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7 ways we can modernize travel retailing

The top takeaways from Travelport's Future of Travel Retail event

Travelport kicked off a Future of Travel Retail Roadshow in Dubai at the end of March. While you can catch the show at one of our global and virtual events coming up, here’s flavor of what you can expect at those events, and the key takeaways from the speakers at Dubai.

The headline: travel retail is in need of modernization. It has lagged behind other industries for far too long, and there are things we can do right now to help propel it into the future.

1. Let’s lobby for more time off for our employees. Not just for altruistic reasons; it makes business sense for the sector.

TED Talk superstar and Ogilvy legend, Rory Sutherland deep-dived into the topic of creative thinking and looking at things differently, giving practical examples of how this can be applied. He covered insights into how travel business can improve, to why you might want to think about installing a second dishwasher during your next kitchen remodel (no, really). You can catch his full talk here.

One radical idea that Rory suggested was for the travel industry to lobby the US government for more time off for employees — not just for the employees’ benefit, but for the good of the entire sector.

“If I were in the travel industry in the United States, I’d spent 90% of my lobbying budget lobbying for four weeks of guaranteed paid vacation. I don’t understand why you don’t do that. Bernie Sanders was the only person they thought he was mad. I didn’t think he was mad.

“The reason 40% of Americans don’t have a passport isn’t because they’re uninterested in traveling. It’s because they don’t have time to go anywhere. Given that money spent in leisure time is actually more labor intensive than money spent on goods, it would probably benefit the American economy if people had more time to spend it.

“And this isn’t a mad idea. Henry Ford largely created the two-day weekend for his workers. Not entirely out of his own beneficence, but because he felt that if that spread, if the two-day weekend spread across American workers, then it would be worth buying a car.

“Henry Ford asked a different question, which was not, how can I get my workers to work as hard as possible? He asked the question: is it possible to create more leisure in wider society so that it’s actually worth owning a car in the first place? And I think we often, we need to ask more interesting questions.”

2. Travel retailing needs to work like the internet to fix the experience gap

Jen Catto, CMO of Travelport, introduced new research at the event which showed the need for our industry to make big changes. She talked about the experience gap that exists in the industry.

While “travel is the number one most enjoyable thing for people, they find shopping for travel to be decidedly underwhelming, creating a chasmic experience gap.” For example, in the US (the largest travel region), 43% of respondents said they don’t find booking travel enjoyable. However, 95% of that same group enjoy actually being on holiday.

Jen outlined a new vision where travel retailing can become “more like the internet”. With standard taxonomy (there are more than 60 different branded names for the ‘premium economy’ seat alone), common standards, and a more collaborative approach travel retailing, we can help achieve this.

“All of this would make the process much faster, cheaper, and an overall better user experience. And what’s more modern than building things together?” 

3. Travel’s moment for the metaverse has arrived

Whether you believe the hype or not, it’s impossible to talk about the future of travel retailing without looking to the metaverse. Expert Consultant, Steve Bambury, introduced three applications for metaverse in travel during our event in Dubai.

The first application, which has been around for several years, is using VR to showcase a destination or travel experience. Users can explore the travel experience using VR tools today like Wander, Sygic Travel, and Travel World VR as examples of how virtual reality can help travelers virtually “see” a place, which can “create the emotive drive to see it for real”.

Next, Steve predicts that every travel business is going to have a shop or a building in the metaverse to reach the customers there. And like the real world, the most important thing to think about is location, location, location. The land next to Nike or Atari or Snoop Dog is at a premium because that’s where the highest virtual footfall will be. These parcels of land have increased by 10 to 20 times versus the price they were at a year ago.

 Steve also says in the next five to 15 years, we’re going to be looking at holidays in the metaverse. “Should I go to France in real life, or maybe Ancient Rome or the fictional island of Atlantis in the Metaverse? As ridiculous as this might sound it is a distinct possibility — the idea of virtual trips to impossible places, to the past, to the future,” he says. “People aren’t going to stop taking real trips, but they will start to supplement their in-real-life travel with crazy stuff like this.”

4. You can measure people’s experiences using wearable devices. We put it to the test in Dubai.

During the event in Dubai, the audience wore a smart wearable wristband to monitor mood, energy, and reaction to content. We wanted to measure the unconscious and emotive response to the materials they were shown at the event. People are irrational beings, and the traditional method of self-reporting or asking people what they think is inherently biased. What if we could see what they feel, and predict what they were going to do in future, based on the data? Paul Zak, founder of Immersion gave an amazing talk on topic.

“Oftentimes we measure what’s easy to measure — clicks, likes, views — and we see that as valuable intel on what people are feeling, but it’s not,” Zak says. “Attention just opens the door to having an amazing experience. The experience is actually the emotional state, the feeling state that you get.”

“And highly emotional experiences you want to repeat, you remember them and they motivate us to share the experience with others.” At the end of Paul’s talk he put the algorithm to the test and showed which speakers at our Dubai event held people’s attention the most, kept them engaged and excited, and which topics struggled to get the pulses moving.

Paul introduced the SIRTA methodology for travel companies to work with to create an extraordinary experience. By analyzing the brains of more than 50,000 people to measure their unconscious reactions, Paul says his agency has formulated a five-stage plan to creating a highly emotional, “amazing” experience.

  • Staging: Paul describes staging as making a customer feel comfortable. In the case of a travel provider, this can be done by saving user preferences and using artificial intelligence to streamline and expedite the booking experience.
  • Immersion: The next step is immersion, which can take the form of providing photos and content that help the consumer understand what the experience will look and feel like before, during, and after a trip.
  • Relevance: Paul says consumers respond more positively when digital interactions with a brand are relevant and customized to their needs.
  • Target: Brands should target their most loyal customers. “The super fans will work for you for free,” Paul says. “Let them help you. Leverage their energy, their passion, their emotion … they’re also the greatest test market.”
  • Action: And finally, Paul says to solidify the experience with a clear call-to-action.

5. Does green travel sell? Yes, but it depends on the sector you’re in.

There was no debating that sustainability is important. After all, working in the travel industry is a celebration of the incredible wonders to be explored across the world. But do consumers care enough about sustainability to vote with their wallets, and pay more, or potentially even inconvenience themselves slightly, for greener options? During a discussion on the topic, we heard from all sides on the conversation.

Jason Toothman, Chief Commercial Officer, Agency at Travelport introduced some research on the topic, explaining that 82% of people said sustainable travel was important to them. Half (48%), however, said they would opt for such trips only if it didn’t inconvenience them. And convenience isn’t the only limitation. Only 4% said sustainability was primary consideration when booking a trip.

John Bevan, Divisional Senior Vice President at Dnata Travel Group, says companies such as his have to figure out how to provide meaningful climate impact data to their corporate clients. “They have huge targets, very fast targets to net zero. They want to know what is the least impact route to go from A to B. Once we’ve cracked that and have reliable data, then that will automatically appear in leisure and influence leisure travelers,” Bevan says. “So I think through necessity and through setting strict targets, the corporate businesses are putting pressure on us.”

Steve Barrass, Chief Executive Officer, of TAG — an agency that also caters for a lot of celebrity travel – said that green travel is an emerging and major consideration for his clientele. He said while carbon footprint reduction — not carbon offsetting — is the best solution, at a minimum “everybody should be doing something”, including individual leisure travelers. “Is it going to cost more? Yes. How will we deal with that cost? Some will be passed on to the customer, some providers are reducing margins … because it’s the right thing to do. And is it going to be less convenient? Yes. But the price, I promise you, is worth it,” he says.

Nicole Sautter, Manager of Global Sustainability for American Express Global Business Travel, explained what her company is doing in this area:

  1. Track & report on Co2 for clients
  2. Influence choice at POS
  3. Offset and empower clients to offset
  4. Promote SAF (sustainable aviation fuel).

She says large corporations can also stimulate progress on sustainability by using their size and influence to spur change. For example, Sautter says on the question of sustainable aviation fuel, it’s not just a matter of stimulating demand for it, but also supply — which she says is lacking. “It would only take a few decision-makers [in business travel] to make a decision to invest in sustainable aviation fuel to send a market signal to producers,” she says.

6. Data sharing could revolutionize travel, but only if everyone is onboard

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 programs, 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. If it was beneficial for any airlines that has a loyalty program to open up and share that data it would already have been done.

“As a TMC, 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 Optimization 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.”

Anand 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. “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.”

Anand 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.”

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

“The end traveler 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 traveler opting in. GDPR or California privacy law would actually step in. Plus, if there’s a breach, I can’t just hand out data to anybody anytime.”

7. Other businesses can accelerate change in modern retailing

Last year Travelport launched its Accelerator program with Amazon Web Services. With over 120 applications, the program connected some of  the brightest minds in tech to the biggest names in travel. Out of all the applications, it came down to two winners, and we took the opportunity at the event to get an update from the those businesses to talk us through how they’ve progressed with their proof of concepts since the end of 2021.

Diego Acuña, of The Data Appeal Company, presented a tool that gathers and visualizes travel destination data from more than 500 million social and review posts every day. They’ve been working with the new Travelport+ API to offer an additional layer of information to their data visualization platform.

Managing Director, Dean Maidment of Taguchi Marketing Automation, shared how they had progressed with their ground-breaking marketing automation platform for the travel industry. Dean explained how the business had had developed a proof of concept, integrating with Travelport+ and the opportunities he sees in travel now. What’s more, there were several expressions of interest from the audience in Dubai, which is what the accelerator is all about.


Watch some of the keynotes from The Future of Travel Retail event.

All of this would make the process much faster, cheaper, and an overall better user experience. And what’s more modern than building things together?
Jen Catto, CMO, Travelport
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