Skift Take

The travel industry urgently needs operational software that normal people find intuitive, flexible, and powerful. Otherwise it will lose efficient early-career workers to other sectors that have superior tools.

Series: Megatrends 2018

Skift Megatrends 2018

In January 2018 released our annual travel industry trends forecast, Skift Megatrends 2018. You can read about each of the trends on Skift, or download a copy of our magazine here.

Easier-to-use business software has begun to spread in the travel industry, promising to make workers more efficient.

Technology vendors such as Sabre, Expedia, and Duetto are responding to a demand by travel companies. “Business buyers are demanding the same type of experience that they enjoy as consumers using sites like Amazon,” said Ellen Keszler, a technology consultant who sits on the board of many travel companies.

While workplace tools will never be as easy to use as a mobile app to order a pizza, they are becoming more intuitive to work with.

A few years ago, enterprise applications drew twice as many complaints on average as consumer applications did, according to a study by research firm MeasuringU. But a change in the way businesses are buying software is driving improvements.

Until recently, companies sold enterprise software to airlines, travel agencies, hotel chains, and others in the following way: The vendor cut a one-time deal with someone in the C-suite (often after many free tickets to sports events and other soft bribes) who had little idea of what employees needed.

So vendors delivered clunky workplace tools. Just ask any travel agent who has typed cryptic codes on a so-called “green screen,” or monochromatic desktop ticketing software.

Today’s better software is the side effect of companies adopting the software-as-a-service business model. Tools are now delivered over the internet instead of from a box sitting in a closet on a company’s premises. Companies pay the bill for the tools monthly instead of in a large upfront sum.

The model has slashed the stakes of software-buying decisions while boosting the ease of switching between vendors. So executives are increasingly giving a voice to the teams who actually use applications when it comes time to buy. Funny enough, when workers have a say, they insist on products that are straightforward.

“The people in marketing and e-commerce roles at hotels must demand applications that make it easier for them to see the right information and take action in real time,” said Marco Benvenuti, co-founder and chief marketing and strategy officer of revenue management software provider Duetto.

“The days of using spreadsheets and MS-DOS-like products should be gone, but too many hospitality professionals are still stuck with these kinds of tools.”

In 2018, travel technology giant Sabre expects to migrate more than half of the 250,000 travel agencies that use its desktop reservations software to a fully revamped version. Sabre Red Workspace includes many little functionalities that will likely bore executives but may endear it to some agents.

Its air pricing tools let agents quickly see airline ancillary services as potential add-ons without them having to toggle out of their main screens. The software also remembers an agent’s settings, location, and identity each time it is opened, unlike before. It loads quickly and works without hiccups even in areas with low internet bandwidth — vital in the developing world. And while some agents say that Sabre still has much more work to do on the usability front, they welcome the progress.

Another factor driving the trend of better business tools is that the travel industry is witnessing a narrowing contrast between how consumer and enterprise applications are designed.

A case in point: Expedia debuted in summer 2017 a property analytics tool for hotel revenue managers that aims to provide detailed and contextual information, with a simple and intuitive interface, to make it easier for them to evaluate performance. “We’ve worked hard to bring over the design principles we’ve learned from our consumer-facing tools into all of our tools for our Expedia Partner Central platform for hoteliers,” said Nicolas Daudin, senior director of global product management for the company.

There are key best practices for the industry as a whole to embrace, Daudin said. “We’ve found success by adopting both a user-centric design process and an iterative approach of asking users for feedback on features and on usability along the way and not just at the end.”

Another factor helping to bring user experience out of the dark ages is that travel technology companies are increasingly shamed by the ease of use of other tools, such as messaging service Slack, expense manager Expensify, client tracker Salesforce, and project management tool Asana. The contrast between good and bad software is becoming sharper by the day.

Benvenuti of Duetto said his company’s chief technology officer used his earlier experience at Salesforce “to push us to deliver interfaces as attractive, intuitive, and easy-to-use as other enterprise tools that companies are using.”

“We have heard from our partners,” said Daudin of Expedia. “They need simplified tools that can be easily understood and leveraged by someone without an IT degree.”

Download Your Copy of Skift Megatrends 2018

This year’s Megatrends are sponsored by our partners at AccorHotels, Allianz Worldwide Partners, Hilton Garden Inn, Intrepid Travel, onefinestay, and Upside.

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Tags: megatrends 2018, sabre, user experience

Photo credit: Professionals increasingly expect the tools that they use for their jobs to be as intuitive and helpful as the consumer apps they use on their mobile devices. Several companies, such as Concur, Sabre, and Expedia, are bringing such improved tech to professionals this year. Bing Qing Ye / Skift

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