Big Interview: ‘The time for change is now,’ says new Sabre UK country manager

Big Interview: ‘The time for change is now,’ says new Sabre UK country manager

Nisha Botevyle heads up an expanded team at the US tech giant that aims to win new business with the message that travel needs to harness technology to become more customer-centric

Nisha Botevyle heads up an expanded team at the US tech giant that aims to win new business with the message that travel needs to harness technology to become more customer-centric    

A renewed appetite for change in the travel sector prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to drive significant change as the industry recovers.

And poised to take advantage of that desire to look to the future is Sabre Corporation, the leading US Global Distribution System (GDS) and international travel marketplace.

Traditionally number three in the UK market behind rivals Amadeus and Travelport, Sabre has made no secret of its ambition with the creation of a country director role.

Nisha Botevyle, who joined from Amadeus, heads up a team that has already expanded, and will grow further, as part of a $13 million five-year strategic focus to drive growth in the EMEA region.

Speaking to Travolution following the announcement of her appointment, Botevyle said once Sabre had moved quickly to secure its finances, EMEA was identified as ripe for sustainable growth.

“I think we are all aware that the pandemic has changed the travel eco-system permanently. Some players were thinking about evolving before the pandemic, but now it’s a requirement.

“One of the things that attracted me to Sabre was embracing that change and moving that forward with all our customers in the UK and with a growing team of travel industry experts.

“We are going to execute the Sabre five-year plan and that’s really about putting the customer back at the heart of travel and to rebuild that confidence with solutions that add value.”

Botevyle identified a number of key areas of immediate opportunity that Sabre believes it needs to work with trade partners on like cyber security, touchless technology and trip disruption.

But, more broadly, its priorities can be summed up under the need for travel exploit the promise of technology to become more customer centric.

At the core of this will be the adoption of emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence to personalise and improve the overall customer experience.

“I work for Sabre, but I am also a travel customer,” said Botevyle, “we are all customers of the travel industry. And what we need to do is to rebuild confidence.

“We really need to understand our customers so they, in turn, can understand their customers so they can personalise the experience, put the right product in front of them in the right place at the time the right time.

“Everyone wants to put the customer at the heart of everything they do, but does everyone really do that? We need to bring back that personal touch, and at the same time address more global issues like sustainability.”

With confidence dented by the pandemic, travellers are being driven back to having face-to-face conversations with travel professionals, but as the sector recovers Botevyle expects an inevitable drift back online.

So there is much to play for, including as travel firms look to adapt and diversify, blurring the lines between leisure and corporate. Sabre sees potential to take market share in the UK in both.

“There is a fantastic opportunity to get back in front of people,” said Botevyle. “Everyone we speak to is still quite nervous because things are still changing, whether its rules around vaccination status or testing.

“That’s going to continue for some time and people will need that hand holding to get the information they need. But online’s still there and not going away and as people’s confidence builds again they will go back. How you acquire and retain new customers is going to be key.”

As well as Sabre’s in-house technology and broad expertise across the travel sector, the firm is touting its strategic partnership with global search giant Google as a key differentiator.

This partnership will see it combine its industry sector experience and knowledge with Google’s formidable technology knowhow and investment, particularly in the realm of Artificial Intelligence.

Salman Syed, Sabre Travel Network EMEA vice president, told Travolution last November that for its customers the Google tie-up is “about future proofing and survival and they want to see innovation now”.

Botevyle expects, in vying for business, traditional GDS commercial terms will remain important but that what a partner like Sabre brings to the table in terms of technology is increasingly important.

“As businesses have scaled down during the pandemic, they have lost members of staff, have re-evaluated their priorities and have started to decrease the number of partners they work with.

“I think there is an opportunity to talk to anyone about the true value of what Sabre can bring, and not just for the next two or three years. People have seen through the worst of the pandemic but there is an appetite to change and opportunity to re-evaluate how to move forward.”

Botevyle accepts that Sabre has lacked visibility in the UK market and, despite its vast size, is relatively unknown compared to its nearest competition in the sector.

“Sabre has always been present, but now is the time to really showcase what we can do, to make sure our story is out there.

“We talk about the traditional GDSs, but the technology landscape is a lot bigger and wider than that. There are many different players, some complement us, some are direct competition. We are all on a journey to evolve.

“Sabre has evolved from a GDS to a marketplace where content can be plugged in from any source. You still need that choice, and we have to evolve in that direction to fully support this advanced retail opportunity.

“I think the opportunity is now greater than it was previously and the pandemic has definitely opened up that opportunity. We do not know how long it’s going to be there, or even if we’ve seen the back of the pandemic. The real key is to be agile in your approach.

“Our responsibility is to really showcase the value that we can bring. That’s true for others in the same market as well, but we have to advise, to consult and to show how technology can support the growth and ambitions of our customers.”