Ever Evolving

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Travelport is a distribution services and e-commerce provider to the global travel industry. The company operates a global distribution system (GDS) business, its Airline IT Solutions business, and a joint venture ownership of eNett. The GDS business provides aggregation, search and transaction processing services to travel providers and agencies, allowing travel agencies to search, compare, process and book itinerary and pricing options across multiple travel providers. Former ASATA CEO Robyn Christie heads up the company’s South African office.

For Robyn Christie, Travelport South Africa is a partner of the country’s airlines and a big part of their distribution, but she also views them as key customers. And that’s no surprise, because traditionally the GDS focused on the aviation sector.

Things though have changed.

“30 years ago when airline bookings were done, there weren’t the rules there are today,” says Christie. “The more complicated the airline industry has become, the more the GDS has evolved.”

Part of that evolution has seen hotel content or ‘inventory’ become a big part of the GDS.

“Now we have access to content and making that content available on the system, whether it’s online or the TMC or travel solution providers. It’s about the whole journey – the journey services of that transaction,” says Christie.

In an African context, that has meant a lot more work and research for the likes of Travelport, with information not as readily available as it is in first world countries, never mind the infrastructure and connectivity challenges.

“It’s not just about global content – it’s local and regional content,” says Christie. “That becomes complex because we need to represent everybody – guest houses and B&Bs, for example. In Africa that can be a problem. Often the establishment you’re dealing with isn’t sophisticated. They don’t have online access, so making real-time bookings available is a challenge.”

But that hasn’t stopped Travelport from forging ahead and establishing a strong African presence, with dedicated offices in Johannesburg and more recently Nairobi. The message is clear: Travelport is serious about Africa and what it has to offer.

“It’s the most exciting opportunity,” says Christie. “There is a huge amount of investment being made into 53 countries. Barring two countries, we’re covered, either through a distribution relationship, or more directly, as you see with Kenya and South Africa. There’s a lot of emphasis on the continent and there’s a lot of fantastic growth going on.”

That’s not to say that Africa doesn’t have other challenges, besides accurate and reliable information feeding into content management systems. Christie has her concerns about the corporate travel reconciliation process. As a big travel technology provider, it’s a space Travelport is heavily invested in.

“There’s always a human element,” she says. “In order to be able to close the loop, you need the human element to be tried and trusted and fraud-free, and that unfortunately is where the problem is.”

“There has to be a number to charge the transaction through, and once that number is in the public domain, anyone can access it. The chip and pin card solution is fantastic. It’s really worked and kept fraud down, and the banks have done wonders where that’s concerned. But it’s still not foolproof.”

Obviously, this is an issue for the corporate travel industry – an industry that Christie regards as Travelport’s ‘bread and butter’.

“We always think the travel industry is all about holidays and leisure travel, and that’s such a small part of it,” she says. “The corporate market is really what drives the industry. So, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got travel content relevant to the corporate player. In a hotel context, that means right through from one to 5-star accommodation.”

Like everyone, Travelport has had to change with the times, and Christie is under no illusions that that process needs to continue, if Travelport is to remain one of the industry’s market leaders.

“The days of being a GDS have come to an end,” she says. “The GDS is the platform, but it’s really about the product you sell that complements the GDS. The technology behind the GDS has become an expectation, but it’s what you can do with the info and data – the management of that booking, the reporting etc – that’s becoming more and more important.”

Dylan Rogers