Big Interview: COVID is a catalyst for greater collaboration in travel

Big Interview: COVID is a catalyst for greater collaboration in travel

Stefan Ropers, Amadeus president for strategic growth businesses, on tech’s role in the post-COVID travel experience

Lee Hayhurst spoke to Amadeus president for strategic growth businesses Stefan Ropers this week about the role technology will play in creating a new customer experience in travel post COVID

Could COVID-19 be the catalyst that spurs greater collaboration among travel and tourism stakeholders and public bodies to dramatically improve the customer experience?

The dream of the truly frictionless, contactless trip predates COVID, but many of the principals underpinning that vision have been brought into stark relief by the pandemic.

This week leading European travel technology firm and GDS Amadeus revealed the results of a global survey that found travellers have confidence that technology has the answers.

However, speaking to Travolution this week, Stefan Ropers senior vice president for strategic growth businesses, said technology alone does not have all the answers.

Much of the work that needs to be done involves partnerships, collaboration, agreed standards and a sharing of data and knowhow that have previously been jealously guarded.

“I believe COVID is a catalyst,” Ropers said. “The challenge is, as a traveller, you have to do your own research to look at what you might encounter as you go through your journey.

“At the same time travel companies are complaining that they do not get the right kind of help from the authorities and they are at a loss on how to organise a process to get people back onto planes and into trains and hotels.

“There’s a realisation that within their own sphere of influence there is a lack of capability to solve this problem on their own.”

Ropers said on top of the immediate challenges of COVID-19 there has been a “mega-trend” of ever-increasing customer expectations from the experiences they are purchasing.

“Digitisation has accelerated the expectations travellers’ have,” he said. “There is a new generation starting to spend money on travel now and there seems to be a couple of vectors working in that direction.”

COVID-19 has brought new impetus to attempts to rid travel of queues with people likely to continue to be wary of being among large crowds, particularly in confined spaces.

In aviation biometric passports allowing a more efficient passage through pinch points at airports are coming and contactless check-ins in at hotels are being rolled out.

But the sector remains some way off allowing remote flight check-in, maybe at hotels before the traveller leaves for the airport, and contactless self-service baggage check-in.

Travellers post-COVID will also be expecting a much better response to disruption so they can be reassured they won’t be stranded in a country with high incidence of COVID.

Ropers said technology can address all of these challenges, and others to do with testing and minimising contact with surfaces that might be contaminated.

But he said there remain challenges to do with firms and public authorities being prepared to work together.

“Getting to the point of collaboration is what we need, otherwise we won’t overcome these problems and see the business case behind it,” said Ropers.

“There is the belief that we can own the customers, and it is a belief. Everyone is trying to own the customer and that means you are pulled apart as a customer.”

Ropers added that although there is a technology answer to many of the issues travel faces, because the industry is so siloed there needs to be a level of willingness to share data.

And he said this means greater collaboration will have to be predicated on strong data protection with the traveller put in charge of how their data can be shared.

“We are seeing, with COVID, there is a realisation that there is value of overcoming some of the friction that has newly arisen and this friction needs to be overcome with technology.

“It’s about the individual being able to make decisions and the service provider providing enough value so the concerns of the individual can be overcome.”

Ropers said the opportunity now for intermediaries in travel is to take more of a duty of care approach to their clients.

He said he sees the leisure sector learning from the corporate travel sector about the sort of information and tools that are required and Amadeus can play a central role.

“We believe travel information services are a key direction for us and it’s part of our innovation portfolio.

“We are trying to build smart concierge type services that combine information and transactions to help travellers along the way.

“You will not only be able to anticipate what’s coming, but be updated regularly. We see that as an opportunity.

“Partners have been helping us deliver that. We do not believe we have all the knowledge, all the capability. It’s a collaborative approach.”

Ropers said there were three main lessons from Amadeus’s global survey of travellers.

“We want to be traveller centric. We need to understand traveller needs to make better collective and individual decisions.

“We need to explore where technology can be applied and we all want to travel, so there has to be collective responsibility and we need to collaborate much better.

“Collaboration is the recipe to get to lower resource burdens on everyone. With better integration you can get to operational efficiency together.

“In a resource constrained industry individual players will be able to invest less and potentially new business models can emerge from that.

“Financially, there’s good reason why this could make good business sense.”