The “fragmented” travel industry cannot avoid a ‘Frankenstack’ of different systems and must be ready to adapt to incremental change, tech providers have said.
The swift evolution of the technology that drives booking systems has led to a number of ‘plug and play’ solutions being used in addition to existing, legacy systems, experts agreed.
Layering of different systems which then work alongside each other is commonplace in the travel industry and was labelled a ‘Frankenstack’ ahead of a panel debate at Travel Technology Europe.
Speaking at the event, Simon Powell, the chief executive of Inspiretec, said: “Travel technology has evolved. Systems evolve within businesses, it’s a natural thing.”
He said this is the same in other sectors, adding: “The important thing is whether these systems actually deliver the business goals you want them to”
Carl Morgan, managing director of Tigerbay said third party tech providers are needed by smaller and larger companies.
“Larger companies will always have specialist third-party suppliers doing niche aspects of their business,” he said. “It’s almost dangerous for a systems supplier like us to try and do it all. We have to specialise in what we are good at and no overlap with other specialists.”
Morgan said companies often face a tough decision on whether to integrate systems or keep them working side by side. “Lining them up shouldn’t be that hard,” he said, adding that layering ‘plug and play’ solutions on top of existing ones is common among larger companies while medium-sized tour operators often seek a “one-stop shop”.
Kevin O’Sullivan, founder and CEO of Open Destinations, said it can be easier for smaller companies to access technology on a SAS (software as a service) basis to lower costs.
He added: “We design our systems so that they integrate with third parties. Our job is to make sure that we provide integration and layers.”
He suggested outsourcing financing and accounting programmes, such as Sage and Salesforce.
Powell added: “We would like to think we could have a lot tighter integration between our own technology stack, but at the same time we work with a lot of third parties.”
And Morgan said: “It all depends on models and what solution the customer wants. Certain integrations have always been fairly fluid, and others are more difficult”
The panel agreed that the architecture has changed, but that the ultimate goal for travel retailers – to efficiently sell holidays – remained the same.
Powell added: “The question is: How do we build these package holidays and sell flights and manage those bookings all the way through to completion. Most [of our systems] focus on travel bookings and make sure that they are executed in the right way.”
He said that, in some ways, integration is easier because of developments in technology but can be harder as “there is more to integrate”.
“The other problem we have in the travel industry is that it’s very fragmented,” he added.
But Powell also believed that pulling the various fragments together can be very useful, as it gives companies “absolutely key” data which they can use to become more efficient.
Morgan agreed that multiple layers of data offer firms “a clearer picture of trends and insights”.
The panel agreed that for new technology to be tagged on to existing systems, the “most important” thing was buy-in from the company.
Powell said: “The problem sometimes with smaller clients is that they are not always geared up to receive software. As an industry, if you don’t deliver the quality software, then your clients suffer. [But] the client has to be on your side with a team able to react. Making systems work inside their organisations can be as much of a challenge as the company getting the finance together to buy it.”
Morgan agreed that a lack of buy-in from companies, especially in management, “is often the major downfall” while O’Sullivan said: “Part of the success of any project is sourcing the right technology and the right applications to the right people. If it doesn’t work for certain people, then you get friction. Either they have failed to specify what it does or it’s a people problem and they need to adopt to change.
“Travel companies need to have a balance between clear leadership and getting people’s views. Sometimes in larger organisations it’s down to the leadership to make sure they can afford it, but they must be wary not to get the feedback wrong. As a technology provider we don’t need to get involved in the politics of it, we just get to work with the system.”