Travel TechnologyTravelport's CEO Greg Webb speaks about the company's stance on the Russia-Ukraine war, data sharing and leveraging accommodation for growth.

In the face of a new world order, Travelport looks to reinvent the wheel

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"We don’t want to keep people from leaving Russia if they are trying to get out," says Travelport's Webb.
"We don’t want to keep people from leaving Russia if they are trying to get out," says Travelport's Webb. Photo Credit: Hotel Marufukuro

Six months after Greg Webb became CEO of Travelport in August 2019, Covid-19 emerged to wreak havoc on the travel industry, bringing many elements of it to a standstill.

But Travelport has been plowing ahead with changes, offloading businesses including Locomote and eNett, rebranding the company and launching Travelport+ as a single environment to replace its legacy systems, Galileo, Apollo and Worldspan.

Underlying all of these changes is a vision the company describes as “reinventing travel retailing” and positioning Travelport to be “the best multi-source content aggregator in the world.”

Last week at Travelport’s “Future of Retail” customer event in Dubai, PhocusWire sat down with Webb to find out more about the company’s plans, including how the company is looking to grow and thoughts on topics including NDC, hospitality and innovation.

I think we have to start with the topic of the war in Ukraine. Travelport, along with Sabre and Amadeus, has removed Aeroflot’s fares from its system. How are you evaluating next steps as far as your business in Russia?

We operate directly in Russia so our first concern was, are all of our employees safe? Secondly we operate through an operator in Ukraine, and we were equally concerned about the employees of our operator.

I was shocked and appalled at the actions Russia has taken against Ukraine. It’s horrific. The decision we made is we didn’t want to support any state-owned entity. At the same time, we also didn’t want to hurt the people of Russia or the people of Ukraine by any action we took unilaterally, because it’s clear that this war is not a war of the entire country of Russia; it’s the war of maybe a single man or a small group inside Russia.

As an example, we’ve tried to support the booking of non-state owned entities, because what we’ve seen is a significant increase in one-way flights out of Russia to other places. We don’t want to keep people from leaving Russia if they are trying to get out. So I think it’s an evolving situation, and we’ll have to continue to monitor the direction this goes. And obviously we’re on the side of humanity, so whatever it takes to help people more broadly, we’re willing to do.

Travelport CMO Jen Catto talked about a recent survey the company conducted that found consumers still find shopping for travel very complex and frustrating. Part of the solution, she says, is reinventing the PNR (Passenger Name Record) into an open system for sharing itinerary data. Tell us more about that idea.

This is an industry that has built up, over time, the need to share information. There’s almost no industry in the world that has a need to share information more than travel.

If you think about interline agreements, codeshare agreements, the fact that as a traveller, when you book a trip, the airline knows about their part of it, the hotel knows about their part of it, the car rental company knows about their part, the cruise line potentially knows about their part — but none of them know about all of it. And so there’s a need to be able to share that information across the network.

But today there’s a very intricate structure around how we share information. Some of what’s happened with NDC (New Distribution Capability) is pulling away from sharing information. It’s trying to hold information more inside individual networks, which goes against everything else you see on the internet, everything else that you see happening in other evolving industries, which is more about opening up the information-sharing capability of that network.

We tend to believe that over time, because of consumer behavior, the need to be more open with data and more available with the ability for multiple parties to be able to access the same information on the same platform will become more prevalent.

So what does that mean for NDC?

If NDC delivers on its promise, which was first to be a new standard, a new way to do things, then it could be extraordinarily helpful. Unfortunately, it’s almost the opposite of a standard. It’s been implemented differently by almost every airline that has gone down an NDC path.

If it delivers on the promise that it was supposed to, which is it will allow airlines to better craft offers to the end traveller in a way that’s consumable, bookable and personalisable in a different way so that I get a different offer than you do on the same flight that has benefits I desire as a traveller, I think that’s good. I think that will allow consumers to make better buying choices. But until it delivers on the idea of giving information that allows you to make a better a buying choice, then it’s just adding complexity to the industry.

In the past, accommodation has been seen as a being a big driver of growth for Travelport – is that still the case?

We still see hospitality as both an opportunity for Travelport and also where we have a competitive advantage with our rich content and branding platform. We sell experience in the travel industry, and hospitality is probably the one that is most differentiated, in terms of the room, the amenities, the opportunity to cross sell, upsell.

There’s only so much you can do with an airline seat, but there’s a lot you can do with a hotel room in terms of the experience and I think that will continue to be something we focus on which is allowing hoteliers to optimise their opportunity to sell based on the quality of their offering, and that’s both on the business side and on the leisure side.

Source: Travel Weekly

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