up from 32 on the day it won the contract to just 76.
From a leisure travel perspective tRIPS does what many in the dynamic packaging sector are still trying to achieve.
The use of technology to automate the booking of travel is not innovative, but automating it means you can dedicate more resources to innovating.
“You have to do some fundamental things, but the big thing is full content,” said Bowers. Redfern has a busy roadmap to continue developing new features.
He said: “Broadly speaking we do a big release a year and quarterly releases with enhancements. With what we have got planned, we probably have enough for the next two years.”