Vayant view: Q&A with Travolution Awards shortlist debutant

As a first-time nominee in this year’s Travolution Awards, Travolution asked Vayant’s chief executive Eric Dumas what being shortlisted means to the company and a few more questions about the air fare distribution space.

You recently announced a funding deal with Lufthansa and the appointment of Ian Wheeler to the board. What does this say about where Vayant’s development as a key player in the travel sector?

Both announcements mark an exciting stage in Vayant’s evolution and growth, establishing us further as a key player in the travel technology market, an innovator who takes airline ticket sales from strength to strength.

We have now completed our transformation from the start-up phase but we have kept maintaining our core values of agility, innovation, speed of integration and deployment. We have also kept a very high customer satisfaction standard.

We are a very different company from the one I joined in 2010 and I am thrilled about the journey we’ve made over the last four years.

Step-by-step we have emerged as a mature company with a strong portfolio of customers and investors, and the addition of one of our partner airline groups, Lufthansa, as an investor was a natural step.

This is in line with Vayant’s development strategy to intensify our business growth within the airline industry, helping airlines become more flexible in their distribution strategies whilst continuing to provide online travel agencies with unique innovative solutions for their air ticket sales.

As well as Ian wheeler, Christian Tillmans, Lufthansa’s vice-president global sales and key account management, who is based in Germany, also joined our board as part of the Lufthansa investment.

Meta-search sites and other intermediaries are constantly coming up with new ways for customers to shop for air fares. Is this healthy in an industry already struggling with spiralling look to book ratios?

We see look-to-book ratio as a key industry challenge – and it can only intensify with more players out there.

We believe our newest product SmartSearch, will make the look-to-book issue a lot more manageable.

SmartSearch provides very high shopping accuracy with sub-second speeds, and airlines and travel agencies can use it to handle the high volumes of search queries from metasearch engines, as well as introduce transaction-intensive applications such as maps, calendars and various web, social and mobile applications.

As airfares become ever more dynamically optimised and even personalised, does this promise a future in which the sheer price becomes less important and travellers will start basing their shopping decisions based on value and suitability?

The price will always be important. However, today’s customers don’t only want good value – they expect something unique, something ‘just for them’.

Travel sellers who understand this customer mindset, and act on it, can build powerful human-shaped brands that stand out in an increasingly competitive market.

They’ll use technology to capture customer preferences and build meaningful, personalised offers, crafted around the customer’s budget and tastes.

In other words, we think the future belongs to sellers who can give customers the kind of rich shopping experience they used to get from a high street travel agent – but at an ecommerce price.

What does the move towards a personalised approach to airfare distribution as epitomised by Iata’s NDC mean for meta-search?

We suspect it will mean more choices and more travel options become available – which will make solutions that shield airlines from meta-search engines, like SmartSearch, become even more important.

At the end of the day, we give the possibility to our customers to operate our airfare shopping and pricing engine the way they want, like if it was theirs.

So this is up to them to decide the rules and how the pricing will be performed, and who gets what.

It’s been some time since Google launched ITA-backed Flight Search in the US and latterly in the UK. What evidence is there that this has had an impact on the market?

It’s always interesting to see where a giant like Google will go next. Their presence in the market underlines the relevancy of Vayant solutions that give travel sellers precision-control over their distribution and offer more personalised, human-shaped shopping experiences.

What has been the impact of mobile on the travel sector and how are Vayant’s systems and software having to adapt to keep up?

Mobile is a transformative technology – everything it touches becomes more personalised. For customers, mobile means intuitive and fast mobile apps/ interfaces that make exploring and buying a pleasure.

For sellers, mobile is the ultimate personalisation: they can push offers direct to always-on customers. These are offers driven by customer data – but also the customer’s location and context.

Do travel technology software systems have to be regionalised for specific markets or do the same principals apply wherever companies are located and the markets they operate in?

It very much depends on the market. Some markets like China and India have extensive regional-only operations and specific distribution and technology needs.

But overall air travel is more and more global with airlines forming lots of partnerships and sharing common distribution channels and technologies.

How can intermediaries, retain and even grow their presence in a sector in which suppliers are investing resources to drive up direct business?

We believe intermediaries will always be important. With industry developments like NDC, intermediaries stand to gain.

They can present their customers with even more comprehensive and, vitally, relevant and personalised offers from different suppliers.

The future is about helping the travel buyer make sense of lots of choices – and customer-focused intermediaries can do this.

With the proliferation of channels to market is there any evidence that any one is dominating and if not how should firms decide which to focus on?

There’s no way to know unless you give it a go. We encourage travel companies to try out new channels, measure the results and optimise their distribution strategies accordingly.

Some channels will perform better than others. But things never stand still: a channel like email can seem old fashioned and irrelevant – but once you combine it with automatically updated offers, it’s suddenly relevant and exciting.

Does Vayant continue to struggle communicating to the industry what it does and what value it can offer? And if so what does shortlisting in the Travolution Awards mean for a firm like Vayant.

Perhaps we would say that the industry has caught up with Vayant, and more and more people are talking our language about personalised, flexible and fast distribution.

Certainly, it’s great for Vayant to be a finalist in the Travolution Awards. After seven years of intense product development, we’re now delivering on the promise of our flight pricing technology.

We’re winning and serving customers all around the globe: big names in the airline and OTA space.

Being shortlisted as Best Technology Provider is a great acknowledgement of progress from one of our industry’s leading sources of news and comments.

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