Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Ideas

IDEAS: Shop Autonomously at Hong Kong International Airport

9 months ago

Lagardère Travel Retail has launched its first completely autonomous store, Travelwell, at Hong Kong International Airport.

The contactless store, which has been designed to offer passengers a convenient shopping location to complete any last minute purchases, utilizes an Artificial Intelligence technology system to track shoppers and products to ensure an accurate and safe shopping experience. 

Credit: Lagardère Travel Retail/Hong Kong International Airport

When entering the 88 sqm store, customers will simply need to tap or insert their credit card at the payment terminal and then continue their shopping experience as normal. As they exit with their chosen items, the credit card will be charged thanks to a number of algorithms tracking movements around the store.

However for those who may struggle with this new shopping experience, there will be staff and visual guides on-site to provide guidance. 

Credit: Lagardère Travel Retail/Hong Kong International Airport

Lagardère Travel Retail says it has been working with the airport on the concept store since 2019, and believes Travelwell will offer ‘a new kind of shopping experience’.

“We are grateful to have benefitted from the support of the Airport Authority Hong Kong and of business partners to pioneer this technology-led, innovative new store. Our Travelwell store and the beautiful Sky Bridge are a natural fit to each other. I hope the new shopping experience will appeal to travelers and become a memorable part of their journey. This project represents a key milestone in our ambitious roadmap to innovate to elevate the traveler shopping experience,” said Séverine Lanthier, Asia chief operating officer & group chief strategy and development officer at Lagardère Travel Retail.


At the 2023 Skift IDEA Awards, we are looking to celebrate the projects that are defining the future of airports and the traveler experience.

If you have an exciting initiative to share, head over to the Skift IDEA Awards website today and start your submission. Don’t delay, the entry deadline is set to end June 20.

Travel Agents

Travel Agency Pangea to Double Revenue on Retail Store Model

11 months ago

The conventional wisdom back in 2015 was that travel agencies were a shrinking business. But that year, Spanish entrepreneur David Hernández thought he saw a whitespace for creating a fast-growing travel agency business, and he launched plans to create Pangea.

Fast forward to 2022, and his “travel store” invoiced close to 50 million euros in sales, Hernandez told the Spanish publication Time on Monday. In the first quarter of 2023, Pangea doubled its revenue year-over-year. This year, it expects to generate close to $75 million (€70 million).

What factors are enabling Pangea to grow quickly, having now served more than 20,000 travelers in only a few years?

In 2019, Hernandez raised an approximately $11 million (€9 million) round of venture funding, led by led by Axon Partners. The funding helped the company survive the pandemic and open four stores: in Madrid, at 1,500 square meters; in Barcelona, at 1,700 square meters and with a restaurant; in Bilbao, with three floors; and in Valencia, in the heart of the city.

The physical stores have attracted a new generation of travelers, just as some online-first direct-to-consumer brands like eyewear maker Warby Parker have opened physical stores as a marketing technique. Pangea’s Madrid store last year had a turnover of about $35 million (€30 million). Roughly a fifth of its customers were walk-ins.

“People fill out an online questionnaire, and based on their interests and characteristics, we find the best advisor for them,” Hernández said. “We have expert professional advisors in diving, volcanoes, safaris… anything you can imagine.”

Hernández doesn’t neglect technology. But he sees it as supplemental rather than the full offering — mainly as a way to make back-end and routine processes more efficient. His services are within a rounding error of the cost of fully booking trips online but save customers time, Hernández claimed.

“We have been developing a global technological tool for a year that aims to help further digitize the sector,” Hernández said, who aims to launch the tool at the travel trade fair Fitur early next year.

“Who thinks Booking.com, to name one, has no margins?” Hernández said. “That you always find the cheapest on the internet is not always true. For a difference of five or ten euros, it is not worth giving up the after-sales service, the security, the customization that we offer… We [as travelers] don’t have enough time to spend more than 50 hours preparing a far away and complex trip, like Costa Rica, Japan, Tanzania, the USA, or the Maldives. .. In an agency, they solve it for you in 30 minutes with all the guarantees and professional advice.”

—David Hernández, CEO of Pangea
Read about Hernández's Pangea travel store in Spain, via Time

Airlines

Iberia Tech Failure Causes Delays and Cancellations

1 year ago

Spain’s Iberia has been hit by a computer glitch, affecting its booking and boarding system.

“Due to a connectivity issue with our systems, today’s flights are experiencing delays,” it said on social media on Saturday. “We apologize to our customers and thank you for your understanding. Everyone at Iberia is working to solve it as soon as possible.”

The weekend disruption hit dozens of services across Spain and Europe, according to reports.

The software malfunction at Iberia, which is part of International Consolidated Airlines Group, is the latest in a series of computer blunders to strike the aviation industry.

The U.S. experienced a widespread shutdown of flights earlier this month, due to problems with the Federal Aviation Administration’s systems. It was forced to restore its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which alerts pilots of potential hazards.

Southwest Airlines has taken a considerable financial hit owing to issues assigning crew to flights during the Christmas vacation caused by outdated optimization technology. The airlines has pledged to spend $1 billion on technology upgrades.

Old technology is increasingly contributing to mass flight cancellations, as travel returns. In Spain, passenger numbers are also rapidly returning to pre-pandemic levels. Passenger numbers through Spanish airport operator Aena’s 46 airports in December were at 98 percent of three years earlier.

Iberia reported that it had fixed the problem on Sunday. “Our systems have regained connectivity. Online billing and check-in are back to normal. We apologize to all customers for the inconvenience caused and appreciate your understanding,” it said.

Short-Term Rentals

Oman Tourism Opens the Way for Approved Short-Term Rentals

1 year ago

UnderTheDoormat Group CEO Merilee Karr said her company’s new technology and distribution agreement with Visit Oman can be a novel approach to short-term regulation — one where technology can spur governments to embrace the sector rather than shun it.

UnderTheDoormat CEO Merilee Karr and Shabib Al Maamari, managing director, Visit Oman, signed a a short-term rental distribution partnership last month at the Omani Ministry of Heritage and Tourism in Muscat, Oman. Source: Oman Ministry of Heritage and Tourism

Through an agreement signed last month in Muscat, Oman, government-approved property listings delivered through the UK’s UnderTheDoormat Group’s Hospira property management and distribution platform were live in November in time for the World Cup in Qatar.

Oman already offered had short-term rentals through hotel licenses and from a variety of players on big global platforms such as Airbnb and Booking.com.

But Karr said the tech partnership breaks new ground, officially opens the market, and provides Oman with the transparency it sought about an otherwise-fragmented sector.

Property developers, hospitality companies, small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs), and eventually individually owned short-term rentals that are licensed can connect their properties through Hospira to access the market, and the major global platforms, she said.

The Visit Oman-UnderTheDoormat Group pact is exclusive, Karr said.

Like others in the Middle East, Oman is trying to develop a more diversified tourism economy.

“Through the Visit Oman gateway, the Hospiria platform will provide an efficient launching point for Omani companies, SMEs, and property owners to place their apartments, villas and homes onto the short-term rental market globally,” said Sahib Al Mamari, managing director of Visit Oman, as part of the announcement. “This latest Visit Oman initiative with UnderTheDoormat falls in line with the broader, existing Oman Tourism Vision 2040 strategy, and serves to shift the Sultanate of Oman towards a more diversified and developed tourism economy, and one that leverages digital innovation and technology to maximize value for the Omani tourism market, as well as the tourism-related SME economy in Oman.”

Online Travel

Expedia Group Launches a Startup Accelerator To Foster Innovation on Its Platform

1 year ago

Expedia Group announced the launch of a startup accelerator to empower innovation on its business to business platform.

Selected startups — and small businesses, as well — would get technology and business development support, mentorship from Expedia Group personnel as well as outside experts, a non-equity grant, and access to the Expedia Group platform and products.

Companies can apply to the Open World Accelerator program by October 21 here. To qualify they must be striving to make the travel industry “more open and accessible,” be less than a decade old, and already have at least a minimum viable product.

Archana Arunkumar, Senior Vice President of Platform. “Expedia Group’s mission is to power travel for everyone, everywhere,” said Archana Arunkumar, Expedia Group’s senior vice president of platform in a statement. “Open World Accelerator is specifically designed to drive innovation in the industry, remove barriers to travel, and enable startups and SMBs to build capabilities on Expedia’s Open World™ technology platform that significantly improve the experience for every traveler.”

Travel Technology

Faroe Islands’ National Gallery Becomes the First to Launch Artificial Intelligence Exhibit

1 year ago

The National Gallery of the Faroe Islands launched an exhibition this week containing 40 images of the archipelago developed by artificial intelligence program Midjourney, becoming the first national gallery to feature a fully produced show created by artificial intelligence. 

The exhibit, which runs from September 29 through October 30, reveals how prominent artists — such as Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso — might have depicted the landscape of the remote archipelago in the North Atlantic. Visitors to the national gallery will also have the opportunity to create their own images of the Faroe Islands using Midjourney.

“When I first heard of (artificial intelligence) and Midjourney and how it is possible to create new pictures just like individual artists might have done, it immediately intrigued me,” said Karina Lykke Grand, director of the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands.

“It was fascinating to see how by giving prompts, the system can get an idea of how an artist such as Van Gogh or Picasso might have painted the Faroe Islands.”

The exhibit exploring the Faroe Islands through the eyes of prominent artists (Courtesy Visit Faroe Islands)

Hotels

Hotel Tech Vendor Mews Launches Investment Arm

2 years ago

Salesforce-backed Mews has launched a dedicated investment arm called Mews Ventures.

The company, which provides enterprise software to hotels with what’s commonly known as a property management system, or PMS, said it wants to help shape the future of hospitality.

Mews Ventures will focus on three areas: transformation, partnerships and product boosts.

Mews founder Richard Valtr said the new venture reflected its series of acquisitions over the past two years, which includes Cenium, Hotel Perfect and Bizzon.

“By bringing together the brightest minds in tech, hospitality and beyond, we aim to fuel growth and innovation,” he wrote in a blog post.

The new investment arm will “accelerate the technological transformation of our industry by consolidating past leaders as well as boosting new and interesting ideas in hospitality, connecting the best people and technology with the growing Mews community.”

Mews employs 600 people in 15 locations around the world.

Airlines

Aviation Tech Provider SITA Raises $400 Million In ‘Green Financing’

2 years ago

SITA, a global technology provider for the aviation industry, has raised $400 million in so-called green financing.

As Skift described in its 2022 Megatrends report, green financing is an emerging trend where investments are made in companies that support or provide planet-friendly practices or products.

Four new banks have now signed up to support SITA with a sustainability-linked revolving credit facility, which has a minimum three-year term, the company said on Thursday.

The new funds will be directly linked to pre-agreed environmental key performance indicators and yearly targets, with a bonus (or penalty charge) on the interest margin depending on SITA’s performance. Performance against the targets will be externally audited.

The cash will go towards supporting the company’s general business needs, “such as developing new solutions and strategies to alleviate the air transport industry’s challenges of today and in the future,” it said in the statement.

SITA said it had ramped up its emission reduction efforts in recent years, achieving carbon neutral status under The CarbonNeutral Protocol in 2021. More recently it announced its commitment to setting science-based targets via the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) to join other leading companies to combat climate change aligned to net-zero and the 1.5C scenario of the Paris Agreement.

SITA’s five existing banking partners also participated in the raise.

“Sustainability is high on our agenda and we are deeply committed to ensuring a sustainable future for all, including for our employees, customers, and partners,” said Nicolas Husson, SITA’s chief financial officer. “We are delighted to secure financing that is directly linked to the performance of our sustainability ambitions.”

Speaking at Skift’s Sustainable Tourism Summit at the end of June, Intrepid’s chairman revealed that the tour operator recently received a large investment from a family-owned private equity firm because of its sustainability stance.

Saudi Arabia is also aiming to prop up its Red Sea tourism project with an up to $2.7 billion loan in green financing.

During the pandemic, SITA’s CEO said the tech provider had weathered the storm. but the private company will undoubtedly have been impacted by poor performances from its airports and airline customers as the pandemic continued to hammer travel.

“We contained our fall in revenue to -27% for the year, at $1.34 billion, compared to the previous year’s $1.8 billion,” said Barbara Dalibard in her 2020 report. “In reacting quickly to the crisis, we decreased our cost base in 2020 by 18 percent versus prior year, while reducing external support by 50 percent.”

It also achieved $300 million in cost reductions.

SITA was formerly known as Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques, and was founded by 11 airlines more than a decade ago. The company’s board includes executives from several airlines.