It's always bold to invest in innovation when there won't be an immediate payback. But to the daring go the rewards, Amadeus is hoping.
Want personalized travel alerts sent to your WhatsApp? Need your biometric “keys” housed in a secure app? Or would you like your hotelier to digitally send you tips on which tours and activities to check out locally — once you can go on vacation again?
These are some the questions Amadeus is asking. The Madrid-based company wants to expand the ways it makes money. So it has quietly unveiled Nexwave, a business incubator that pinpoints promising ideas and cultivates the company’s next generation of products, Skift has learned.
“The pandemic has highlighted how Amadeus can contribute to the travel industry by connecting the dots and making sure our industry can collaborate better in a systematic way,” said Marion Mesnage, head of Nexwave.
Nexwave, a unit of slightly more than 100 employees, is incubating product features and functionalities. The aspiration is to find new enterprises that will expand the travel tech giant’s sources of revenue beyond distribution and operational software.
The pandemic has sharpened the team’s thematic interests. The team now focuses on products that keep travelers informed, help consumers travel safely, and help connect travelers to the most meaningful aspects at local destinations. It has begun tests with travelers of new tools, such as automating the process of sharing travelers’ health-related data and helping hoteliers surface meaningful activities for guests at a destination.
Traveler ID is a service that digitizes the identity verification process. Airlines and airports struggle today to cope with long queues of passengers while agents manually confirm health status certifications.
In late April, the Spanish airline Air Europa became the first airline to pilot Traveler ID. The tech capability lets passengers certify they have the required health documentation at check-in while remaining inside an airline’s website or app. It reduces the manual work for the traveler and the airline.
The capability is plugged into the airline’s IT system, making self-service check-in possible. During testing, Air Europa passengers flying to Spain can use an online form to confirm they hold the required health documentation.
“We have seen significant traction for the solution with other customers, too,” Mesnage said. “We’ll augment it with new capabilities in the coming weeks.”
Planned updates will allow travelers to scan and upload documents for automated verification, such as shared QR codes from labs, national health services, and health platform providers. The plan is to sync with digital health wallets such as CommonPass. (See Skift’s story, Why Digital Health Passports Still Need to Gain More Trust.)
Another Nexwave project is Feasy. This is a consumer-facing “digital concierge” that communicates with travelers via messaging services such as WhatsApp or Messenger.
“Feasy is a digital assistant for travelers,” Mesnage said. “It pushes information or services to a traveler that will be useful given their context.”
“Let’s say you have a flight tomorrow,” Mesnage said. “Before you have to leave for the airport, we’re going to propose to you an airport transfer that you can book in one click.”
The digital message will be relevant than today’s random emails from suppliers, Mesnage argued. The company will know a customer’s address, which airport terminal they’ll be departing from, the distance to get there, along with traffic reports. It will also have a good guess of how receptive a customer will be to thinking about booking any given add-on, considering which stage a traveler is on a trip.
Amadeus is now introducing the concepts into CheckMyTrip, its traveler’s digital assistant typically used by business travelers.
“We are building into CheckMyTrip the same level of interactivity and contextualized push notifications,” said Mesnage.
The company is considering making the technology available to travel agencies that want to incorporate the logic into their own branded apps.
In a separate move, Nexwave partnered with Riskline to add Covid-19 information to Amadeus Mobile Messenger, the company’s risk management solution for corporations. Riskline tracks travel advisories and related information about the pandemic, and Amadeus’s new solution makes that information available via its corporate online booking tool, Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense and its service Amadeus Selling Platform Connect.
Amadeus Gets Into Tours and Experiences Aggregation
Another product the Nexwave team is incubating is Amadeus Sherpa, which aims to help hoteliers use digital tools to advise their guests on truly local activities. It dips Amadeus’s toes into a realm it hasn’t been before — namely, helping distribute local travel experiences.
Amadeus Sherpa is a business-to-business service to connect, aggregate, and distribute destination tours, activities, and other local travel experiences. Amadeus partners with BookingKit and other providers of reservations software for tour operators, which serve as channel managers to supply the content from operators. Amadeus has been charging a 5 percent commission on paid reservations during the testing phase.
“We have a good base of early adopters for our solution,” Mesnage said. “We are getting ready to welcome our first guests.”
But the lockdowns and slow return of travel in key markets of Germany, France, and Spain have delayed testing, she said.
Amadeus Sherpa needs consumer feedback to learn the best ways for hotels to pitch local experiences to guests. The best channel might be by email right after a traveler reserves a room. Or it might instead be at the hotel. In that case, Amadeus Sherpa and the hotel need to put QR codes around the property so that guests can scan to learn more information once they’ve arrived. Or the hotel concierge might need to hand to guests tablets with Amadeus Sherpa’s recommendations.
“We’ve inventoried about 150 solutions across the world, and each of them has either a regional specificity or access to inventory by activity type,” Mesnage said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to connect the suppliers using these solutions to our business audience.”
Amadeus Refines Its Approach to Innovation
Nexwave is an expanded attempt to institutionalize the search for money-spinning ideas. The attempt began with the creation in 2016 of a smaller research and innovation unit.
Before the team’s creation, Amadeus’s innovation efforts had tended to be technology-centric.
Since the team’s formation, Amadeus has been refining its innovation focus from broad emerging technology themes such as the internet of things toward understanding specific customer needs that its partners agree are urgent.
The innovation team then identifies growth opportunities and helps align the product road maps of the group’s business units. Some developments might end up hybridized, but the incubation effort tries to take a structured approach to innovation. The goal is to help good ideas battle their way to commercialization against the weight of siloed thinking.
Other travel sector companies have recently built innovation incubation units. A model example is Lufthansa Group. At times when Lufthansa Innovation Hub decides not to turn an idea into a new subsidiary, it’s free to spin it out and look for outside financing.
Mesnage said Amadeus hasn’t yet decided if it will let its innovation team do something similar. In the meantime, her team is currently hiring software developers to build travel products.
Note: Nexwave is a separate, though complementary, effort to Amadeus Ventures, the company’s corporate venture capital arm, which invests in external startups.
Between the two efforts, Amadeus is betting on innovation and cooperation with startups as the tickets to creating new products for customers that fill market gaps while widening the technology gap with its rivals.
“We see our mission is to develop the next wave of travel businesses that will shape the travel experience of today and tomorrow,” Mesnage said.
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Photo credit: The Amadeus executive briefing center in Bangkok, Thailand. Amadeus