Travelport's changed approach to its tech stack will be invisible to the typical traveler. But if the changes deliver on their promise, they will help travel agencies be more efficient. Travelport's new marketing effort is also notably rare for an enterprise technology company in any industry.
Travelport for years has run three systems — Worldspan, Galileo, and Apollo — for airlines to distribute plane tickets to travel agencies. But the UK-based travel technology company said this week it intends to streamline the technology with what it calls Travelport+.
“It’s part of our multi-year investment in next-generation technology,” said Jen Catto, chief marketing officer. “We’re bringing rigor and discipline around the execution of building this platform, which we think is going to be game-changing for the travel sector.”
About 80 percent of Travelport’s agency customers use Galileo. So the company is using the major components of Galileo as the chassis, or foundation, for Travelport+. But even Galileo customers will see “new, different, and better capabilities” over time in the upgrade to Travelport+, executives said.
Customers of Worldspan and Apollo will be shifted over to Travelport+ “over the next couple of years,” executives said. “A number of large and small agencies and supplier partners” have already had the first upgrade.
For years, Travelport travel agencies have been using a reservation desktop interface called Smartpoint, which offers both a graphical interface and command-line access. That user interface, essentially used by agents regardless of whether the underlying tech is Galileo, Worldspan, or Apollo, will remain the same in the near term for Travelport+.
The announcement was mostly about changes to the plumbing, so to speak, but the fancy fixtures are coming soon, executives promised.
A newly designed platform interface will give agencies merchandising tools to more quickly find and compare offers from various sources and customize storefronts for those who are selling online.
It will make the company more efficient by concentrating software developers’ work on improving a single system instead of essentially maintaining three. That said, moving to a single tech stack will take time.
“We have a very rigorous plan to move our customers over the course of the next couple of years,” Moore said.
Seeking Efficiency Through Automation
For travel agents, perhaps the biggest promise of the overall Travelport+ effort over time will be a wider range of tools to automate time-consuming tasks. The goal is to remove manual processes in how agencies service, manage, support, and reconcile reservations from the front office through the back office.
“As an example, we’re greatly improving the capabilities around automated exchanges,” said Kyle Moore, who heads customer strategy.
New Marketing Effort
It’s rare for travel technologies of any size, from startups to established enterprises, to think much about marketing or to even have chief marketing officers. Last October, Travelport created the position of chief marketing officer and appointed Catto to the role.
Earlier this year, Catto led a rebrand of Travelport that aimed to reflect the revved up metabolism since the company was taken private in 2019 by private equity owners Siris Capital and an arm of hedge fund Elliott Management.
Unlike companies like Apple or Nike, Travelport doesn’t retail services directly to consumers.
Would Travelpoort require a different approach to craft a marketing campaign than the kind of campaign a consumer brand might adopt?
Not necessarily, said Catto in an interview.
“Why do we think about B2B marketing differently?” Catto said. “The decision-makers we’re trying to reach are consumers, too. Their shopping habits and their expectations for digital interfaces are ingrained in them through their daily lives. So we think about it through that lens. We see a consumer mentality at the end of the B2B [business to business] framework.”
Catto and her team tried to get in the mindset of a decision-maker who is also a consumer.
“Our goal became to make it really simple for non-digital natives, not just technologists, to become modern retailers,” Catto said.
Several non-travel companies are classic enterprise businesses that are also effective at marketing. Which ones helped to inspire Catto and her team?
Catto mentions Salesforce, the customer relationship management software company that has taken a marketplace and events-based approach to growth, which she said she’s been a fan of for nearly 15 years.
Catto also cited Telaria, where she launched the Telaria brand to reposition Tremor Video as a sell-side video platform and a leader in connected television.
“It was an enterprise platform, but we thought a lot about the end consumer, or viewer, and we worked backward from that perspective for everything we built,” Catto said. “So we thought very long and hard about commercial breaks and what that experience is like in streaming television by studying viewer behavior to see if expectations change in a different format.”
Catto argued the model was analogous to Travelport because Travelport helps suppliers and agencies access demand.
“Look, I’m a B2B person,” Catto explained. “But I don’t go home and want to be marketed to as a B2B person. I expect brands that market to me to be fluent and meet me in the flexible persona I have.”
Travelport’s marketing team has to address multiple audiences. Travel agencies are the obvious one, but it also has to market to airlines, hoteliers, car rental companies, and other travel suppliers who stock their content for sale on the company’s proverbial shelves.
Those companies increasingly want to make sure that their brand is appropriately represented and properly differentiated when sold across all channels. So Travelport’s rebrand attempts to communicate that the company’s revamped technology will make it easier for sellers to have their products merchandized almost as if the suppliers were in full control at all stages.
“We are introducing better tools to continually leverage data and artificial intelligence to inform the shopping experience,” said Moore, global head of product propositions.
“Until now, you could kind of brute force move stuff up and down,” Moore said. “But we can now make that work automatic and seamless. New capabilities let us confidently predict how offers should be placed and displayed on the proverbial shelves.”
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Photo credit: A worker at Los Angeles International Airport monitors gate traffic. Travelport in March announced a multi-year extension of its full content agreement with American Airlines for distributing the carrier's content to travel agencies. American Airlines