IBM was voted ‘World’s Best AI Travel Technology Provider 2021’ by voters of World Travel Tech Awards. BTN speaks to IBM’s Dr. Dee K. Waddell, Managing Partner, Global Industry Leader, Travel & Transportation Industries, on his company’s role in the travel tech sector.
BTN: What does it mean to you to gain this recognition by both industry and consumer voters?
Dee Waddell: First, we continue to be deeply appreciative of this (and past) recognition received from the World Travel Tech Awards. I have long believed that as a systems integrator, a solution provider, and an innovation partner, our IBM teams deliver the best value in the industry, but to be recognized by our industry and customers is truly a great honor.
BTN: Why do you think you won?
DW: We consistently strive to bring differentiating innovation with our partners and clients and the challenges they face. Sometimes this requires us to collaborate with our colleagues from IBM Research. Sometimes we find ourselves brokering conversations with other travel providers across the travel ecosystem. In the past few years, as many of our longstanding and most loyal customers faced unprecedented financial challenges, we turned to our experts in IBM Finance to find ways to adjust payment terms and cash commitments to help these customers make it through the tough times.
Commitment and flexibility would not be enough to win this award, however. We also have the best, most industry-informed AI technology solutions in the business. The value of the IBM travel platform, our robust portfolio of industry-relevant apps, and our deep expertise in delivering AI-led solutions via secure and reliable cloud infrastructure continues to set IBM apart from its peers, especially in the travel domain.
BTN: Can you tell us about IBM’s role in providing AI travel technology?
DW: While other companies have decided to make AI a priority in recent years, IBM was a pioneer in the exploration and development of AI-led travel solutions and has now built AI capabilities into virtually every aspect of our travel solution portfolio. For this reason, we will continue to make AI such an integral aspect of all that we do for airlines, hotels, rental car companies, cruise lines, travel agencies, and others that it will literally be as common an element of the solutions we envision, develop, manage, and support as data analytics, security, and reliability.
BTN: What can we expect from the IBM pipeline?
DW: IBM has a track record of delivering innovative ideas in ways that change the world. In the travel industry we initially did this with electronic reservations systems (with American Airlines and Sabre), and more recently we have leveraged our deep AI portfolio into line maintenance, commercial and other operational areas. This is in addition to our widely adopted portfolio of employee iOS apps on iPhone and iPad that drives collaboration and cohesion amongst disparate working employee groups. We continue to invest in solutions that solve many of the most significant challenges and opportunities in the travel industry.
BTN: How would you describe the current mood in travel technology – is the recovery from Covid well underway?
DW: In the travel industry, uncertainty and disruption are inescapable, so strategic leaders and successful companies plan for prolonged and profound challenges (and opportunities). IBM helps its travel clients endure these ups and downs by delivering reliable innovation when times are good, by helping reduce costs when times get tough, and by helping to maintain cost discipline every day, regardless of the economic condition.
BTN: How do you see the sector evolving?
DW: A few big trends will shape the travel industry in the next decade, most of which are not new, but a few of which have only emerged in the past 18 months.
The longstanding trends that will continue to play out across all travel verticals are convergence, personalization, and empowerment. The boundaries between travel companies have gotten blurrier in the past 5 to 10 years, and we expect this to continue. The tools that enable travel personalization have been evolving and delivering on the personalization vision will finally become a reality. The continued growth and maturation of tools that both employees (and to a lesser extent, customers) can use to engage with back-office and operational systems will empower deeper and more comprehensive interaction and collaboration at all levels.
Finally, many more travelers are aware of travel’s impact on the environment and the sustainability efforts of travel providers. This will have an increasing impact on purchase behavior and it will impact all aspects of travel companies—commercial, operations, finance, IT, etc. I’m happy to say, I believe, sustainability has finally taken its proper place on the corporate agenda.
BTN: Which areas of travel technology excite you most, and why?
DW: The application of blockchain technologies to the travel industry continues to excite me because I can easily see the disruptive potential of these solutions with respect to travel payment, travel service, and travel distribution. That said, the predictability and time horizons for these innovations is uncertain, so I try to stay grounded in solutions that are already changing the way travel companies think and operate. For this reason, cloud and AI are certainly the most exciting technologies in the travel industry today.