Sabre, the leading global technology solutions provider for the airline and tourism sectors, saw a 10.4% (YOY) growth in bookings in Asia Pacific in Q3 2017. Executive vice president of Sabre and president of Sabre Travel Network Wade Jones tells Lee Xin Hui how they take a ‘services-first’ approach to better meet their clients’ needs through technology.
What are some recent trends you see among Asia Pacific travellers?
People now desire to create unique experiences rather than just an itinerary, which provides an opportunity for agents to bring their expertise to the table. As travellers’ expectations are informed, not just by travel, but by all their customer experiences – the likes of Uber, Amazon or Google – the travel marketplace has to do a better job in meeting their needs so that it is consistent with expectations set by those other businesses. It is also key to note that the lines are blurring between business and leisure travellers. By leveraging on the power of artificial intelligence and data analytics, businesses can better understand their customers on a personal level and offer the right experiences to generate loyalty.
How large a role do you see technology playing in impacting travel in the year ahead?
There’s an enormous opportunity for technology to sit at the heart of travel to meet consumers’ needs and it’s important for a business like ours to understand this. As hoteliers and airlines continue to add more amenities and further segment their products, this creates more complexity in the marketplace and someone needs to manage that.
So what is Sabre doing to manage this complexity?
In a network business like ours, we’re two sides of a marketplace that serves travel providers (airlines, hoteliers and cruise lines) and distribution partners and travel buyers. To meet their evolving needs, we take a services-first approach in our technology to develop platforms with micro services that can be unbundled and recombined. We’re one of the leading companies that support airlines and hoteliers specifically in their efforts to acquire and manage customers.
Are there any new technologies that truly excite you with their potential?
Conversational interfaces – artificial intelligence and chat bots – as the use of these technology can help reduce operational costs for businesses, while unlocking the opportunity for human interactions to be more engaging in the sense that the amount of time a travel agent spends on task-driven transactional activities can now be redirected to actually working with the traveller to develop their trip experiences.
Tell me more about your new agency point-of-sale platform Sabre Red Workspace and how it makes the work of travel consultants easier.
This product does a much better job of enabling travel providers to merchandise their services/products in a manner that’s more consistent with what they would see on their own website. It’s also really easy to use because there are two user interfaces – one native command-driven familiar to long-tenured agents and another that’s consumer-grade and graphical – which the agent can toggle between at any point in their workflow with a single touch of the button. We’re the only solution on the market that offers this.
For agencies trying to recruit new talent, it helps reduce training time. And while agencies are often concerned with a loss of productivity during the conversion, say from a competitor to our product, we’re seeing many of them overperforming in just two weeks.
Right now in Asia Pacific, the solution has gone live with customers in India and Australia; we’re currently piloting it with some agents in Singapore. Within the year, we’ll have a full timeline on the rollout.
What else is Sabre working on?
We’ve done a number of product developments, initiatives and tests around conversational interfaces and chat bots. We’re also in the process of service enabling our traveller experience app called Tripcase.
How would you rate Sabre’s performance in Asia Pacific so far?
We’re been very happy with our growth in the region. In 2015 we acquired Abacus International by buying the remaining 65% of Abacus which we didn’t own previously. Since then, our expectation is that it would allow us to drive more focus and performance in the region. That has certainly proven to be true. We’ve been very successful in Australia; we’ve been expanding footprint in India (a market we think there’s enormous potential for us going forward) and we are going to make sure we continue to expand our business in Asia Pacific going forward in 2018 and beyond.