The quest for the ultimate retailing experience


Session details

Direct from the leaderboard, top players in modern retailing share what it took to achieve a modern storefront and what’s coming next.

Today’s airline consumers expect clarity, transparency, and relevant choices using intuitive, convenient digital channels. In this session, Mitra Sorrells of PhocusWire sat down with three industry experts to discuss the current state of play with airline retailing and what it will take to deliver the ultimate experience.

The pandemic was a catalyst for flexible innovation

Despite the negative impact of the past 18 months, the pandemic actually accelerated innovation in airline retailing and underlying technologies. Practically overnight, brand new pieces of information—such as destination restrictions, change policies, and onboard health and safety practices—became critical to the shopping process. Fast, flexible, and scalable solutions such as ATPCO’s Reassurance UPAs and multiple changes to flight shopping displays were urgently required and delivered.

“As we come out of this, the biggest takeaway is that flexibility is key. We have to be flexible in our retailing display because we don’t know what’s going to be next in terms of traveler demands.”
—Anthony Salomone

“Right offer, right time” means balancing personalization and choice

The concept of the right offer at the right time is core to the science of retailing. However, airlines and their partners must artfully balance curated content and traveler-controlled choice in the shopping process.

“One of the things we’ve realized is that when you focus too much on retailing, you can also kind of get into overwhelming these users who are just checking flights.”
—Anthony Salomone

The corporate world adds yet another layer of required balance.

“It’s a partnership between our airline, the travel decision-makers/travel buyers at companies, and their TMC partners. It’s about aligning all to determine the best offer for the traveler based on preferences, but also balancing that with travel policy that’s in place by the travel buyer.”
—Rob Brown

Pricing consistency has never been more critical to consumer trust

As dynamic pricing becomes the new normal, ensuring pricing consistency across channels is increasingly important. If consumers feel the need to shop multiple times to see if prices are changing, or if prices vary from a mobile device to a computer, airlines lose traveler trust. Therefore, it is imperative that airlines ensure consistency and a “single source of truth” approach across all channels.

“NDC helps address this requirement because the airline creates its own offer and becomes the single source of truth. NDC is exactly the type of thing that helps give that transparency.”
 —Tye Radcliffe

Transcript

Narrator

Gone are the days of only a price and a schedule driving a shopping display. Modern airline retailing is here. We're excited for you to hear the perspectives, ideas, and challenges from players across the industry as we embark together on the quest for the ultimate retailing experience.

Mitra

Hello and welcome to each of you joining from around the world. I am Mitra Sorrells from PhocusWire and I am delighted to be your moderator for this session. As I have reflected on what we've all gone through in the last 18 months and where we are going, one of the main words that has come to my mind is uncertainty. Uncertainty about the virus, uncertainty about requirements and restrictions, uncertainty about long-term changes to this industry. I could go on and on, but how does this relate to retailing?

Well, because of this collective unease that the world has had to deal with as travel picks up, it will be more critical than ever to provide a shopping environment that helps travelers, both leisure and business, feel comfortable and confident about their purchase decisions. In the last several months I’ve reviewed multiple surveys that show consumers are looking for clarity, transparency, and choices as they start to make decisions about where they will go and how they will get there. Effective modernized retailing with rich content customized offers and a straightforward display is part of that solution.

The industry has come a long way in creating this in recent years, but the journey is far from over. In the next 45 minutes our panelists will share their thoughts about modern retailing, what their companies are doing to innovate in this area, and what still needs to happen to advance the industry as a whole.

We are allotting time at the end to address your questions. Some have already been submitted and please continue to send them through the platform and we will get to as many as we can.

And now to introduce our illustrious guests. We have Anthony Salomone, director of product at Kayak. Welcome, Anthony.

Anthony

Thanks, Mitra.

Mitra

We have Rob Brown, senior director of B2B strategy and services at Southwest Airlines. Hi, Rob.

Rob

Hi, Mitra. Good morning.

Mitra

Good morning. And Tye Radcliffe, who just joined Accelya in July as vice president of product strategy after nine years at United Airlines. Hi, Tye.

Tye

Good morning, hi. Great to see you.

Mitra

Great to be here. Okay, wonderful. Well, thank you all so much for joining. We have a lot to discuss, so let's get right into it.

So this quest for the ultimate retailing experience, as the session is called, has been evolving for many years, but this last year and a half has really been unlike any other period in countless ways. What weaknesses has the pandemic exposed in your existing systems and solutions, and how is it affecting your company's priorities? Whoever wants to kind of jump in and get us started…

Rob

Well, I’ll start. Good morning. We at Southwest, I would say, don't do retailing in the traditional sense. I think as how all the consumers think about retailing and how airlines offer their retail into the marketplace. Our product offering is different, our business model is slightly different from most of the legacy carriers, and how we address that. But I will say that creating a better customer experience for our customers and knowing who our customers are and trying to specialize offers for them based on their preferences, based on their travel patterns and histories and what their expectations are from Southwest Airlines is certainly at the forefront of what we are trying to do from a customer service experience. We work very closely with our customer experience team to provide them with that experience based on those preferences.

And the closest that I would say that we get to retailing is the offer of our Business Select product, which is our highest product offering, that does offer several specialties within the fare, such as an early boarding position in the boarding pattern as well as extra Rapid Rewards credit. So I think long-term we are definitely looking at how we can continue down that path of really trying to specialize offers, but maybe slightly different from the retailing experience from what carriers are providing to their customers in other markets.

Mitra

Before we head over to Tye and Anthony on this same question, I just want to follow up with you, Rob. On the point of anything in particular that you really learned or have had to modify now moving forward based on what's happened in the last year and a half.

Rob

Yeah, I think what the pandemic really taught us is that were moving really fast and we needed to slow down. We needed to evaluate all of our processes and procedures and all of the things that were trying to implement. We thought going fast was really the speed that we had to move at in terms of servicing all of our customers, but I think the pandemic taught us slow down. Continue to be creative, continue to really be thorough and thoughtful in understanding what our customers’ needs are, and then really moving fast in terms of trying to deliver those resources to the marketplace. So it really kind of taught us to slow down, refine our processes and our procedures and our models, and really understand the customers’ needs better.

Mitra

Okay, and Anthony, what about at Kayak? Anything that you learned through the pandemic now as far as weaknesses in the existing system or updates that needed to be made?

Mitra

Yeah, I think our biggest takeaway was that customer needs can change rapidly. We saw this right at the beginning of the pandemic last March, where all of a sudden we needed three new pieces of information that we never had before, destination restrictions, change policies of airlines that really called out what they were doing with change waivers, and onboard health and safety practices. So this is a ton of data gathering and our teams around the world tried to compile all this data and put it on site, and it was a Herculean effort really. How do we possibly get this data, translate it, synthesize it, and put it in front of a user in a meaningful way that in the retailing experience they now have this additional context, on top of all the typical things we normally talk about in retailing, like extra legroom and priority boarding and changeability, refundability. So that's just been a huge effort that we've been working through, and obviously big shout out to ATPCO and working with them on UPAs and Reassurance UPAs and Structured UPAs and things of that nature. But as we come out of this, I think the biggest takeaway is that flexibility is key. We have to be flexible in our retailing display because we don't know what's going to be next in terms of traveler demands and things of that nature. Could be CO2, could be increased desire for bus and train content in the display, could be things we can't even imagine at this conference that we're going to be talking about next year and two year’s conferences. So that's the biggest thing, is just trying to keep this flexible display so that we can always respond to whatever the customer demand is in the given moment.

Mitra

Okay, and Tye, anything that you want to add to that? I suppose you had the experience of being with United through the first year and few months and now with Accelya, what learnings have you taken there? What are you doing with that?

Tye

No, that's a great point. I spent the majority of the initial part of the pandemic working for United Airlines running the distribution organization, and so there was a lot going on, obviously, relative to ensuring customers had the right information at their fingertips. To know what's the mask policy, what are you doing to keep these aircraft clean, how are you managing all of this, what about refunds, et cetera. So I think that was one of the opportunities that that I’ve seen, and where I think Accelya can help in particular, is as we modernize the industry together, we're working to ensure that airlines have the technology to put rich content and other capabilities out there in the channels where customers are shopping so that they have the best experience and the most information at their fingertips as possible. The merger between Accelya and Farelogix started just a little bit over a year ago, so in addition to going through a pandemic, these two companies have figured out how to work together in the middle of all this, as well from home, so it's been it's been fascinating. But, man, it's a fantastic team and I’m so excited to be here and looking forward to all the modernization and retailing opportunities we can bring.

Mitra

Great. So as some of you have touched on, we know that at the most basic level this is all about getting the right offer to the right customer at the right time. I’m wondering if any of you can speak to how do you identify and prioritize those consumer demands, and what is at the top of your to-do list today?

Rob

Yeah, I think for Southwest, one of the things that we've always prided ourselves on is being a company that listens to us customers, so we are frequently surveying our customers to better understand what experience they are seeking from Southwest Airlines, what's important to them when they travel. And I think the other panelists here have touched on it a bit in that especially in this uncertain environment that we’re in that you talked about at the top, you have to always be nimble. You have to stay in constant communication with your customers to better understand what changes do you need to implement with your product and with your business model in order to adapt to their travel policies, whether that is masking, whether that is the Southwest promise, in our case, where we talked about all of the safety features that we offer on our aircraft with the continuous filtering of fresh air throughout the cabin, whether it is sustainability and what's happening from a greenhouse gases perspective. All of these things will continue to drive decisions for companies and for their travelers as they are out in the marketplace. So we are constantly in communication with our customers through surveys, asking for their opinions and then taking that back with our leadership and then prioritizing what's most important for the customer, what's going to drive a better customer experience for them, and what's also going to position Southwest Airlines for longevity and success in the in the industry.

Mitra

What about this concept of right offer, right customer, right time, of course it can also be conceptualized as personalization. We hear that sometimes there's a bit of a balance needed there, between providing that personalization and that curated content versus unlimited choices or a lot of choices that allows the traveler to then define some of those decisions. Any thoughts there as to how to balance those needs, the traveler-controlled choice and the industry-offered personalization?

Rob

Well, for us I think it's a partnership between our airline, the travel decision makers/travel buyers at companies, and their TMC partners. It's really aligning all three minds together to determine what's the best offer for the traveler based on their preferences, but also balancing that with, do those preferences meet the travel policy that's in place by the travel buyer? So I think that, yes, as an airline that is offering a loyalty product that allows us to know who our customers are and what their preferences are, it's important for us to be in constant communication with the travel buyers to make sure that what the customers or what their travelers are asking for align with the policies, and where it doesn't, making the modifications where we can, and then positioning the TMC for success in terms of implementing that travel policy through Southwest and through some of their other preferred suppliers, and really striking that that core balance between all three organizations.

Mitra

Okay, Anthony, anything?

Anthony

Yeah, I can jump in here. For us, I think you're right, Mitra, first of all, that it is a very fine line between personalization and standardization.

I think what we've found is that there's a difference between needs and wants.

That some users come into the travel journey with very specific needs, they're traveling with the family and they want seat selection, they want a bag. Or they’re a six-foot-eight guy who wants extra legroom. He knows that coming into the travel experience. And we call those needs. And so being able to offer an experience where someone can say, hey, up front, don't even show me an offer that doesn't have extra legroom or doesn't have seat selection. All right.

And then on the other side of that is what we call wants, or more targeted upselling or retailing, where a user is presented with the right offer at the right time. Maybe, say, hey, this is a really good deal. This is a good value for the money. I want to pay for priority boarding, I want to pay for lounge access.

And so what we're trying to do is basically tailor the display to do both of those. At Kayak we have the baggage fee calculator. Throughout the pandemic we've introduced the no change fee filter, doing things like that to make it clear that, for users who have those specific needs, they can do that and they can customize the display. But also then for users who maybe just want to see what other offers are out there as they're selecting their flights, it's available too. And again it comes back to flexibility. How can we be flexible in customizing the display for what user wants?

Mitra

Okay. What about the role of AI and machine learning? Any thoughts on how that can be used in ways beyond the way they're being used today? Tye, anything that you folks are doing?

Tye

Oh well, yeah, I think we're constantly evolving. And just because I had it loaded up to answer your previous question I think it rolls into this as well, our customers in this case are the airlines, right? So from that perspective we're really focused on allowing airlines to take control of their channels and control of their distribution strategy to give them the tools that they need. And as our taglines is the freedom to move further, faster, and that's really what we want. And so as airlines say, here is a need that's popped up, that's what we're focused on delivering.

And one of those needs has been in fact the ability to do personalization. I think one of the first things you'll see as maybe a toe in the pool, there is continuous pricing where airlines are saying I want the ability to say, okay, maybe I have a filed fare but maybe I want to adjust that. Because if you think about how it works today, you've got all these classes of service and the jump between one class and another might be fifty dollars, a hundred dollars. Why can't it be a couple dollars? Why can't it be four, five, six, seven, eight? And that's really what continuous pricing is all about. We're building that technology to make that available. You can wrap into your question about machine learning and AI where it makes sense to make sure that customer is getting the price, the exact price that you want to offer them relative to their willingness to pay, what you're willing to sell that seat for at that moment at that exact time to carry that customer on the flight. And so we're building those capabilities.

Mitra

Okay, yeah.

Rob

As an evolving industry you have to continuously evaluate those kind of technologies and those kind of opportunities because the traditional way of booking travel is going to change as we continue to progress with new business travelers coming into the industry from a business travel perspective and they're accustomed to some of these things either in their B2C world or just in their everyday world, whether it's social media et cetera. Those things will ultimately infiltrate the business travel environment and airlines and TMCs and booking tools have to be ready to adapt and implement those changes.

Anthony

Yeah, let me just add one more thing to Tye's comment, which is that we at Kayak agree with that. Personalization is the future and we want to be able to create the right offer at the right time to the right user, but we also have to remember the standard, the average leisure traveler who's checking multiple sites, who's coordinating schedules with travel partners, things of that nature. And I think as we've gone down this journey, one of the things we've realized is that when you focus too much on retailing, you also kind of get into overwhelming these users who are just checking flights. They're on their phone, they're on the bus or train to the to the office, and they just want to see what the flight costs and what flights are available. And so I think one of our big takeaways from this whole journey has been, how do we have this nice fine line of yes, we want personalization, yes, we want retailing, but also we need to make sure that we're allowing users to browse to see what options are out there. And if the prices are always changing, if you go on your phone and you get one price and you go on your computer and you get another price, I think you're going to start to see even more hesitation in the market than you already do to see today.

Tye

I think that's a fascinating point. If you don't mind, I’ll just respond. This is something I’ve said before. It’s a shame that we almost encourage customers to shop 25 times before they pull the trigger to buy a ticket. That's a terrible waste of their time, and I think we, Southwest customers obviously are different because they're not in all these different channels like you might see for different players, but I think part of it is because you've got all these different systems that are coming up with pricing for the customer, if the airline starts to take control of the price they offer in all of their channels, you start to take away some of that differentiation that you're seeing, sometimes it's because of an error, sometimes it's just because when a system updates. It's all of the factors that go into how solutions are created in the first place. And I think once airlines start to say whether you're shopping on or any of your competitors or the airline's own website, you're going to start to get the same exact answer. And so you get into the definition of insanity there, right? You've checked five minutes at the exact same price every time, maybe I should just go ahead and buy the ticket. I think it'll save electricity and it'll save customers time and give them that convenience, and I think that's a positive.

Mitra

Actually, I’m going to jump in here with a with a question that I had teed up for possibly later, but since it kind of ties into this…President Biden has called for more transparency in flight shopping and instructed the Department of Transportation to ensure that searches are robust, transparent, include all airlines. What does that potentially mean? Rob, can you speak to that since Southwest does function a little bit differently? What does that potentially mean and then also more broadly, any thoughts around the risks of having municipal involvement and how retailing is structured?

Rob

Yeah, so we've been in close communication with A4A as well as with the administration regarding this most recent push around transparency, and the point that we continue to emphasize is that we would prefer to be in control of where we want our fares and our schedules to be displayed, so that we can continue to control the customer experience and that we can control some of the things like the specialized offers that we know that our customers want. Many times, if we're in an environment where we don't know where our fares are and we don't know what that customer experience is, it could provide a customer with an experience that is inconsistent with the experience they would have normally gotten either coming to our website or coming through some of the managed channels that we work very closely with. So we've been as always somewhat adamant about not being regulated to put our fares everywhere, but a hundred percent agree that where we are displaying our fares and our schedules, that we're transparent with the experience that we're going to provide them. That we're not going to surprise them with any fees or anything like that. That's really where our focus has been, is making sure that when we do display our fares and where we decide to display them, that we are transparent with our customers around what their experience is going to be and not surprising them with things at the last minute. So I think we're continuing to push that with A4A and with our governmental affairs department to ensure that that message is being heard. And that is just as important as being everywhere, it's more about informing the customer in terms of what their experience is going to be and not surprising them.

Mitra

Okay, any other thoughts around that?

Tye

Sure, I’ll take that one. No one will be surprised that we're not going to make it through this panel without me saying NDC—

Mitra

Coming up in the questions.

Tye

Okay, I won't dwell on it too much, but I think NDC is exactly the type of thing that helps give that transparency. It allows us to start including that type of information in the shopping response so the travel sellers can make it as clear as possible what the offer includes and all of the bells and whistles that go along with it, very clear, the breakdown, et cetera. That's what NDC will afford, so the faster we can get there, the better, in my opinion.

Mitra

Yeah, and it was actually my very next question here in the list. I had pulled some of the wording from IATA that “NDC is to facilitate product differentiation and time to market, access to full and rich air content, and transparent shopping experience,” which of course is what you're speaking of there. So let's talk a little bit about that. What is still needed to fulfill this promise of better retailing through NDC? Is it about standards, is it about infrastructure, what's needed there?

Tye

I can take that one. So from my perspective, it's we just all have to…well, here's an interesting thing. At some point during the pandemic, I think a lot of people thought, oh, NDC is dead, we've got to focus on other things, let's not, we'll get to that later. And actually it was quite the opposite. In my role at United I know were at an IATA meeting with several airlines sitting together and said no, no, no, we want to emerge from this pandemic having the best capabilities possible to service our customers and NDC is the way to get there. So we're continuing to push forward, making sure that the airlines, that we have as customers, have all the tools that they need to roll this out. We have over 400 agencies connected to us, or travel partners I should say, whether they're aggregators or agencies, ready to go, so it's just a matter of airlines working with their agency partners, GDS partners, et cetera, to put the content out there that attracts people to NDC. I’m interested in it. Let's work out any kinks that might pop up from an agency process perspective together and keep moving forward. We’re seeing more NDC transactions right now than we saw pre-COVID. And we're excited to step forward for adoption.

Rob

Yeah, just—go ahead.

Anthony

Thanks, Rob. Yeah, I was just going to say, Kayak has been in the business of integrating APIs whether they're NDC or not NDC for 17 years. So we've seen a lot of these different APIs, a lot of different flavors, and I think for us at this point in time I can pretty confidently say that integrating an NDC API is not much faster than integrating a non-NDC API. There's still a lot of work to be done on an airline-by-airline basis as we go in and work with airline partners to make sure we're set up for success as we display their content. And I think that that's what needs to change and what needs to continue to evolve. I think last week, Mitra, your colleague Kevin at PhocusWire said “standardizing the standard.” That we have not only different versions of NDC but we also have, different airlines have implemented NDC in different ways. And so from our perspective, making sure that that's really more plug-and-play, that I can take the work we've done with one airline and plug-and-play and drop that in with another airline, I think that's the vision of NDC, but we're not there yet.

And then I think the other thing I’ll just kind of add is that a lot of a lot of times we've talked about adding retailing or adding additional content into the NDC APIs, but for certain airlines that only takes place actually further down the funnel. So as we as we talk about this vision of retailing and getting all these bundles and getting all this information at the time of shopping, we really need to work with our airline partners to actually make sure that all of these offers, all these bundles are actually available earlier in the funnel and they're not kind of exclusive to further down the funnel only as upsell options at checkout.

Rob

Yeah. I’ll just real really quickly touch on for Southwest. Our NDC strategy currently flows through ATPCO’s NDC Exchange. So we've had an API in the marketplace since 2010, but it's built on OTA specs, so our native API is not NDC certified. However, when we partner with ATPCO through the Exchange we are NDC certified then. And I think that there is more standardization that needs to take place. I’ve heard from other suppliers that, in terms of the shopping experience and booking experience for NDC, everything works seamlessly there, but there are still some mid and back office synchronization that still needs to be standardized before it is 100 percent adopted and 100 percent trusted as a reliable and standardized connection for suppliers to third parties, and ultimately to the end user.

Tye

Well. I have some interesting news for you.

Mitra

Breaking news? Do you have breaking news?

Tye

Maybe. NDC version 21.3 is coming out today. It's imminent, it's going to drop at any moment, and this is the version of NDC that the industry is aligning on to be the new gold standard.

I think with 17.2, which is from 2017, the second half of 17, that that version of NDC has sort of been the gold standard since 2017 and it allows a lot of flexibility. And it's that flexibility, unfortunately, that has caused these differences that Anthony's talking about. With 21.3 you'll see a world where it truly is standard. It's backwards compatible going forward. It will have a lot of the bells and whistles and features that airlines have been wanting, and so as we continue to deploy 21.3 and get it there, I think you really will start to see that wash, rinse, repeat implementation as we go, which is really needed to move forward. But I’m really excited about that Accelya has been working very closely with IATA and the industry to make sure 21.3 is fit for purpose, make sure we took care of a lot of bugs which is why it was a little bit late, but excited to see it roll out.

Mitra

Yeah, this world feels very different than 2017, doesn't it? So it's nice—

Tye

Remember the good old days?

Mitra

Let's just talk a bit about what else needs to happen in regard to partnerships. Certainly the industry has been fairly fragmented over its evolution. Where do you have any thoughts on opportunities for future collaboration? Anyone have any? It's something I feel like we at PhocusWire have heard about and have covered a bit is that there does seem to have been in the last year and a half a little more of synergies and people trying to come together to lift everyone.

Tye

We certainly are excited about any potential opportunities in that space. I mean we're working very closely with all the GDSs to make NDC work through them, or all of our airline customers, and so our day-to-day really is collaboration with others. we're working closely with ATPCO, ARC, IATA, so it's critical to make this thing work to bring this modernization to market. So my answer is probably going to be quite different than the other gentleman, but that's important from my perspective.

Anthony

Yeah, I agree. I think we definitely need more industry collaboration. I think ATPCO has taken a really awesome lead on that. I think a lot of what they've done around COVID data, making sure we have all the up-to-date information at the time of shopping has been awesome. I think one thing that is still really not standardized is government restrictions. At Kayak we maintain our own list. There's probably 10 or 15 other companies in the industry that are maintaining sort of robust databases of government restrictions, mask mandates, things of that nature, getting in and out of countries, I think that's one.

And also two more in there that are near and dear to Kayak's heart that maybe are a little bit of sort of a tangential topic for this discussion, but I think one would be virtual interlining and how we continue to kind of move forward with virtual underlining on international level. And then two, sustainability. And CO2 is a big thing, and so I think you're going to see more and more bus and train connections. While Tye was at United, you know United they partnered with Landline to roll out some bus connections. I think you're going to only see that more and more take place in the industry, and so we have all this, we have all these struggles that we've been talking about with NDC and retailing, and then now you layer on bus and train on top of that, and there's a whole other world that needs to needs to happen as well. So I think there's more definitely more industry collaboration that needs to take place about how we inject these bus and train pieces of content into our display.

Rob

Yeah, and a lot of that collaboration will drive change for the industry and it will provide a better, keep using the phrase, but better customer experience for customers and for companies that are really sort of starving for some of this innovation and collaboration in the marketplace.

Mitra

And to the point, Anthony,, that you just made, I had made a note here. We recently ran an opinion piece from Eric Leopold, formerly with IATA, who argued that providing that right offer at the right time means, for example, if there is an alternative mode of transportation that meets the customer’s requirements, the airline should or the platform should offer that up as an option. Is that something that you see potentially happening more in the future? More of a comprehensive solution?

Anthony

Yeah, absolutely. I’m based in Boston so when I think about going to New York, I’m comparing bus and train and flight options all at the same time. Or if I’m flying to Europe I know that I can get certain international flights to major cities and then take a train or a bus from that city to the destination I want to be. So I think you're only going to see more and more bus and train connections, alternative modes of transportation connections, even car rentals, and so I think you're going to see that more and more. And us as the retailer needs to be able to make sure we're giving that user that comprehensiveness, not just of airfare but also of other modes of transportation.

Mitra

We've written quite a bit about Air Asia's transformation from a budget carrier into really a comprehensive travel and lifestyle solution. As I’m sure you're aware they have their app that offers not just all their flights, transportation that can be reserved to coincide with the departure and arrival of flights, they've got consumer goods, groceries, insurance, fintech, it's all tied into their rewards program. What are your thoughts on that? Is that kind of the pinnacle of retailing or is that a bit too much of a stretch?

Rob

I think for me, I’ll start, I’m not sure that I’m in a position to really have a comment on whether it's too much in terms of their business model or not. I think it is very interesting that they are providing sort of that one-stop-shop solution for their customers in taking it beyond travel. That's definitely an interesting concept. I think for us, we have certainly not thought about retailing or product offerings or customer offerings to that extent, but certainly wanting to provide more than just air, which we do. Car, hotel is part of our customer experience and our shopping experience. But it’s almost like some of the work, shop, live communities that are being established around the community and going around the country. And going back to an earlier comment that I made, that really what's going to determine if more airlines adopt this Air Asia experience is what is the demand coming from customers. There is a new customer that's coming into the marketplace looking to travel and they're looking to do it in non-traditional ways, I’d say, so if the demand from those travelers are saying you're not offering enough for my shopping experience and I’m going to go elsewhere to get it, then that's when serious adoption or at least evaluation of adopting that kind of model will be considered for Southwest and probably other carriers as well and even some of the booking tools.

Tye

From my perspective, we're pioneers. We're forward thinking. And if our airline customers say that that's what they want to do, we're going to make it happen. And that's the beautiful thing of having a modern system based on APIs. it's not really that tricky to try and integrate some of that stuff. It's a matter of that's what our customers want and so we're ready to help them when they're ready.

Anthony

Yeah, I think from my perspective, we listen, we tried to do grocery delivery during the middle of the pandemic, as well. You dabble with that for a few months, and so I totally applaud the desire to be the hub, desire for some to be a one-stop shop where people only think of you as the as the agent or as the airline and they come to you for everything they need, and you never give them a reason to leave. I think from our perspective we run a pretty lean team and so we want to make sure we're focused on where we can play and where we can provide real value, and that doesn't mean we're not going to innovate, right? We've done Kayak for business, we've done Kayak hotels in the last year, we've done a lot of cool innovative things, but I think we want to make sure we're really offering value to the user. And if there's potential for other collaborations with APIs in the future, we're open to that, but I think our team's focuses is on delivering an awesome travel experience.

Mitra

Okay, we have another question that has come in from the audience that kind of ties into some of what we've already been discussing, so let me just read that. Has the demise of corporate travel hurt the aviation retail experience? Can the leisure traveler experience be separate from business? This is several questions here. Can NDC ever go open source? And is the ultimate retail experience hurt by custom algorithms versus API?

A lot.

Tye

Do we get to just pick from those?

Mitra

Go for it.

Tye

NDC is open source already, anybody can get that API and design to it, that's the beautiful thing about it, so I feel like it is open source today. But it's a great question and so an opportunity to talk about that.

Rob

Yeah, I think certainly during the pandemic environment, there has been a dramatic decrease in overall travel, but consumer travel or leisure travel has sort of bounced back faster than business travel. And in terms of its recovery, I do think that the recovery of business travel will take a longer curve in order to rebound, so looking at some time in 22. I know for us, we sort of built a business on a low-cost, low-fare model, and that helps us to sustain in some of these bad times. Still not profitable and still nowhere near our 2019 levels, but certainly continuing with that foundation positions us for success when business travel will begin to rebound.

Mitra

Yeah. Okay —

Tye

I think…oh, sorry. Go ahead.

Anthony

Go ahead, Tye.

Tye

I was going to say I think a lot of airlines are potentially making, relative to the business travel question, their websites more and more friendly for business travelers, incorporating the private fares that are needed, bringing policy and different capabilities into that channel so that it's the best experience it can be. And I think that's going to help that the rising tide raises all the boats, and so I think you're going to see a lot of these corporate booking tools and airline sites together try and make the corporate travel experience as good as it can be. And so I’m excited to see where that goes.

Mitra

Yeah, Anthony, were you going to add something to that?

Anthony

I was just going to the question of should leisure travel be different. I mean, absolutely, right? On Kayak we have two different displays. Our Kayak for business display is different than our is different than our leisure display, and that's for a difference in customers, difference in understanding of fares, differences in the user journey overall. So I think we'll continue to see differences and we'll continue to make sure that we show the right content in the right manner to both sets of customers.

Mitra

Okay, I want to just talk a bit about a topic that I know has been gaining some traction, and that is self-sovereign identity, decentralized identity built on blockchain. According to a Phocuswright white paper on the future of retailing, I’m just going to read a sentence here to give some context, “the quantity used in application and ownership of customer data is still an unresolved sticking point for many in the travel ecosystem, and this issue continues to impede intelligent travel retailing.” So the whole idea around customer data and the privacy issues and security issues, but the need for it. So the self-sovereign identity concept I think could potentially really change the way all of this is handled. If the individual traveler then has their digital wallet that has their identity and all of the information about them that they share on an as-needed basis.

I spoke with Nick Price who was working with the Decentralized Identity Foundation. He says it's once-in-a-generation disruptive technology, and I know IATA is using it with the Travel Pass, and there's some other efforts underway. I just briefly wondered if you have any thoughts about SSI and how that might potentially change how all of this is handled, or would it, I guess would be the question?

Tye

I’m a big fan of blockchain, a crypto nerd myself. I have a Ethereum miner sitting over in the corner right now. In a validator. So I’ve been watching the space for a while. I did a blockchain pilot when I was at United with ARC and I think it's fantastic technology. And so this idea of bringing, giving the customer the ability to own their ID and what parts of data they make available and how potentially even monetizing their own data at some point. It's up to the customer to decide who gets to see their data and for how long and what parts of it. And so I think it’s a fascinating concept. I hope someone like IATA continues to go forward with it. They had a One ID pilot that they did mostly for airport security, but if you think about it, it could be extended to retailing as well. And so if there's a way to, I feel like if there's 50 different solutions in the market it's going to get confusing for the customers and you're not going to want to have 50 different profiles out there, so I’m sort of hoping that a few emerge as the top choice for customers. And maybe it's bisector. I could also see the big gateway guys getting into this, whether it's Facebook, how many things do you sign on today, it's like, do you want to log in with Facebook, right? I could see some of them in this game as well. But anyway I’m rambling, but, yes, I think it's an interesting concept.

Anthony

Yeah, and despite what we just talked about with Air Asia, at the end of the day, travel is a very much a multi-party system. People book on with multiple suppliers, multiple OTAs, multiple aggregators, and so being able to have your data in one place that you control, and you control who have access to, in some ways makes that journey easier because now all of a sudden I can control, okay it's going to be Kayak, United, Southwest, whatever it is, has access to the data, and it really creates more of that seamless experience. As Tye mentioned on the corporate side, you're seeing a ton of airlines work on their own airlineforbusiness.com and that's only going to continue. And so I think how we're thinking about a Kayak, how do we create this journey of, yes, you're on Kayak, you're cross-shopping airlines, but also how do we make sure that we're blending that with the needs of our carriers and making sure that if they want to book on airline.com it's possible. And so I think the digital wallet really opens that up in new ways.

Mitra

Wow, well, we are just about out of time. Here I thought maybe 45 minutes might be hard to fill, but still lots of questions we didn't get to. So thank you so much, Tye, Anthony, and Rob for sharing your insights. We really appreciate it.

I certainly hope to be with all of you for this event again next year, fingers crossed, in person, for that. And speaking of in-person, I don't want to miss the chance to say if you want to hear more on this topic, please make plans to join me in Florida in November for the Phocuswright conference where ATPCO CEO Alex Zoghlin will be on a panel about retailing.

Finally, please remember to take the session and conference surveys which help our friends at ATPCO figure out what you liked from the conference and what you loved. Thanks for joining us, thanks to all of you. Have a great day.

Rob

Thanks, everyone.

Anthony

Thank you.

Tye

Bye.

Panel • Dynamic offer creation, NGS, Routehappy content, Retailing
elevate 2021

Elevate 2021 is a virtual conference that powers the exchange of ideas for the future of flight shopping.

Speakers ondemand

Speakers

tye radcliffe

Tye Radcliffe

VP of Product Strategy, Accelya

Tye Radcliffe has been in the travel industry since 1997, primarily focused on leading teams and programs associated with the distribution of airline products and services. Tye has worked for United Airlines, Amadeus, Orbitz.com, Travelport, and G2 Switchworks.   

Prior to joining Accelya, Tye was Director of Distribution for United, where he and his team designed and implemented strategies and technology to modernize United’s content distribution capabilities. He and his team launched several industry-first programs, especially in the corporate direct space. He was a founding member of IATA’s NDC working group and served for several years as chairman of IATA’s Passenger Standards Conference.   

Currently, Tye is Vice President of Product Strategy over the Order Group for Accelya, where he and his team are responsible for designing and delivering innovative products and services to enable airlines to achieve their digital retailing goals.  

mitra sorrells

Mitra Sorrells

Senior Reporter, Phocuswire

As a senior reporter for PhocusWire, Mitra covers a wide variety of topics related to travel technology and distribution globally, whether related to air, hospitality, ground transportation, tours and activities or cruise. PhocusWire is the digital media brand of Phocuswright, the most respected travel research authority and events brand in the world. 

Prior to joining PhocusWire in January 2018, Mitra was technology editor and Orlando bureau chief for BizBash, a leading trade media for the event industry. She also spent several years as a producer and reporter at local network affiliate television stations.  

anthony salomone

Anthony Salomone

Director, Product, Kayak

Anthony Salomone is a Director of Product at KAYAK, primarily responsible for KAYAK’s Flights and Business product offerings. During his time at KAYAK, he has overseen the shift to a more modern retailing experience within the meta-search site, including the significant expansion of branded fares / fare families, the roll-out of Routehappy’s Amenity, UTA and UPA offerings, and on-going experimentations with the Next Generation Storefront. He has also spearheaded KAYAK’s on site COVID response, including the injection of relevant airline policy changes and country entry restrictions into the flight shopping experience, and has brought a renewed focus on showcasing relevant bus and train content to appear alongside KAYAK’s flight offerings. 

Prior to KAYAK, Anthony worked in a variety of roles at Zume Pizza in Mountain View, CA, helping to operationalize Zume’s delivery network and designing Zume’s next generation mobile kitchens. Anthony started his career as a road warrior in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) management consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).  

Anthony received his MBA from Stanford University and earned his bachelor’s degree from Boston College. Anthony lives in the Boston area with his wife and 11 month old son.  

Rob Brown

Rob Brown

Senior Director Sales Strategy & B2B Channel, Southwest

Rob Brown has been in the travel industry for over 31 years split between Enterprise Rent-A-Car, nuTravel, and Southwest Airlines. Rob is a Southwest Airlines boomerang and has been with the company a combined 25 years. He was part of the group that started our very first Corporate Sales Team in 2004. Rob has played an integral role on the Leadership Team that helped pioneer Southwest’s direct distribution strategy in the B2B space with the launch of SWABIZ in 2000, and our direct connect API strategy in 2010. Currently, Rob is part of the Leadership Team initiating the next chapter of Southwest Airlines B2B Channel strategy led by industry standard GDS participation.  

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