By Mike Croucher – The travel industry is transforming with emerging technologies, new business models and changing consumer expectations.

Travelers now have a wide range of options when it comes to planning their trips. While it might have once been common to visit your local travel agent to plan a trip after seeing a neighbor’s vacation snaps, it’s now more likely that vacation pictures on social media are leading someone to browse for a getaway online. People can perform their own search and use a travel-booking website to compare the vast amount of options available.

In turn, travel suppliers and sellers must work hard to keep travelers engaged throughout their trip.

That is why Travelport, a global distribution service (GDS) that connects thousands of travel suppliers with even more travel sellers, is modernizing its travel commerce capabilities and offerings. We’re driving this transformation with a focus on the digital disruptors enabling the experiences travelers now prefer and expect.


The five forces of digital

There are five major digital forces that are disrupting the travel industry. These are the same technologies that are impacting all areas of our lives; including the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile devices, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and access to mass compute, particularly through cloud infrastructure. Together, these forces are improving travel experiences and transforming consumer expectations.

With the cloud, organisations can take advantage of technology capabilities such as analysis of big data, AI and machine learning, not just in central databases, but spread around the world within systems of intelligence.

A seller can then use this relevant, more accurate information to personalize the traveler’s journey. For example, as consumers continue depending on their mobile devices with real-time connectivity enabled by IoT, they want real-time flight alerts and access to their trip itineraries on the go.

Our 2018 digital traveler research revealed that these were two of the most important travel app features identified by leisure travelers.


Driving business forward with data

With data and AI capabilities, enterprises can improve the efficiency of their travel spending and the experiences of their employees during business travel. After identifying some of the major pain points for business travelers, Travelport and IBM worked together to find a solution and build the technology to make the experience of work travel better.

The IBM Travel Manager is a solution for corporations. The AI platform delivered on the IBM Cloud combines IBM employee and expense data with Travelport’s global travel content on various routes to offer more personalized, relevant options using AI to determine the best time to buy, the optimal routes and the best-fit hotels. It also looks at what-if scenarios. Instead of putting the traveler in an in-policy hotel five miles from the meeting, for example, it might recommend an exception that will save time and transportation costs.

The IBM Travel Manager actually goes beyond the efficiency of cost savings. It’s driving businesses forward by getting the right employee to the right place with the right mindset.


Travelport and IBM Cloud

In some ways, cloud is simply distributed compute in data centers that you can turn on and off to access services as needed. It has played a great part in the success of startups and new companies. But, for a more traditional company with a large data center like Travelport, cloud must complement existing infrastructure, not replace it.

IBM is a major supplier of large mainframe compute within our data centers, which we still believe are very important for security, speed and resilience. Combining that into the IBM Cloud gives us the ability to burst processing capabilities and distribute content wider than our data center to reduce latency with a more localised approach.


Ways to use data analytics and AI

A company can elevate conversations by informing its customers or stakeholders about the messages that matter most to them. It can also use these technologies to improve processes and achieve greater efficiency from machines. As a result, companies can personalise the experience for travelers and generate new business models.

When I joined Travelport five years ago, we were performing about 1,5-billion searches per month. In those search results, we would provide 300 to 400 different options for the traveler. We’ve now grown to more than 11-billion searches per month and we’re now pricing around 6-billion itineraries each day.

What has changed is the demand cycle with the mobile applications and meta searches through comparison sites. Our engine must manage the massive growth in consumer demand, processing more and more searches at faster speeds. Working with data analytics and AI tools, along with data models, we’ve used our own search algorithms to think differently about what we serve up.

We can now eliminate waste from those processes and get feedback loops into search, allowing us to provide highly relevant options. We can intelligently cache at the edge of the cloud, so that we have the results stored and ready to go rather than recalculating them every time, which is easier said than done when you’re working with volatile inventory such as airfare.

Putting these technologies to work helps us scale while reducing the cost structure of our business; and, Travelport is able to provide increasingly more personalised and engaging search results for travelers.


By Mike Croucher is the chief architect at Travelport