How to make aviation better: Insider perspectives from the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit

Roundtables in action at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit at Penn Plaza Pavilion on May 22, 2019

Roundtables in action at the 2019 Travel Disruption Summit at Penn Plaza Pavilion on May 22, 2019

Last week, we were excited to hold the second annual Travel Disruption Summit, Voyager HQ’s symposium for travel leaders and innovators that gathered over 300 startups and decision makers in New York City to plan the future of the industry.

One of the Summit’s biggest goals is to facilitate discussions that matter for the industry at large - beyond platitudes or small talk, we want to enable those who care about travel to meet each other and have conversations that can truly kickstart change.

In the program, this goal is especially reflected in the Travel Industry Roundtables session. At lunch, each table is organized around a specific topic, so attendees are placed with a group that impacts the same focus area within travel. Each roundtable also has an expert moderator, who guides the conversation among participants - a balance of industry professionals, startups, investors and media.

A few of the roundtable topics from this year’s    Travel Disruption Summit   .

A few of the roundtable topics from this year’s Travel Disruption Summit.

We’ve asked individual table moderators from this year’s Summit to share some of the most compelling conversations and useful tidbits from their table and from the day as a whole. Since participants can only attend one table, the shared knowledge can unearth common threads and unexpected conclusions that cut across a variety of topics.

Below you’ll find perspectives from the roundtable moderators on the Aviation track. We’ll be posting recap takeaways from the other two tracks within the coming weeks.

Roundtable: Discovery and Inspiration

Moderator: Cady Wolf, VP of Global Commercial Strategy @ Sojern

The Aviation Discovery/Inspiration table discussed some key questions around how airlines perceive themselves. When asked whether airlines are leaders or followers in the industry, there was group consensus: airlines tend to be followers, rather than leaders. When asked what do airlines need to do to be leaders, the answers centered around innovation - airlines need to innovate more.

That’s where it got interesting. When asked, “How do airlines innovate,” there were two lines of thought:

  1. Product is fairly commoditized, so they need to do things to drive more brand loyalty and surprise and delight passengers. For example, when airlines have unsold first or business class seats, why don’t they always upgrade a customer on the spot? Or add valuable, differentiated features, such as Delta’s investment in real-time baggage tracking on its mobile app.

  2. Innovation is all about failing fast and learning from mistakes. Airlines are often encumbered by process and red tape making them very slow to adapt or try new things.

As it relates to aviation innovation, we also mentioned Skyhi and Skiplagged as other interesting companies that are innovating in the space.

Gianni Cataldo of  ATPCO .

Gianni Cataldo of ATPCO.

Roundtable: Inventory and Distribution

Moderator: Walter Krych, Founder and CEO of LatitudeGo

One of the primary takeaways from the group’s conversation was the desire to see fresh innovation that focuses first on airline customer needs rather than those of intermediaries or third-parties.

To facilitate stronger innovation, current channels of distribution, as well as aggregation, price integrity, and inventory processing tools must sync with airline customers’ needs to support NDC. This piece is essential to enable future revenue channels; it’s also important functionality for airlines to be able to fully leverage existing channels.

On the topic of collaboration between existing companies in the same space or going it alone, the table emphasized careful consideration of the pros and cons. If your company is adding services, experiences, and revenue channels, then collaboration could be a great fit. However, if your company is looking to disrupt core functionality, then an independent path may be ideal. Going it alone allows your company to focus on immediate customer needs and wants.

Even so, when it comes to innovation, there is no set path. The crystal ball is quite cracked, so airlines must measure the options diligently and stay true to the mission of your dream -- and the company. Most importantly, ALWAYS remember who your customers really are!

Roundtable: Search and Aggregation

Moderator: Werner Georg Kunz-Cho, Co-CEO at Fareportal

This discussion revolved primarily around the topic “Search,” with the main focus on providing consumers with more targeted and relevant search results.

Typically, search results are more often driven by price than by value relevant to the customer’s needs. Additionally, too many options are served up, some of which are at price points that differ from the lowest to the highest fare by more than $11,000. For instance, a sample economy class flight search at a major US OTA flight shows the lowest economy class fare JFK-CDG for $886 and a high business class fare of $12,046 on the same search results page.

Within the context of this search, the likelihood for a fare to be purchased at a price point higher than 20% of the lowest fare is highly unlikely. What’s the rational to list fares with such vast price differences which bear no relevance to the intended search? Not even a Business Class customer searching for a business class ticket would pay $12,046 for a RT flight JFK-CDG.

Werner Georg Kunz-Cho of  Fareportal  and Ariel Lanis of  Secret Flights .

Werner Georg Kunz-Cho of Fareportal and Ariel Lanis of Secret Flights.

Search should focus on listing options that are relevant to the customers’ needs which would require the creation of a “Smart Search Solution” wherein customer - specific data points are passed on to the content aggregators [GDS and others] that would then return relevant search results.

Roundtable: Payments

Moderator: Stacey Paul, Client Success, Travel at Affirm

Within aviation, cost seems to be a major focal point. On a related note, having processes in place to protect against fraud is also prominently on people's radar screens).

Disruptors in the space are seizing airlines' laser-like focus on cost and developing innovative ways to make things more affordable for travel companies. Fwe had a GDS startup at our table that uses blockchain technology)

The industry seems generally optimistic about NDC, though the verdict is still out.

Roundtable: Ports and Mobility

Moderator: Fouad Mehdaoui, OTA Program Manager at Delta Airlines

Rightly so, mobility has become a part of the broader conversation in the aviation industry. Improper or disappointing mobility solutions can lead to dissatisfaction and frustrations -- after all, what good is a flight that arrives early if transportation is delayed, or if a shuttle flight ends up taking longer than it would take to drive? In-trip transportation is a critical link of the traveler experience.

The Airport Mobility roundtable identified a few key areas of concern around that in-trip experience. First was an inconsistent TSA experience between airports, where at some you may have to remove shoes, while at others not. This frustrates travelers.

Second, dissimilar baggage allowances among carriers (mainline, LCC, ULCC..etc.) can increase confusion among travelers -- especially infrequent ones. One suggestion for a technology fix is an app or feature within an app that can measure baggage dimensions using the camera, and then validate whether a bag can be carried on or must be checked.

Another inconsistency within the airport experience relates to boarding and immigration. There are certain cases where lines cause significant delays upon arriving at immigration halls, while boarding for international flights can be slow due to additional passport checks. To reduce friction, and increase overall security, biometrics are a viable option to enhance the boarding process in the future. The table mentioned the ongoing pilots from both Delta and British Airways.  

The table also explored opportunities for airports and apps. While certain airports do have their own apps, not all airports do. A centralized resource for information, such as an app can help travelers quickly discover amenities information without having to locate an information board. An app with geo-location can facilitate the search. Also, there’s plenty of opportunity for clever co-promotion, such as HootBoard linking with CashSwap for opportunities to promote their app.  

Roundtable: Corporate and Luxury Travel

Moderator:  Michael Berk, Sr. Business Development Manager at Amex GBT

The aviation roundtable for business and luxury travel discussed topics around what pain points technology & startups can solve in both the near- and long-term. We then explored the ways that this will affect the traveler experience.  

Time savings was the most touched upon topic when it came to business and luxury travel, as business travelers mainly focus on getting to a destination for a specific event (meeting, conference, etc.). Anything that can be done to speed up access to transportation, or the trip itself, is beneficial to the traveler experience.  Multiple solutions have already been brought to market while many more are in their infancy.

Airports have taken a different approach to the topic of time savings. By building out larger and higher-end terminals catering to travelers who have time and/or money to spend in the airport, it’s more about the quality of the time spent at airports, rather than just optimizing for efficiency.  

In the age of big data, personalization was also an issue that was spoken about at length. There are many potential benefits, and plenty of potential hazards as well. Travelers can potentially expect a better travel experience as aviation suppliers (airlines, airports, etc.) start using more shared data to create a catered and personalized experience to each traveler, based on their needs and wants. On the flip side, brands must maintain vigilance against unwanted intrusions and unauthorized distribution of data.

Lauren Koenig of  TWIP .

Lauren Koenig of TWIP.

Roundtable: Loyalty

Moderator: Erin Lomers, Manager Customer Loyalty & Insights @ American Airlines

This discussion centered around how loyalty from inconsistent and price-conscious travelers has been an elusive target for travel brands.

We’re all working hard to drive loyalty with our consumers, whether in the B2B or B2C space. While running promotions and special offers can drive behavioral changes, we recognize it’s how you make your customers feel on their journey that really drives long term loyalty.

Several leaders recommended adding that ‘personal touch’ to a customer journey, which could be as simple as running a pre-arrival check with other travel partners to ensure that all bookings are arranged correctly.

From a B2B perspective, the consensus was that it always comes down to the relationship created with your partner-  by ensuring that you are creating a win for the partner and helping them achieve their goals, you are driving long term loyalty. Ultimately, we concluded that the customer experience along the way in their travel journey (or partnership journey for B2B) is king for driving loyalty.

We also discussed how startups and corporate entities can better collaborate. As startups look to work with corporate entities, focus on how your product solves a pain point of the organization - that’s often not simply a revenue initiative. Your value proposition should be specific to the organization. If you can use the same pitch deck for every organization, you may have trouble convincing the organization that you are solving their problem.

Roundtable: Operations

Co-Moderator: Henry Doerner, Regional Sales Manager at Air Canada
Co-Moderator:
Greg Apple, Head of Marketing @ HelloGbye

The key takeaway is that corporate travelers get frustrated using their OBTs (work-related online booking tools like Concur, for example) because of the lack of flexibility related to their corporate policies.

Many of them will then simply abandon the OBTs and go direct to consumer-based OBTs like the airlines or OTAs. Some will try to then go to their EA who works with their agent to get what they want. Generally speaking with the group, there was a lot of frustration with the group around the limited capabilities of the toolsets they are given today to book travel.

Henry Doerner, Regional Sales Manager at Air Canada, shared this specific idea: “It would be great if there was a platform that linked all parts of a travelers journey, from the Uber to the airport, to the airline, to the hotel and so on. Ideally, communication could be sent between all companies playing a role in the passengers journey, especially regarding irregularities in travel. For example, if the passenger was stuck in traffic in an Uber in the way to the airport, it would be helpful if the airline was automatically updated and the airline could automatically rebook the customer and notify the hotel of a late check out.”

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SAVE THE DATE FOR the travel disruption summit 2020.

The Travel Disruption Summit is meant to be an antidote to the same-old conference formats, blending the familiar main stage sessions with an intimate small group structure. We’re always amazed at the depth of knowledge, expertise, and passion in the tourism, hospitality, and aviation industries. It’s been an incredible year!
We can’t wait to get started with planning for 2020. To stay in the loop, sign-up here. We’ll send out information as soon as it becomes available.