Skift Take

Travelport is certainly firming up a lot of the themes alluded to in its rebranding. And it's good timing, as the travel tech giant's reincarnation may well coincide with the business travel sector's delayed recovery.

Travelport is continuing to upgrade its corporate travel agency customers to its new Travelport+ platform, as one senior exec warns of a “morass of complexity” awaiting business travelers as the industry recovery accelerates.

Existing clients Fox World Travel and BCD Travel affiliate Christopherson Business Travel, both based in the U.S., are the latest agencies to switch over to the new platform that was unveiled in April last year. They now stand to benefit from Travelport’s concerted push to offer an expanded, single source of content, rather than pulling in data from multiple places.

In the past weeks the London-based technology company has signed so-called New Distribution Capability distribution deals with Air France-KLM, International Airlines Group and Lufthansa Group. It claims it’s the first and only global distribution system to offer this kind of content from all three major European airline groups.

It announced on Monday a multi-year agreement with online rail and coach ticket provider Trainline, and has also integrated Hilton’s API into Travelport+. APIs, or application programming interfaces, are digital tools that let a platform translate the “language” used by the company and can contain inventory, schedules, pricing data and more.

It’s a timely development as the travel booking process is about to become more complicated for employees, according to Travelport’s global head of customer strategy and marketing.

“Doing this right means making that (travel booking) process simple. They can sift through that morass of complexity,” said Kyle Moore.

Part of the problem is that airlines are going to lean on selling extras over the coming years to maximize revenue. These ancillaries have growth potential, executives said at a CarTrawler webinar on Wednesday, where airline bosses revealed business travel was picking up.

“Unbundling helps airlines to drive more money (but) it makes it more difficult for the consumer to see which is the best option for them,” Moore said. “As you think about all of those travel products becoming more complex, do I get seat selection or not, do I have lounge access, that complicates the shopping and booking and servicing process.”

Now, the likes of Christopherson Business Travel, which has 1,000 clients in the U.S., and Fox World Travel can more easily connect with airlines, and other travel suppliers, through one agent desktop, one set of APIs, and one data-driven distribution channel, Travelport claims.

Retail Revival

The content aggregation is largely being made possible by New Distribution Capability, which is an important aspect to Travelport+, Moore said, so airlines can put the product on the shelf. “They’re putting the right tools there for them to find the proverbial needle in a haystack product, that really is the right one for the traveler.”

The concept of “shelves” is gaining pace, and the similarities with retail shopping steadily growing as travel technology catches up with other forms of e-commerce. Sabre has been developing its “new airline storefront” to help travel agencies, and company travel managers, display different airlines’ content side by side, while ATPCO has been perfecting the art of online shopping with its so-called next generation storefront.

Moore believes that Hilton’s API is akin to a hotel version of New Distribution Capability.

“We’re introducing a new API to better support products in where they are going,” he said. “Connecting into Hilton enables us to sell products that may not even be on a shelf yet, but the traditional mechanisms to get access to the content would make that more difficult. It puts it at the fingertips of travelers and agents.”

As with the European airlines, Moore said he believes Travelport is the only global distribution system that has managed this. “I know that we’re the first,” he added.

Meanwhile, other new Travelport+ features include itinerary enhancements, including Trip Quote for Smartpoint users. That means customized itinerary quotes and assisted ticketing capabilities. It also launched a new trip manager portal for Travelport+ offering self-service for travelers to “carry out fast, easy transactions for their trip on the go.”

With all the talk of shopping around for travel, is Travelport blurring the line between leisure and corporate customers?

“When I talk to customers, whether they’re leisure or corporate, that retail philosophy matters in both cases. People tend to think of retailing as something that happens in leisure. It’s just as impactful in corporate travel,” Moore said. “Perhaps it’s even more important … you’ve got the right set of tools to go and find that right product.”

Turning a Corner

We’re all philosophical after going through two years of the pandemic. But none more so than Travelport it seems, and Moore believes the launch of Travelport+ and the gradual phase-out of its Apollo and Worldspan platforms means Travelport is a different company.

“Travelport today is not the Travelport of old,” he said. “It’s culturally different. We are moving with speed and agility. And the whole philosophy of the company is reflecting that.”

The company has so far moved more than 80 percent of its customers to the upgraded Travelport+ platform. To continue with the philosophizing: what comes next after the “plus” transformation is complete?

“For me, that ‘plus’ has a long lifeline, because it’s indicative of what we’re always doing, continuing to evolve, continuing to deliver,” Moore said. “It will always be the place that delivers more, and it’s the platform name for the long term.”

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Travelport was based in Atlanta.

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Tags: air france-klm, ATPCO, business travel, coronavirus, corporate travel, covid-19, iag, Lufthansa Group, ndc, sabre, travel management, travelport

Photo credit: Travelport’s global head of customer strategy and marketing has warned of a “morass of complexity” for business travelers as the industry starts to recover. Tim Gouw / Unsplash