Travelport has taken the wraps off new airline merchandising technology which it claims has the potential to revolutionise the way airfares are sold.
Unveiled officially in Dublin last night on the eve of the CAPA aviation conference, the Travelport Merchandising Platform has been developed to allow airlines to better differentiate their products and agents to enhance their selling expertise by blending traditional industry ATPCO standard GDS distribution with more flexible API-based data feeds.
For agents this will be combined in their usual workflow enabling them to more easily compare different products and prices, offer their customers ancillaries and access a much richer source of information to help sell the benefits of the products and services offered by carriers.
At the platform launch easyJet and Air Canada were held up as examples of how Travelport is already working with both low-cost and traditional airlines to improve the way they take their products to market and provide choice to enable them to better manage their own strategies.
Ian Hayward, Travelport head of global supplier strategy, who joined two years ago following a long career in the airline industry, mainly with British Airways, said the frustration he felt with the GDSs in his previous roles was the limitations imposed due to having to comply with industry standards.
"When I was just trying to do something slightly different, whether it was trying to compete with low-cost carriers and perhaps some fares were not as opaque as I would have liked or doing something special on a route, my hands were tied," he said.
Hayward said the rapid rise of low-cost carriers means airlines are having to look for more flexibility to grow and to hit challenging revenue targets but were not prepared to change their models to suit traditional GDS requirements to do so.
"They do not want to be forced to distribute through industry standards. They want to distribute through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) which gives them a much more flexible and dynamic way of doing business.
"The traditional airlines have the dilemma in their short-haul and domestic networks of competing with low-cost rivals but on long-haul they still need to compete with traditional carriers, not so much on a price but a product basis.
"On the one side they've got to convey that message that they have spent all this money and this is what their product is and why it's so good. Someone has got to convey that to the passengers to say this is why you should fly on that airline. At the same time that carrier is competing in the low-cost market as well. There it's about price but brand is very important as well."
Travelport cited an estimate that the airfare ancillary market will be worth $45 billion by 2015 to underline how important that merchandising is becoming in the sector.
"If you are going to distribute your ancillaries you are going to need to do it effectively in the way you want to do it. You need to maximise your audience. You cannot maximise return if you are only going to do it through your own website," said Hayward.
Travelport believes it is leading the industry in launching its new merchandising platform although expects its rivals to follow suit. Aggregated API GDS shopping is available now, the new ancillary services sales system is also available now and Travelport aims to have a third solution offering rich content and branding data to agents live by the end of the year.
This final component will allow agents to access detailed information in an upgraded seatmap functionality offering data and imagery by simply scrolling over results within the conventional workflow process meaning they will not have to break away from the booking to check the airline's website.
EasyJet, which in recent years has switched its model to embrace GDS distribution to access lucrative corporate travellers has already gone live with aggregated shopping.
Catherine Lynn, group commercial officer, said: "EasyJet is on a journey and I'm absolutely thrilled that what the guys at Travelport have been working on is making travel easier to book for business travellers. The fact that easyJet fares are on the same screen as Lufthansa or Air France is an absolutely brilliant way forward.
"We are interested in business travellers because they are higher yielding and we quite like making money. This is a pool of business we have not traditionally tapped. But we want to do it in an easyJet way. That's about challenging people like Travelport to move forward. We are passionate about letting customers be in control, to make a choice. This really is an industry changing piece of work."
Derek Sharp, Travelport managing director global distribution and sales, added: "Travelport Merchandising Platform paves the way for significant change in the distribution landscape by enabling airlines to go to market with all of their products in the right place, at the right time, in every channel. It provides complete consistency in how an airline's product portfolio is presented and sold across all channels."
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