Big Interview: A glimpse into Sabre’s plans to become the market leader for EMEA

Big Interview: A glimpse into Sabre’s plans to become the market leader for EMEA

2024 is set to be a big year for Sabre’s operations in EMEA. We sat down with the man at the helm of it, Sean McDonald, managing director of EMEA, agency solutions, to get a sneak peek of what’s in store for next year

Four years ago, seasoned travel technology expert Sean McDonald made the jump from travel e-commerce intelligence specialist BD4, to Sabre.

Four years on, he’s moved into his new role of managing director for EMEA of Agency solutions within Sabre, at what proves to be quite a pivotal time for the company. 

Drawing on the “most fun bits of learning” and “growing” from his previous roles, of which some included Expedia and Secret Escapes, McDonald plans to take all of this forward with him into his new role.

Though the question remains why Sabre isn't the market leader in EMEA yet, McDonald takes this in his stride, as he reveals he’s excited for what the future holds and identifies the challenge as an enormous opportunity for Sabre to grow in EMEA.

“And growing is much more fun than sustaining”, he said. 

“When I joined, you know, to some degree, we had the same opportunity/challenge in the online space and I think you know, the stats say we’ve done really, really well there so hopefully we can replicate that success in EMEA.”

Sabre acknowledges that there is an uphill struggle ahead of them as they have to deliver the new content and deliver the new technology, so “there’s a lot of work to do” but McDonald’s not phased.

The team is poised and ready to deliver answers to agencies’ needs as the content landscape changes, driven by new business models like NDC, “and how that is then leading on to new and challenging technology issues for the agency community and ultimately different ways to present content to consumers”.

“As we move into the NDC world and as we move into a world of multiple different content types, the scale of the challenge that the industry faces, is one which requires truly industrial strength solutions and heavy lifts.

“What our agency customers want, and more important, what the consumers want, are super reliable, super industrial strength solutions that everything can be booked, changed, cancelled and refunded without all the challenges that are the teething problems that perhaps the industry is seeing at the moment.

“If you can solve those problems, if you can solve them at scale, and if you can solve them with industrial strength, then you are extremely well positioned,” he said.

“And we’re super well positioned to win in that space. Our scale and our experience, and our history, puts us in a great place.

“Just some of the underlying product developments and content developments that we have going on mean that we are going to be extremely well positioned next year to help European customers in a way that is, I think, leaps and bounds ahead of where we are now.”

“There is an inevitability for all agencies that they will need to have access to all of the different content types through NDC and at the end, EDIFACT will continue to be a content type for many years to come, but they need to deal with both.

“In EMEA, LCC content is super important and a lot of the LCC airlines are moving into the small business arena too, so you need to have access to all of those content types whether you’re a business travel management company or a leisure company.

“Our job is to aim to make servicing your customers both in terms of access to content, in terms of access to content that’s highly bookable, in terms of putting the right content in front of the right consumer at the right time, and then servicing them correctly and swiftly and automatically after the booking, those are services that we’re going to bring to the market, to take all of those lifts off.”

Due to the sheer scale and economic burden of undergoing an engineering project like this, to build in-house, is the main reason Sabre wants to make this engineering lift to be “as light as possible”.

With its sights firmly on becoming the market leader in EMEA, it’s its new offerings that will set them apart.

McDonald said: “What we’re doing is potentially slightly different to the rest of the marketplaces, as our customers come to us to shop for the content that flows through the Sabre system.

“We’ll be providing them with a shopping response that includes NDC, and EDIFACT, and LCC, all in one place, and all pre-normalised to allow them to consume that, and I don’t think anyone else is doing that or doing that at the scale we’re going to be doing it.”

Despite the “non-trivial” engineering challenge being “extremely difficult and expensive” to build at scale, the firm has been investing in it for some time now which is why it’s “nearly ready to go”.

It’s also part of a wider multi-phased tech transformation which has been ongoing for the last four or five years, to offload to the cloud.

With this, comes the ability to develop applications “much, much more rapidly” than before which is another reason why the time is nearly here.

In EMEA, the future looks strong, with a “constant pipeline” of carriers and NDC connections going live and a new wave of alternatives for agencies with the likes of SNCF, Trenitalia and Deutsche Bahn through upgraded APIs, which allow for further distribution. 

The vision is clear, together all the efforts are designed to make Sabre’s new platform as agent friendly, as consumer friendly, and as easy to adopt, as possible.