Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s Chief Marketing Officer and Bobby Healy, CarTrawler’s Chief Technology Officer recently gave a talk on The Future of Travel Technology, in Dublin Ireland. The two executives from leading travel technology companies discussed how the global digital ecosystem has changed over recent years and what innovations lie ahead, how China is leading the pack, and what other travel technology companies need to be thinking about in order to meet changing customer expectations.
Kenny Jacobs was the first to take to the stage. ‘We’re building a digital ecosystem. In the future we will be left with a couple of digital superpowers globally and Ryanair has ambitions to be one.’ Mr. Jacobs was referring to Ryanair’s well known ambitions to become the ‘Amazon of Travel.’ He emphasised how their aspiration to reach this was a firm objective. ‘When we started using the phrase ‘Amazon of Travel’ that meant two things: the use of data and creating a seamless shopping experience. It also means doing what Amazon did – as a business strategy. It’s about Ryanair becoming a digital platform where we sell third party travel products to all parts of the world – not just flights and the immediate flight related ancillary products.’ Ryanair have made great strides towards becoming the ‘Amazon of Travel’ with their digital transformation in the last number of years.
Ryanair’s desire to become a one-stop shop for travel has taken flight in recent weeks with the announcement of Ryanair Rooms. Mr Jacobs hailed the unique selling point of Ryanair Rooms – 10% travel credit when you book accommodation – is the game-changer. ‘A customer who books a four-night stay in Barcelona for 400 Euro will receive 40 Euro in travel credit directly into their MyRyanair account – essentially giving them their next Ryanair flight for free.’
‘Owning and managing the customer experience becomes paramount and reduces risk of disruption from OTA’s.’ Mr Jacobs reminded the audience of the four pillars of travel: flights, accommodation, transfers and activities. Mr Jacobs insisted that their expertise in the area of flights would be beneficial as they move into the arenas of accommodation, activities and transfers. ‘We know a lot about our customers. As flights are typically booked first, we can disrupt the other trip pillars by offering better value and experience than competitors.’ Mr Jacobs noted how CarTrawler’s technology solution was a perfect example of helping to deliver a seamless travel experience by integrating car hire and ground transportation services into the airlines’ overall offering.
Mr Jacobs emphasised the importance which Ryanair are currently placing on enhancing the mobile experience. ‘The key take-outs from this will be to connect with people on the go and to leverage the day of travel and at the destination.’ He highlighted how speed and performance of mobile applications are now an imperative component in delivering a high quality for customers. ‘Expectations around app performance has never been higher. Getting real estate on someone’s phone is gold – you need to work to stay there.’ CarTrawler’s Chief Technology Officer, Bobby Healy echoed Mr Jacobs sentiment, lamenting Europe’s slow uptake in the area of mobile. ‘China is way ahead of the West. Europe and the U.S has been completely leapfrogged by Asia on mobile. WeChat is the platform that really highlights how conversational commerce and support is taking hold there.’ Healy emphasised how every industry should be looking at Asia and their advancements in the tech space, specifically where they are going with conversational commerce, customer experience and the advancements companies such as Alipay, WeChat Pay, QQ Pay and Baidu Wallet are making towards creating a frictionless payments process.
Artificial Intelligence is gradually being implemented into the travel technology landscape. Mr. Healy explained the beneficial implications of deploying an Artificial Intelligence (AI) ‘bot’ and embedding it into the customer experience. CarTrawler’s ChatBot has already been piloted on partner sites. At a time when expectations on customer service are at an all-time high, CarTrawler have already seen a 5X improvement in agent performance by applying the latest in artificial intelligence to their customer service. Agents are handling inbound queries faster with high-quality best-practice responses with the assistance of intelligent software.
CarTrawler have been making waves recently in the area of voice activation software. Mr. Healy revealed that CarTrawler has integrated voice activation capabilities into their products and are seeing fantastic results in the performance. He stated that while voice activation software in the travel industry had gained some traction with the ability to answer simple questions like the status of a particular flight, it is still at an underdeveloped stage. With the sophistication of data processing however, this application will revolutionise the way customers purchase a variety of products.
Mr Jacobs and Mr Healy both left the audience, of which was made up of a mix of industry leaders and government officials, with a caveat: greater co-operation and co-ordination between corporations, third level institutions, and the government would be needed to ensure Ireland remained at the forefront of technology developments. ‘The demand for skills is changing due to disruption and technology. As a result 3rd level tech education is not fit for purpose and graduate pipelines are not adequate. We will lose out on tech opportunities if this isn’t addressed soon. The focus on developing STEM needs to shift across the entire ecosystem – from early learning through to higher education, and into lifelong learning.’ There were impassioned pleas to ensure that Ireland’s third level institutions were properly equipped to deal with the bountiful supply of tech jobs flooding the tech ecosystem.
Mr Healy illustrated the importance of this alignment, insisting that there is currently a serious drought in adequately skilled workers in Ireland who are qualified for these positions. He said large multinational corporations, are offering a kings’ ransom for in-demand skills, underscoring how the lack of tech talent is feeding this already highly competitive market. In the interest of Irish recruitment and indigenous investment, Mr Healy stressed the point of ensuring that all stakeholders – the government, corporations and universities – are on the same page and that we work together to ensure Ireland’s prosperous future in tech.
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