While some payments companies are retreating from the travel vertical, others are doubling down – with solutions focused on making the payments experience better, simpler, and more consistent across different geographies and platforms.
With the world’s travel plans grounded by the pandemic, travelers’ needs have been in constant flux throughout the year. From a payments perspective, addressing these shifting needs as we move into 2021 will require agility and a deep understanding of the customer journey.
Over the past two years, the payments industry has seen a number of consolidations – in 2019, Fiserv Inc. bought First Data Corp, and Fidelity National Information Services bought Worldpay – but increased size doesn’t necessarily mean these companies are well positioned to serve the specific needs of the travel industry.
In 2020, payment service provider Ingenico was acquired by Worldline, becoming the European leader and fourth-largest global payment service provider. The acquisition combines the strategic value of Ingenico’s travel expertise with Worldline’s enhanced reach and scale into one proposition.
SkiftX spoke with Eric Liebman, global head of travel at Ingenico, now a Worldline brand, about the verticalization of Ingenico’s travel business, and how the travel-focused platform continues to evolve and strengthen, even amidst the pandemic.
SkiftX: With its travel vertical expertise, what does Ingenico understand about travelers’ needs that other companies don’t, especially in light of the pandemic?
Eric Liebman: Payments is one tiny sliver of the travel experience, but the pandemic has brought it to the forefront. Travel companies know they need to get payments right, because they can’t count on people lining up anymore in big queues, waiting to pay in person. They’ve got to figure out how to do this now remotely, and so they’re turning to folks like us.
At Worldline, we now have two teams fully aligned with the travel vertical to address both online and offline needs of our customers. Both teams include seasoned travel professionals, as we feel it’s important to know the industry from the inside out rather than the outside in. Personally, I’ve been in the travel business for 25 years so I understand how airlines, hotels and online travel agencies work, what they worry about, and what keeps their CEOs up at night.
Having travel expertise within your payment partner is really important. If you have a choice, clearly you should go with the guys that understand your business and can be sensitive to your specific needs as a travel supplier. Regardless of whether you are a global business or a local one, you want to make sure your payment partners are where you need to be and where your customers are coming from – not just simply the guy who’s got a cheaper price. That’s a big thing.
What we really bring to the table with our travel background is that we want to make sure that our merchants stay relevant for their customers. For example, if you’re a business that’s based here in the United States and you’ve got a lot of Latin American business, you really want a partner who understands Latin American currencies and payment methods.
Having that local nuance, that local knowledge, really makes a difference in terms of becoming relevant. What does it mean to me when I’m buying your product from my country, my city, my currency, my age group, and my language? Answering those questions is what makes a company truly relevant to their customers.
SkiftX: What pain points must be overcome to offer travel customers a simplified, more seamless experience?
Liebman: One of the big challenges in payments is, how do you offer a consistent experience across all of the touch points? This is really where the rubber hits the road, if you will, in having a focused customer-centric payment strategy, which is to say, if someone is a customer in Dubai, they should have the same experience as if they were in Denmark or in Detroit. It’s about doing that across many different geographies, with many different currencies and payment methods. Very few payment companies in the world can truly deliver that.
Most companies focus on the big card brands like Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover. It’s true that they represent over 90 percent or more of global transactions, but I’m not sure if that’s because of customer preference or the lack of companies who offer the alternatives. There are millions of Chinese tourists coming to the United States every year, for example, and when they come they want to pay with WeChat on their phones. How many businesses in the U.S. support this? Very few. It’s an example of why having a breadth of payment options and currencies is so important.
SkiftX: What does the Worldline partnership mean for customers?
Liebman: Having access to more products, more services, more acquirers, more gateways, more of everything, is a great value proposition. You also don’t have to be tied into one specific acquirer or one bank as we offer a wide range of acquirers around the world, ensuring the best fit and performance for any given customer. Instantly, we give you more choice, more local processing around the world, and more options for acquirers.
We’re focused on making the payments experience better, simpler, and more consistent across different geographies, solutions, and platforms. Most of all, we have the right depth of travel industry understanding.
We are also heavily focused on our TravelHub product, giving our airlines, online travel agencies, and hotel groups access to unique local connections and platforms that are unmatched on the market.
SkiftX: How does TravelHub work? What are the advantages of using it?
Liebman: TravelHub is a “smart” solution that is built to achieve maximum conversion by routing travel transactions to the right payment platforms, allowing travel companies to offer the best local customer experience in fast-growing markets, and be agile in offering simple payment experience for new customers.
A travel supplier might want to operate in Venezuela and Japan, and in a dozen other countries. The more traditional solution is to have multiple technology platforms, partners, contracts, and reports – but that can get very complicated. Our TravelHub offers one simple connection to relevant local payment methods and travel technology solutions such as Amadeus, Navitaire, Sabre, and IATA’s Financial Gateway. Or, if you don’t work with those travel technology partners, TravelHub provides a direct connection.
We connect travel companies with unique local payment propositions that were built by local professionals to satisfy local customers. These transactions are cheaper to process and connection is easier to make via the travel technology partner, which makes it all together cheaper for a travel company. The TravelHub will continue to grow throughout 2021 and beyond.
SkiftX: With larger volumes, are any other new products on the horizon within Ingenico’s travel vertical?
Liebman: We’re all in on travel, and we’re expanding our local presence globally to extend our local footprint and make our cross-border payments more efficient and less expensive. Customer experience will be key, but it cannot be built well without data and an understanding of customer preferences.
This is why we built Insight, a new product that provides actionable insights for how to optimize the set up and decrease costs. By helping travel companies know what happens in the last mile of the payment conversion and how to improve it, we help minimize annoyance and anxiety for travelers. .
We’re working closely with some of our partners to provide better visibility, help them identify potential risks, and help to build more partnerships and connection frameworks to bridge the gap between payment companies and acquirers.
Again, with the Worldline partnership, we have broader reach, additional products and gateways, access to more people, and extensive support services. At the end of the day, it’s also about scale and speed. We have the size to cover every market, but we work as a start-up team to bring the right solutions faster. We also have the ability to handle increased demand – because while others in the industry are retreating from travel, we know it’s coming back. We’re in travel for the long haul.
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