The GDS’s CCO Jason Toothman spoke about the impact of its new selling platform at last week’s Future of Travel Retail conference
Big Interview: Next gen Travelport+ roll out supports revival of the agent
The widely-used Worldspan Global Distribution System is on the verge of being phased out in the UK as owner Travelport gets close to full roll out of next generation travel agency tech.
Cloud-based Travelport+ was launched last year and will eventually also see the Galileo and Apollo GDSs consolidated into a single, more agile and modern technology platform.
Speaking to Travolution at Travelport’s Future of Travel Retail conference in Dubai, Jason Toothman, chief commercial officer – agency, said the tech upgrade has had a positive response.
He said the switch to Travelport+ is now at around 90% in the UK, ahead of other markets, like the US, where there is more work to be done and which are on around 80%.
“We are trying to do this over time that makes sense for the agencies as we modernise and go to a single platform,” Toothman said.
“Everything done is in consultation with the agency, we work collaboratively with them to agree a project plan to go through the upgrade.
“We don’t want to play a heavy hand, we want to be flexible to their needs and maintain the partnership with them.
“Our partners have said to us they really want us to continue down the path of Travelport+, simplifying travel, creating an easier path to access content and unlocking value.
“Everybody, almost to an agency, have said they love that vision about better content in modernising retail and creating more value in terms of efficiencies.”
Travelport+ was launched with the marketing motto Change Is For The Brave and a widely shared B2B social media campaign by Travelport staff helped to underpin the message.
A partnership with Amazon Web Services to migrate to the cloud means access to greater computing power for accelerated development and opportunities to work with a wider array of tech partners.
The new platform was developed to provide users with a modern internet browser-based graphical interface although they can opt to continue working in traditional ‘green screen’ mode.
A phase two roll out this year will focus on greater efficiencies with ticketing functionalities like automated changes and refunds made available through the Smartpoint agency desktop API.
Travel agent users will also be given access to an enhanced trip building and management portal.
Toothman said the COVID pandemic saw a change in priorities. “It’s been a really interesting time and obviously we still had to support business as usual, but there was a change in the way that works.
“We have very supportive owners who have backed us with investment in strategic initiatives like building the Travelport+ platform.
“What agencies have told us they want is for us to be flexible with them and if we could be contractually flexibility on commitments they have made with their previous agreements.”
As it develops, Travelport+ will incorporate more Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and Virtual Reality applications to help agents do their jobs better, said Toothman.
“The platform will do a lot of the thinking for them to display the options that are best for them based on a configurable set up of the system.”
Toothman said the pandemic has seen a revival of reliance on the agent, particularly in the TMC sector which corporates are looking to to manage their outstanding COVID refund credits.
“We’ve seen this shift back to firms saying I want a service provider, I’ve got hundreds of thousands of unused dollars as a corporation and I need to make sure they do not expire.
“The capabilities we offer to be able to manage that ticketing transaction, replacement and refund exchange is really critical.
“These are the types of tools we need because this has become a massive issue with the pandemic, as opposed to shopping tools because selling collapsed, although it is now coming back.”
The pandemic saw friction between airlines and agents, particularly OTAs, as carriers turned off automatic refunds leaving intermediaries to carry the financial and reputational can.
Toothman says many in the airline sector would agree that the situation was not what they wanted and that the industry has learned valuable lessons from the situation.
“Airlines have seen that they can rely on entities in the marketplace that have expertise in this area and partner more closely with them to enable that functionality and customer service.
“You are going to see more of that kind of collaboration. We have the relationships with retail partners, providing them with the tools that allow airlines not to have to manage that themselves.
“To be able to go through the GDS and the agency community to manage all of that and provide a better customer experience offers a lot of value for the airlines.
“The situation during COVID was not ideal for the corporate clients and leisure agencies and it was not a great experience for the traveller.
“What we would try to do is facilitate those transactions between the two sides. It’s incumbent on us to listen to both sides and broker solutions that makes sense for the agencies and suppliers.
“I get the commercial pressures airlines were under, but agencies can say this is how we handled things when you were going through a crisis.
“Talking to some TMCs in the US, I get the sense that this has fostered some deeper relationships between airlines and agencies that may not have been there before.”
With leisure travel taking the lead in the pandemic recovery, Travelport is supporting its OTA partners globally to provide them with the retailing capabilities they need.
“We have seen growth in that part of the business that has allowed us to prioritise the online agencies and leisure agencies,” says Toothman.
“It’s all around content, not just air. NDC and LCCs [Low Cost Carriers] are very important, but we are continuing to prioritise getting non-traditional forms of content into integrated displays and format.
“We have created a system that allows third party partners to connect via an API, normalise their content and distribute it back to our agency partners in a store front environment.
“We don’t have to do every single deal. We just need to be that marketplace that allows others to come in and say I can take that content and there’s a revenue model for them.
“As an agent you want the minimum number of applications open at any one time. You want to have one place to go to, not multiple sources. That’s what we are trying to accomplish.
“We’re simplifying, creating retail capabilities, allowing for mark-ups and downs, and commission rates to maximise their experience and to make it more enjoyable for whoever is using our system.”
Travelport has 19 airlines in NDC production to continue to ensure agencies have access to carriers’ full range of fares.
“Ultimately, it’s up to us to prove that value as a marketplace and as agencies,” says Toothman.
“Airlines get that value, but they have held back in certain circumstances because they want tech in place that mirrors what they do on their websites.
“It’s really about convincing them that this marketplace can be as valuable as their direct channels, if not more valuable.”