Hundreds of the travel industry’s most technology savvy executives will gather for our first Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12.

Skift Tech Forum, which will take place at the United Club at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, will focus on tech disruptions in retailing, distribution and merchandising of travel as well as on timely debates such privacy versus personalization. Expect insightful conversations from a broad range of speakers, including CEOs and top executives from United Airlines, Southwest, Uber, Accor, Sabre Corp., Hilton Hotels, Alibaba, and Kayak.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in the technology space.

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Travelport has gone its own way in the travel distribution technology world. It has concentrated its focus on airline distribution and payments while rivals have attempted to diversify into other products like operations software for airlines and hotel chains.

In 2011, CEO Gordon Wilson became CEO of the company.

Wilson has gradually turned Travelport from an old-school distributor — think roomfuls of mainframe computers that distribute airfares using a decades-old technical messaging standard — to one with a substantial interest in the latest technologies, such as cloud-based services delivered using modern APIs [application programming interfaces, or methods of sharing data].

The company focus has also shifted. Europe remains a top market for the company, but over the years it has expanded into India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and North America.

At the upcoming Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12,  Wilson will talk about Travelport’s past, present, and future.

What follows is an edited version of a recent Skift interview with Wilson.

Skift: Under your leadership, how has Travelport been morphing into a different kind of company, moving beyond old-school distribution?

Gordon Wilson: Airlines want more creative ways to sell and we’re providing them with our merchandizing platform, called Rich Content and Branding.

Today we have a merchandising platform that has no limit on how many products airlines can show on the shelves. There’s no limit on how the content is displayed, either.

Skift: Is this delivering results?

Wilson: In the first quarter of 2018, our rich content merchandizing platform generated for airlines a total transaction volume of $23 billion. That was a 13 percent gain from a year earlier.

A large piece of that gain was from the added value of the airline upsells to higher fare families. Another piece of that gain was ancillaries like checked baggage. We have 301 ancillaries from 86 airlines available today.

Skift: But some major airlines are still not on board?

Wilson: Some are. In late April, I met with Delta, where people used the retail term “shelves” to describe this. [Meaning, they refer to each reservation screen used by Travelport-affiliated agencies and every online travel agency as being like a shelf in a retail shop.]

Bizarrely, now that Virgin Atlantic has gone live with our platform, the ability and quality of how you can see a Delta codeshare flight are very superior on Travelport to many other selling systems.

So it was a productive conversation with Delta.

Skift: Who uses your merchandising platform?

Wilson: Today 260 airlines are live with content on it. Corporate booking tool providers like Concur are consuming airline content in our rich content APIs.

We have 40 online travel agencies, including Priceline.com, getting the rich content into their selling screens today.

Priceline.com, for example, is using our latest-and-greatest APIs which let Priceline consume the full content we have in a way that’s easier and lighter-weight. That means the APIs are faster for coders to develop to. They’re also lighter regarding data flow, which means the response time is quicker for consumers.

Skift: So it sounds like a step-change improvement in merchandising capability. When did this come about?

Wilson: In 2013, started with a custom experiment with Air Canada, the first mainstream airline to go down the path of offering branded fare families, or seats bundled with other services. We learned a lot, and it was the precursor.

Despite all this talk of shelves, Travelport can’t really do personalization yet the way Amazon can recommend “if you liked this one product you’ll also like Y, too.”

Skift: What about to individual persons?

Wilson: We can’t do down to the individual, though no one else can either.

But we can do customized offers that are now down to individual corporations. If an airline had a personalized offer to to XYZ Inc., that can be shown via our platform.

For example, if you work for XYZ Inc., you can also get complimentary access to the lounge, or whatever the carrier chooses to offer, and other companies won’t see it.

Skift: How does the move to mobile by consumers change things?

Wilson: When an airline makes a change to offers on either desktop websites or reservation systems, every competitor can see it straightway and compete.

But when the airline makes special offers only available to users on a specific mobile channel, it can avoid an impact on its market price.

This is less about personalized offers and more about shifting inventory which isn’t selling by playing to the price with what the industry calls a closed-user group.

Skift: What is one critical thing that the industry needs to solve next?

Wilson: Display clarity. If you take the London/New York route, for example, there are like 10 airlines covering that. If you add the codeshares, it multiplies in complexity. Display challenges like that are something the whole industry needs to get better at.

Photo Credit: Travelport CEO Gordon Wilson will speak about next-generation airline retailing and distribution at Skift Tech Forum in Silicon Valley on June 12, 2018. Travelport