Leading travel technology company Amadeus, which celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this month, recently launched Amadeus IT Consulting and Solutions. Breaking Travel News sits down with Diane Bouzebiba following her recent appointment as managing director of Amadeus UK and Ireland to discuss the future of Global Distribution Systems, multi channel strategies, the arrival of ‘Generation Y’ and much more.
Breaking Travel News: What have been your main priorities since your appointment as MD last year?
Diane Bouzebiba: My main priority since taking up the role of MD has been to concentrate on meeting and talking to our customers; finding out how their businesses work, so that we can help them in the most effective ways through our technology and expertise.
I have been working with Amadeus in various roles for the past 10 years, but I needed to understand what it means to be a travel professional in the UK & Ireland, and our customers have been happy to provide that valuable insight.
I love to learn and the great thing about my role is that when I’m with customers, I’m learning every day.
BTN: What have been the key highlights for Amadeus UK so far in 2012?
DB: 2012 has been an exciting year for Amadeus.
We celebrated our 25th anniversary in October and we recently launched Amadeus IT Consulting and Solutions, which is a formalisation of something customers have been increasingly relying on us to deliver: expert guidance on how to get the most out of their technology investment.
In my discussions with customers, a theme that’s cropped up repeatedly has been how Amadeus can help businesses pull together disparate technologies in a coherent and effective way.
Our business consultants work with customers to map their current processes, and then make recommendations on how to best optimise their systems – whether they are provided by Amadeus or not. We are in a unique position at the heart of the travel industry, so we can quickly recognise best practice, whether that is in the UK and Ireland or in the wider world.
We take and adapt that expertise to help solve business issues for other customers.
We often start with a blank piece of paper, ask our customers where they want to be in three years’ time, and then work with them to achieve their goals. When you take that blue-sky thinking approach, it is amazing what you can achieve.
BTN: What new products / innovations can customers expect to see in coming months?
DB: Airline ancillary services have been a big talking point in the industry over the past few years.
In 2011, the sale of these additional services delivered €18 billion in revenues for airlines. But what was missing from a travel seller’s perspective was an end-to-end, integrated approach.
So I’m pleased to say that our UK & Ireland customers can now book ancillary services with key airlines including Air France, KLM, Finnair and airberlin.
Uniquely, Amadeus has developed an interactive catalogue within the Selling Platform, which enables travel professionals to clearly see what the airline is trying to cross-sell and up-sell.
Because it all takes place within the preferred booking channel, selling ancillary services becomes a natural part of the agency workflow. To try to exclude the intermediary distribution channel from boosting airline ancillary revenues would be a big mistake to my mind.
Another key development is in the corporate arena. We have just redesigned the look and feel of Amadeus e-Travel Management (AeTM), our corporate online booking tool that is used by some 6,000 corporations worldwide.
AeTM has undergone a completely new workflow redesign, streamlining the booking process and making it easier and faster to search, book, review and approve travel.
These changes enable travellers and travel arrangers to more efficiently speed their way through the booking process.
The new intuitive experience is closer to what travellers have become accustomed to when using leisure travel websites. This enhancement is about much more than colours and fonts.
A better user experience is proven to help corporations achieve even better rates of travel policy compliance, which in turn enables them to drive down the costs of doing business.
Hand in hand with the new AeTM design is the launch of our AeTM Mobile booking app.
What is important to recognise here is that designing a class-leading mobile booking application for managed travel is not simply a matter of trying to squeeze the desktop application into the tiny real estate of an Apple or Android smartphone.
User experience is still key to the adoption of new technology and in order to deliver the best possible experience, we had to go back to the drawing board to develop the new app.
But at the same time, the beauty of this travel management tool for road warriors is how it is completely synchronised with the desktop application being used by the travel arranger and the Amadeus GDS used by the Travel Management Company.
The solution is currently being tested by customers and we expect to release it to market by the end of the year.
BTN: How is Amadeus differentiating itself from its competitors?
DB: Travel technology can sometimes seem a bewildering business landscape.
But at Amadeus, what we are aiming to do is simply this: helping customers succeed in travel.
So wherever a customer is in the travel journey, whether that is a service provider, online or offline leisure travel retailer or travel management company (TMC), we believe it is our job to develop the technology to help them succeed.
That’s why I can say with hand on heart that Amadeus is not just a provider, it really is a business partner to our customers.
A major part of our 25-year success story comes back to a founding principle of Amadeus: a community IT platform.
Today, around 120 airlines use some or all of our Amadeus Altéa technology which encompasses reservations, inventory and departure control applications among others.
What this means to travel sellers is that by using Amadeus they are simply better connected.
When a TMC uses the same technology as the airline they benefit from seamless information sharing and unrivalled data accuracy, more content and more last seat airline availability.
That’s why it is incredibly frustrating whenever I overhear people say that all travel technology companies are the same – it simply isn’t true.
Never one to rest on its laurels, I’m also very proud of how Amadeus is continually evolving with the times.
We remain 100 per cent committed to research and development, and in 2011 Amadeus was again named the number one Research & Development investor in Europe for computer services and travel & tourism sectors by the European Commission.
In fact since 2004 the company has invested more than €2 billion in new IT and R&D. So you can see we always have an eye on the future to ensure our customers don’t get left behind.
BTN: Why is it important for Amadeus to have a social media presence in addition to its online presence? How have your social media products (blog and Facebook page) been received?
DB: What I think is important is to give customers the opportunity to interact with Amadeus in the way that suits their personal information needs and learning styles.
Some or our customers widely use Facebook and Twitter for their own businesses, and they enjoy the immediacy that is inherent in social media.
What I like about our blog, for example, is how readers can come to it whenever they choose to.
It isn’t the same with push communication such as email, which can be disruptive and demanding of your time.
Pull communication puts the reader in control. Interestingly, Amadeus is bringing a social media tool for travel sellers to market in the near future.
Our customers tell us that as their technology partner, it makes sense for us to help them implement their own social media strategy, which we are only too happy to do of course.
BTN: To what extent is mobile technology a priority for Amadeus? What are your plans in this arena?
DB: As I alluded to earlier, mobile technology is one of our key priorities, and we will be launching a mobile app in the UK at the end of this year on Android and iPhone.
It will be a comprehensive solution that will serve both the end-traveller as well as their travel manager.
The big difference with this app is that it will allow you to book managed travel: most apps currently available only contain itinerary details and you can’t make any changes to your travel arrangements. The idea with the app from Amadeus is that traveller and TMC alike will have all the information they need at their fingertips.
Next year we will be launching Amadeus Mobile Messenger.
This is a new, automated way to manage interactive global traveller tracking and communication in any type of travel disruption or crisis situation, which is sadly becoming more of an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world.
BTN: Amadeus was nominated in the category of Europe’s Leading Travel Merchandising Solution Provider by the World Travel Awards earlier this year. To what do you attribute this? What does it mean to Amadeus to have won and been nominated for awards such as this?
We’re honoured to be nominated. Awards like this are testament to the hard work that goes in from all the Amadeus staff: it’s critical for us that our customers are at the heart of everything we do – listening to them and providing them with the tools they need to make their business successful is what we’re about.
To be nominated for awards like this show us that we’re on the right track, and giving our customers what they need.
BTN: What are your predictions for the online travel space over the next five years?
Let’s look at it from a technology perspective.
Most businesses would benefit from a multi-channel strategy.
Can we say that a customer that talks to a call centre won’t first research travel options online?
Or how about a customer searching for a week-end getaway on a tablet device while commuting who waits until they’ve received sign-off from the boss, before booking the trip on a desktop PC? So we see the future as a place where channels converge. What suits an individual in any given situation is not a precursor to how they choose to act the next day.
Having said that, online travel still needs to be optimised for mobile devices.
And it isn’t just about booking – it needs to go beyond that.
For example, our Extreme Search solution is about answering fuzzy logic questions like, “I have £500 and I want to go somewhere that offers me a new experience. What are my options?”
Technology will need to become more human in the way it is designed to capture the imagination (and purse strings) of future travellers.
We also need to factor in the arrival of ‘Generation Y’.
These are digital natives that have grown up with more computing power in their bedroom than was used to send astronauts into space.
With one in every eight hours online being spent using Facebook, will this next generation even bother with traditional travel websites? What we do see today is a growing number of web developers connecting with Amadeus using Web Services.
This enables them to design an online experience that is exactly right for their particular customer profile, while neatly tapping into the broadest range of content and connectivity that Amadeus has to offer.
BTN: What does the future look like for Global Distribution Systems?
This is a really exciting time for the travel industry: everything’s changing at a rapid pace, and I think in the next few years we will see a move from a traditional GDS to a “GRS” – a global retailing system.
Ancillaries are a good example of this: we supply airlines with the technology to sell ancillary services on their direct channels, but we can also provide agents with the technology to offer the same service to their customers, effectively enabling them to compete with the airlines as a retailer.
So this is a kind of first-step from a GDS to a GRS.
For Amadeus, it’s about how to make sure all sellers, including direct and intermediaries, have access to the technology they need in order to run their businesses effectively.