We all know Travelport as a provider of transaction processing solutions to the global travel industry. But when we think of Travelport what perhaps first comes to mind is Travelport’s global distribution system (GDS) business, which operates the Worldspan Apollo and Galileo platforms. However, Travelport also operates an Airline IT Solutions business which provides not only IT solutions but also market intelligence and data analysis tools for airlines and other stakeholders in the travel industry. Robert Sikam, Director, Airline IT solutions, EMEA, Travelport, tells Jo Murray that there is not necessarily a clear cross over in terms of customers between the GDS part of the business and the Airline IT Solutions business but both have a vital role to play
“Within the Airline IT Solutions business our portfolio is quite broad,” points out Sikam. Not only are customers diverse – airlines, airports and ground handlers, for example – but the client group also comprises Travelport’s competitors. “Behind the scenes we power quite a lot of our competitors’ platforms with our IT technology,” he says. “Now we also have some railway companies that we provide technology for.”
Travelport offers the airline market, its agents and partners a hosted solutions suite called Meridian which comprises reservations, inventory and departure control systems (DCS), including collection of fares, pricing and electronic ticketing products, plus advanced connectivity solutions.
“We now have relaunched our DCS. It is part of our Meridian hosting solution,” says Sikam. “About three years ago we signed a technology partnership agreement for a weight and balance system with Res2 in the Netherlands and they have built us a brand new GUI [graphical user interface],” says Sikam, stressing that the GUI is a major selling point for the system. “The GUI has been developed to take the check-in and gate agent throughout the whole process.”
“From the weight and balance perspective, the system ensures both economic flight and safety. If there is a very heavy piece of cargo that is used to keep balance and weight in the right proportions, the GUI advises right away exactly where to put it,” he says.
Travelport has made sure that it sits at the forefront of check-in and boarding technologies. “We offer our customers internet check-in, which allows passengers to print their boarding passes at home; or we will send a text message with a 3D boarding pass barcode which can be used to pass through the gate,” points out Sikam. “The other thing that we have added is an application that allows the passenger to pre-pay for excess baggage, offering a discount of up to 20%. This can all be done online which will speed up the check-in process at the airport.”
Sikam is aware that the use of technology and mobile devices to stay in touch with passengers is a highly useful tool; but it can also be very annoying for the passenger when the message is purely sales-led. He says being “over communicative” is not the right way to use the available technologies, especially when the target is a frequent flyer who is only too aware of the airport layout and the opportunities for passing time/purchasing goods at the airport.
“We, at Travelport, are always having brain-storming sessions and we listen to the customers’ points of view to understand the best service we can provide,” he says.
Of course managing human resources in the airport environment is one area in which technology is vital, whether the resources come in the shape of airline personnel themselves or third-party ground agents. Sikam says that Travelport is using technology to deliver vital information on passenger flows and aircraft delays to staff at check-in desks, on the floor or at the gate. “What we are looking at is trying to deliver more information on these mobile devices to staff to enable them to help passengers rather than, for example, send them to a desk to speak to another member of staff,” he says. All of this adds up to a much more positive airport experience for the passenger.
Technology does not only bring efficiency and improved passenger flows; it also allows airlines to earn revenue from selling ancillary revenues. Sikam says that all the information that an airline needs in order to communicate with the passenger is stored in the passenger name record (PNR) which makes marketing extra airline services straightforward from a technology point of view.
“The PNR is the crux of the issue as all the information we need is stored there and it gives us an understanding of passenger behaviour,” says Sikam. “Other things that we facilitate include merchandising. We help our customers to put advertisements on boarding passes, and we give the customer the choice of whether they want to print the boarding passes with ads or without ads.”
So where are all these technologies headed and are there any shining lights in this area? “In the US, flying is like taking a bus,” responds Sikam. “It is a benchmark for us to work to.”
He continues: “In the US we are currently working on a frequent flyer profile. This enables you to pass through security without showing anything to security staff as you are already recognised as a frequent flyer. These are the sorts of things we are looking at.
“Another thing that is happening right now, is that when you show up at the desk to show your boarding pass, you simply show your mobile phone with your boarding pass on the screen. Things are becoming paperless, which is very important when entering an electronic environment. S further thing that is happening is RFID which we are looking at introducing.”
In terms of delivering technologies to the airport environment, Sikam says that IT infrastructure in the airport environment can be a limiting factor. “Travelport can work entirely through the internet,” he points out. This means there is less dependence upon local hardware and simply a requirement for a reliable internet environment.
What is neat about Travelport is that, as a hosted solutions provider, the company really does not aim its products at any particular slice of the airline community. From the large network carrier to the local city-pairs operators, the company has an appropriate response and is keen to listen.