Future of Travel Retail: Give and take needed to solve the data sharing impasse

Future of Travel Retail: Give and take needed to solve the data sharing impasse

Travelport event saw a panel debate on the need for more information on the consumer

Suppliers that demand more customer information from agents and retailers must be prepared to share their own if an impasse on data sharing in travel is to be solved.

Travelport’s Future of Travel Retail conference held in Dubai last week heard from a panel of experts drawn from the airline, corporate agency and consolidator sectors.

A snap poll of delegates revealed while the vast majority agreed more data sharing among partners and competitors should happen two thirds did not believe it will.

Airlines remain unwilling to provide loyalty programme information to third party partners, and agents fear suppliers will direct market to any customers they hand data over on.

Josh Cameron, chief strategy officer of Utah-based Chistopherson Business Travel, said the debate about data sharing “could be solved today”.

“If airlines and hotels went to open up their loyalty programmes, we have been begging for that,” he said. 

“We are happy to help those who keep asking for it [our data], but they have to be prepared to give it up.”

Cameron added: “If it was beneficial for Emirates, or Delta, or any airlines that has a loyalty programme to open up and share that data it would already have been done.

“As a TMC customer we have always wanted that data because we have mutual customers. 

“But whatever data is taken out of that mutually beneficial landscape and put into a competitive one is the very data they are asking us for and they do not want to share it.

“What Google is doing with cookies is indicative because they do not want to share that data, they want to make monetary gains from it themselves.

“The very people that want that data are the ones that do not want to share in the first place.”

Anand Lackshminarayanan, senior vice president of revenue optimisation for Middle Eastern carrier Emirates, said there are clear benefits of using shared data for the right purposes.

And he said while there is always the risk that agent data will be used to direct market, airlines are able to capture consumer data anyway when they fly and check in.

“You are never going to be able to win loyalty of a consolidator or a travel agent if you are an opportunist,” he said. “We are in it for the long haul. We strongly believe in give and take and even, perhaps, in data sharing, yes.” 

Lackshminarayanan said it is a “two-way street” and data privacy rules like GDPR in Europe are setting the standards by which Emirates is taking its responsibilities seriously.

He said with Iata’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) and One Order simplification of airline reservations the industry is “moving in the right direction”.

“We have been far behind other industries and it’s time we caught up. We have got to get data coming through in some digital means, either NDC or direct connect with airlines because it will add value to the consumers.”

Lackshminarayanan said as airlines move from pricing a seat to pricing a customer they need more information from the indirect channel to understand what segment they are in.

“We do not want to push consumers toward a particular channel, but we need some sort of information about the consumer. A lot is happening to try to calibrate this data to give the consumer what they want.”

Lackshminarayanan added: “The landscape is changing and consumer expectations are changing. It’s not straight forward in terms of identifying the emotional readiness of the traveller [to book].

“There is a general misconception that the airlines maybe using information for direct marketing. But once a traveller has travelled with an airline they have probably enrolled in a loyalty programme.

“Therefore, the agency community should not be concerned about airlines taking a negotiating or direct marketing advantage, we are all looking at it [the data] to understand the consumer.”

Although more digital data-sharing of customer data is expected, Cameron said simply asking consumers to agree to that by opting in is not necessarily the answer.

“The end traveller is not always the owner of that data,” he said, “it could be the corporate, it could be the TMC. I don’t know it’s as simple as the traveller opting in.

“GDPR or California privacy law would actually step in. It says we do not really want the consumer to do whatever they want; government thinks it knows better and consumers will just opt in to everything. 

“There’s a lot of privacy and legal issues in this. If there’s a breach, I can’t just hand out data to anybody anytime.”

Cameron added: “There is a lot to know [about the consumer] which we do not know. The challenge is actually finding the data, what is it that everyone wants and do we have it. Then there’s the privacy issue. Who has responsibility and can we share it even if we want to?”

Raj Patel, chief operations officer of Sky Bird Travel & Tours, said for customers buying purely on price data sharing to create bespoke offers will not have any benefits.

He said consumers are “very well educated” and are going to make their own decisions whether or not airlines and other suppliers have the data to understand their buying power.

As a consolidator he said Sky Bird does not have direct contact with the end consumer or collect or store their information but it does have travel agent data.

And he said airlines have access to Market Information Data Transfer (MIDT) GDS booking data. “As far as airlines are concerned most of the data is available.” He said.

Patel added: “Are we going to share our travel agent data to them [airlines]? No. We don’t even collect it within the CRM [Customer Relationship Management] system.”

Patel said airlines have a love/hate relationship with third party partners. “When flights are full, they want to reduce the market share of consolidators,” he said.