Technology, the Pivot of Tomorrow’s Travel Business

Taking cue from the oldest travel company in Belgium, Thomas Cook Belgium now pumps more than 30 personalised campaigns a week to over one million contacts it has accumulated since opening for business about 35 years ago. It does this with the help of Selligent, a “consumerfirst marketing solution” company.

When they first got together, Thomas Cook Belgium, a subsidiary of London-based travel company Thomas Cook Group, was only sending a maximum of four different types of emails a week but things moved rapidly to 16 times a week within the first two months and up to 40 times in the subsequent two months, all with the same number of staff in the office.

“After implementing Selligent, we have recorded a substantial increase in sales compared to the previous year with emails alone, and we have still only touched the tip of the iceberg of all the possibilities available to us,” said Hans Smellinckx, Digital Marketing Manager of Thomas Cook.
Flying more than 1.8 million Belgian clients out every year means the airline will always have to be at the forefront of everything they do and this includes studying the reasons behind abandoned online bookings so the company can retarget their messages and reach these “missed” clients.

Swipe Now, Click Then
In this 21st century, the old adage of technology is the enabler is no longer just a foundational buzzword, it’s an imperative component of every enterprise. In fact, the sexiest leotards, just to pick a random business, are not made out of mere passion anymore. They are weaved on one end with technology and the other with data captured, sifted through, segmented and intelligibly understood. Because the prowess of tomorrow’s processing power is available today, marketers are now armed with the opportunity to close in on the final curve so they could stand head and shoulders with the big boys at the starting grid. If this was at one time reserved only for dreamers on the silver screens, it is now a reality and the industry will have to contend with it.

In the same vein over in Malaysia, “Members of MATTA should definitely not be concerned about travel technology but embrace it. Travel technology can generally help our members to find new distribution channels and ultimately partner up with travel tech providers to increase business,” opines MATTA Vice President for Research & Technology Mohammad Faeez Mohamad Fadhlillah.

“I think we should rather find touch points where we can work with technology either through partnership or by developing it ourselves and that way we won’t be left behind by international companies.”

By touch points, Faeez is iterating the much talked about interactivity opportunities where a business can get more intimate with the customers. It’s like how a heritage home in Malacca can be visible further than a driving distance of two hours through social media, travel agents too can multiply their income possibilities by riding on the many platforms from facebook, LinkedIn, instagram, Pinterest, Whatsapp to the more professional solutions like Amadeus, roomsXML, just to name a few. Every channel is helping a business to reach out and touch base with more than one potential lead at any one time.

The awakened dragons in China are also setting the pace by sealing deals on unconventional platforms. Of the most popular, they are now marketing and selling via WeChat, a multi pronged social media app boasting 846 million-north of active monthly users as of 3Q16 according to Statista. And what about Malaysian favourite facebook? Started as only a dormitory escapade to rate and rant on fellow uni-mates, it surpassed a monthly active user base of 1 billion in July 2016 and as we speak, own the bragging rights to 1.71 billion monthly active users.
The colossal numbers are as gratifying as it is electrifying. It presents business opportunities never before seen and this has renewed definitions about Business Success, Start-Ups and engaged in conversations about the Internet of Things, Big Data and Artificial Intelligence; it’s making quantum physics looking much like high school syllabus.

Likewise In the travel industry, new segments are emerging and old segments are seeing the silver lining in these digital discoveries. Everyone is taking the opportunity to brand and rebrand itself as heroes of Global Distribution System, Merchandising Solution Provider, Booking Engine, Airline Consolidator, Hotel Booking Solutions, B2B Travel Provider, Flight Comparison, Hotel Comparison, Travel Search; just so that they remain in business and pump prime the industry impactfully while bringing value to the consuming clients out there.

As far as the technology’s relevance and legitimacy goes, it is now at a stage where they can be officially recognised as a tool eligible to be conferred with awards and seals of excellence. Take the World Travel Awards 2016 for instance, 35 different categories in Travel Technology alone were up for the different contenders to fight for the coveted prize. This encompasses websites, apps, booking solutions, distribution systems, community as well as vendor awards like the ERP Technology Provider and Merchandising Solution Provider awards. Proudly representing Malaysia as nominees at the Awards were AirAsia for World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline App 2016 and Flexiroam for World’s Leading Travel Communications Provider 2016.

What about MATTA?
“MATTA has implemented and embarked on various projects over the last few years which included the revamping of the website (at to keep up with time and latest technology. At the same time, the Research & Technology Subcommittee has also started a series of Travel Tech events featuring varioushuge names within the industry including Google, TripAdvisor, GfK etc,” shares the travel technopreneur Faeez.

Of the Travel Tech Talk series, it provides opportunity for members to get closer to valuable digital truths not available in the public domain. For example, top searches by Malaysians on TripAdvisor have been Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Australia. China, Taiwan and some Southeast Asian countries, in that order. The global travel website also revealed that KL attracts 41% of the digital traffic looking up Malaysia on TripAdvisor, followed by Melaka, Georgetown, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Ipoh. Characteristics of heritage and nature rank highly in the searches as well.

In terms of making decisions, international research company GfK conveyed that it takes about a week upon the initiation of a search to confirm a booking and that users generally read about 12 reviews between that. These were just some bite-sized information shared at the second Travel Tech Talk held in Bangsar last November as part of MATTA’s initiative to lead her members forward technologically.

Another victorious milestone is MATTA. Travel which was launched in June 2016. It is the Association’s very own way to persuade members to get into the digital economy without committing to huge investments.

As the very first travel portal reserved only for eligible and certified travel agents in the country, the portal sells members’ travel packages online. The significance of MATTA.Travel presents an enlarged opportunity for the members as an online player - to widen their touch points, extend their reach and consequently create additional revenue stream. It is also a very feasible option for those unfamiliar with the digital terrain to get on board. As a start, the preferential rates have been negotiated especially for MATTA members with a fee of only RM988 to sign up, 1.6% of transactional commission (instead of the standard 2.8%) and a fee waiver by payment gateway partner iPay88 worth up to RM1,888. The .Travel domain is also no longer a contentious issue should one find its domain name peculiar. and have been both nominated for the World’s Leading Tourism Authority Website 2016 in the World Travel Awards.

“MATTA has also embarked on research and publication with a series of small research to be published within the next few months,” Faeez. Highly relevant, the symbiotic benefits of technology and business can only be derived when data is sufficient for the processing. Without, technology is like a hoe, one square foot at a time. But with blazing hot data streaming from real digital interactions, it’ll sharpen and multiply the hoe into the Tesla of travel in no time.
Still, human beings are creatures of habits and we are to a certain extent dictated by personal mindsets and beliefs. To the question of adopting technology, American airline JetBlue’s Chief Information Officer Eash Sundaram said this in a 2015 interview by, “We think of ourselves as a customer service company that happens to fly planes. So when you think of the customer service aspect of JetBlue, it’s all about personalisation and how we take care of
customer needs.”

And that ladies and gentlemen is how the travel business should pivot travel technology for the future. As Faeez puts it, “Ultimately, it needs to be considered as one available tool for the business.”