Border closures, flight cancellations, and a host of Covid-19-related restrictions have made consumers less confident about flying. New technologies such as contactless hotel and meal vouchers can help airlines manage flight disruptions more efficiently, thereby easing traveler distress, strengthening brand loyalty, and helping the industry rebound.
The commercial aviation industry is in recovery mode, with airlines and airports seeking new ways to regain trust, build consumer confidence, and sustain passenger demand due to effects from the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to taking precautionary measures to keep passengers safe and regularly sharing those steps with their customers, airlines must overcome negative perceptions associated with flight delays and cancellations — frustrating lines and wait times for hotel and meal vouchers are the last thing passengers want to deal with in today’s social distancing-era.
Airline lodging platform Travelliance aims to eliminate that frustration with a self-service app that lets travelers avoid queues and bypass conversations with airline representatives. Parent company FLEETCOR, which specializes in fuel and commercial payments, also owns CLC Lodging, a provider of corporate lodging solutions for businesses. SkiftX spoke with Ted Scislowski, president of Travelliance, about how this contactless technology solution works and how it can help airlines become more Covid-19 compliant.
SkiftX: What’s the general customer sentiment around airlines right now?
Ted Scislowski: Business and leisure travelers have different perspectives. Frequent business travelers have a higher level of confidence in the airlines and in air travel in general. On the other hand, non-frequent leisure travelers may need more coaxing and assurances of protection to build confidence about being in close proximity with others on an aircraft. In addition, the uncertainty around shifting flight schedules in conjunction with border closures and restrictions can seem too complex to navigate, which can deter people from planning a trip that requires air travel.
SkiftX: What are some things airlines can do to help regain trust and grow consumer confidence, without sacrificing major revenue streams?
Scislowski: First, airlines can communicate frequently with consumers about the precautionary steps they’re taking to make air travel safe. Second, they can explore mutually beneficial partnerships with reputable health organizations that focus on Covid-19 prevention, hygiene, and best practices. Lastly, they can adapt operational processes to promote new social-distancing norms to protect their staff and customers and minimize the risk of spreading Covid-19.
SkiftX: How do you think the usage and implementation of contactless technology will play a role in the future of the airline industry and its recovery, both short-term and long-term?
Scislowski: Generally, the airline sector is ready to enter an era of increased digitalization and automation to bring efficiencies to the customer journey. Streamlining information flow between systems improves reporting capabilities and reduces the time and costs associated with flight disruptions, as well as the overall possibility of human error. Short term, the use of contactless technology can increase confidence for consumers wanting to limit exposure to potential risks and can help airlines recover more quickly.
Looking to the future, this solution eliminates frustrations associated with long wait times for accommodation and meal vouchers during a flight disruption and empowers consumers to make choices that lead to instant gratification. On the business side, it allows airline agents to focus on having quality conversations with passengers that require assistance, thereby increasing customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.
SkiftX: Can you talk about the strategy behind Travelliance’s paperless voucher technology?
Scislowski: The idea is to make the airline business more attractive to suppliers, where both sides win. Historically, the issuance, use, and reconciliation of paper vouchers has been a lengthy process on all sides. Going back to the basics of simplicity, transparency, and accountability provides tremendous benefits from a payment and reconciliation perspective. Immediate payment means more suppliers want to work with airlines. Conversely, airlines get visibility on spend more quickly, allowing them to forecast more accurately and develop better recovery plans.
SkiftX: How does the technology work for the airline? How about the customer?
Scislowski: We wanted to create a simple, real-time solution for airlines and consumers alike. Airlines use our suite of applications to offer accommodation and meals for customers navigating flight disruptions. Our “Hotel, Meal, and Transportation” system (HMT) is a unique technology that digitizes the traditional paper-based voucher solution. The HMT solution’s contactless function not only fits in perfectly with today’s era of social distancing, but is more efficient for the airlines and provides a better customer experience than paper-based solutions. It works within the airline’s existing systems to preempt recovery for individuals or multiple people at the same time.
The system is highly configurable, giving airlines the flexibility to manage passengers based on predetermined business rules. Conversely, self-servicing consumers can choose and confirm their options with three clicks, without ever having to line up to see an agent or having to download an application. The end result is a cost-effective, proactive, and streamlined process with no wait times, no frustrations, and a positive customer experience.
SkiftX: Where do the hotels and meal vendors come into play?
Scislowski: Travelliance acts as the central repository for information between airlines and suppliers. By managing these relationships on behalf of the airlines, we’re able to consolidate an otherwise strenuous process of reconciliation and payment of multiple vendor invoices. The benefit to suppliers lies in the consolidated buying power of Travelliance’s airline customers. We are able to offer increased volume through different lines of business and immediate payment solutions, providing a level of certainty of timely payments and assurance of business continuity.
SkiftX: How is real-time hotel inventory ensured?
Scislowski: Rooms are housed in Travelliance’s proprietary hotel database 24 hours a day, even before a disruption occurs. As soon as there is a requirement for rooms, inventory can be depleted, which prompts automatic notifications to suppliers to replenish those rooms. Additionally, we have the ability to rely on multiple sources and channels of inventory to ensure rooms are always available to passengers.
SkiftX: Do you expect this paperless voucher technology to expand into other areas of air travel beyond hotels and meal vouchers in the near future?
Scislowski: The opportunity to tie in transportation and alternative meal options to complete the end-to-end recovery of customers is one of the areas we have been developing. We expect to see this soon in the next level of product enhancements. We are also keen to branch into other areas within the airlines’ customer recovery realm that could encompass compensation payments, crew allowance payments, and emergency response support.
SkiftX: Why does it make sense for airlines to put contactless technology in place now?
Scislowski: To start, it makes sense for airlines to emphasize and capitalize on the contactless aspect of the solution now — to be among “the first” to take proactive steps toward promoting safe flying and rebuilding traveler confidence.
Second, there’s less risk for airlines to launch a new network-wide system when the volume of travelers is low and they have a better opportunity to implement and test the technology and to train staff across the various airports.
Lastly, with a reduced workforce, airlines can achieve new efficiencies with contactless technology and realize cost savings by having the ability to focus on the airline’s core competencies instead of the complexities of disruption logistics. The resulting increase in customer satisfaction and loyalty can better position them in the post-Covid marketplace.
This content was created collaboratively by Travelliance and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.
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