Experts from Thomas Cook, Amadeus, trip.com, AMResorts and Stena Line Travel discussed the future of distribution at last week's Con-X conference in Palma, Majorca
Con-X 2022: Travel distribution needs to be simplified to meet customer needs
The process of distribution of travel products needs to be simplified to meet customer demands, according to experts on a panel at last week’s Con-X conference.
Panellists agreed technology is the answer to understanding customers and delivering what they want in growing areas of importance like experiences and sustainability.
The COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity for all firms in the travel distribution eco-system to evaluate the value they add and collaborate by forging new partnerships.
Alan French, chief executive of Thomas Cook, said: “I think there is more simplicity needed. The distance between the flight or hotel and the customer is something too far.
“If you think about the customer really wants. They want to travel on holiday and know they can come back, but the long term driver is people want to do things that they enjoy.
“The description of that and the facilitation of that I do not think is there and the processes are quite complicated to try to make that real for the customer so I do think simplification is necessary.
“Whether that means consolidation, I do not think I would immediately jump to that conclusion, but I’d say all of us need to be aware of what customers want and to facilitate that.”
French said holidaymakers will increasingly want to think about the environmental impact of their holiday or have more specific experiences, like gastronomy.
And he said that can be facilitated through technology. “Technology then becomes an enabler. That’s not a simple process but we are going to have to simply that for the consumer.”
Christian Kremmer, executive vice president operations Europe for AMResorts Hotels, said from the perspective of suppliers they are looking to only work with partners that add value.
He said hotel operators have invested in new brands and accommodation types aimed at segmented audiences and want to work with distributors that can access these customers.
Emerging open distribution networks and a greater focus on direct distribution will expose those in the eco-system that are not adding value.
“From a supplier perspective what COVID has shown us is that we really need to work with partners that add value,” Kremmer said.
“We need to work with partners that know the end consumer and can provide data to you. All of that is very important. A distribution player that adds value will really be a winner.”
Jari Virtanen, managing director of Stene Line Travel and Retail Group, one of the biggest online retailers in the Nordics, agreed saying it was vital to build consumer confidence.
“The biggest reflection for using during COVID was we had the power of innovation. We had time with our great tech team to work on product development for two years.
“We just had time to sit down and really innovate for real. We were asking ourselves the question will we be missed tomorrow if we ceased to exist. I think everyone should do that.”
Mirja Sickel, Amadeus executive vice president traveller centric platform, said COVID showed how technology is the answer and is how the industry will become stronger.
“We have to understand the traveller. It’s recognising that the traveller is the customer of many providers and we need to get back the confidence and inspire the traveller.
“If you focus on that you also embrace collaboration. This is one element we need to build on moving forward.
“The big themes in travel like sustainability can only be achieved if we collaborate. We believe technology can help there and this is where our thinking and innovation goes.”
Trip.com deputy general manager for the Americas, said the Chinese OTA has worked to re-establish the travel experience and offer customers flexibility and reassurance.
An example of this was a collaboration with ASA to provide insurance polices for customers to protect their bookings for when suppliers were not able to offer them flexibility.
French said the problems the industry is currently having ramping back up to pre-pandemic capacities is “probably the biggest obstacle to us growing quickly because we are having to deal with customer sentiment on the back of it”.