Lionel Paillet, new chief operating officer at challenger travel distribution platform Impala, is setting out to make travel technology as inspiring as consumer devices.
He uses the example of the home thermostat to illustrate how in his former role at Google’s Nest division success came from creating an emotional connection to a tech product.
Before Nest, no one cared about the home thermostat. It was a “truly unloved” piece of technology, says Paillet, and yet it performs a critical role in people’s lives.
Paillet said: “What was really interesting was 65% of energy consumption came from this piece of plastic that no one programmed because they had become habituated to it.
“The technology is extremely important, but at some point you have to create an emotional connection to the product, create connections in the mind.”
Paillet, who spent 13 years at Apple before Nest, believes this principal should hold true not just in the world of B2C tech products, but when creating next-gen B2B travel systems.
He says the industry has become habituated over decades to travel technology being complex and slow but that following the impact of the pandemic it is now time to fix it.
Impala has been prompted by COVID to focus its development roadmap on its connectivity and contracting systems for suppliers and sellers so they can meet growing consumer expectations about seamless, frictionless travel experiences.
Paillet said: “Travel is ripe for evolution. There are times when transformation is inevitable. With COVID we are trying to do things more efficiently, better and with fewer resources.
“We have seen an acceleration of small to medium sized business becoming digital and wanting to take a lot more control of their destiny.
“There is something inevitable about this, because it enables scalability, it enables building better experiences. It’s interesting times.”
At the heart of what Impala is trying to achieve is to create a much more open distribution mechanism for travel products that supports real-time trading between supplier and seller.
“Travel is very complex and unfortunately very fragmented,” Paillet says. “There are not many solutions that stand out as being perfect because of history and legacy.
“A lot of complexity has been built up step by step and there’s a sense of habituation – that we have become used to this because there’s nothing else.
“It’s great to see a number of companies establishing direct connections between hotels and suppliers. We want to take it to the next step.
“Coming from the consumer space and now joining Impala I’m looking at the customer experience, the customer journey and mapping that in to the B2B space.”
Impala was founded in 2017 and although based in London has a dispersed remote workforce of 80 staff in total.
Its potential is reflected in its investors including Lakestar, Kima Ventures, Stride.VC and Latitude, which have backed Airbnb, Trivago, Spotify, Zoopla and Deliveroo.
As well as working with hotels on the supply side it also has big retail clients, including leading Asian OTA and metasearch brand Agoda, a subsidiary of Booking Holdings.
Paillet said the focus is on providing speedy real-time contracting tech so sellers can match the right product to their customers’ needs without any interference from a middleman.
“We want to be a platform that brings in this open distribution idea but also a segmented, targeted approach so firms can provide differentiated travel experiences to guests.
“Importantly we are building supply profile, bringing hotels to the platform that sellers want their guests to stay in because they meet their specific needs.”
Success in shortcutting supplier seller processes will ultimately determine if Impala raises the temperature in travel technology and becomes the sector’s Nest.