From The FieldThere is a lot of talk about overhauling aspects of the managed travel ecosystem. Decades-old technology in some cases is giving way to open systems meant to more efficiently connect buyers, suppliers and intermediaries. There’s no shortage of ideas, but there isn’t as much action as some would like to see. TravelCast Consulting managing partner Pedro Ceron states the case for a new approach.

The managed travel industry should look outside the box to break away from legacy technology and legacy thinking. The ability to deliver on “traveler of the future” expectations is here today. Yet, despite the evidence, our industry collectively acts as if it is not.

New calls to action should help us move beyond talking about innovation to delivering on it. They include Jeff Klee’s guidepost challenging the industry to deliver on “capabilities” and Sabre’s recent announcement supporting NDC integration. Another vision, as described in the Microsoft Corporate Travel Manifesto, is the traveler’s expectations for an experience based on their use of “sophisticated leisure travel tools” along with “rich travel content and mobile access.”

Over the past few years, our industry has reflexively pointed to Amazon as the reference for what to expect from an online shopping experience. Except there is one problem — or four to be exact — and they are attending to the needs of four personas: suppliers, providers, distributors and, last but not at all least, the corporate traveler.

Sure, Amazon has suppliers. It is the provider. It relies on delivery mechanisms (distribution). However, Amazon only need concern itself with the end buyer experience. The rest are masked, made as opaque as possible, creating the illusion of simplicity in the purchase and delivery process. Everything serves the buyer persona. It boils down to a two-party transaction. Seen from this perspective, it’s no wonder airlines want to have a direct relationship with their customers.

In managed travel, the personas are all unmasked. Each one demands its own experience while in some way serving the others. Suppliers service corporate buyers, and work with distributors while pleasing end-customer travelers. TMCs service corporate customers and their travelers while managing suppliers, technology providers and the various connection points.

The challenge to deliver on the visions of the future is more about change management than technology. But because technology is at the core of every possible solution, we really must start there.

I know this is inelegant, but let’s just refer to the fundamental building blocks of a 21st century value chain as content, EDIFACT, XML, NDC, JSon, database, non-database, structured data, non-structured data, relational database, graph database and user interface.

Each of these exist today but they have not been tied together in a commercially viable way to be future proof. We are viewing these capabilities through 20th century optics of business layers and processes, which obscures our ability to define more elegant solutions. Put another way, we can recognize new and innovative “round” capabilities but keep trying to force them into existing operational “squares.” That will only get us to where we are right now — stuck.

Pedro Ceron, TravelCast
TravelCast Consulting managing director Pedro Ceron

Rather than cooperating to integrate new round pieces into evolving new models, we tend to view the status quo as reliable while all the new fancy stuff is not. It’s the wrong dialogue if you are claiming to be innovative.

How do we move beyond this stage? We should move to agnostic components like universal profiles and database-centric trip records. Many other opinions and ideas need to be heard.

Rather than focusing on who is right or wrong, this industry needs a practical R&D approach, much like open source development. That approach would encompass our four stakeholders in a multi-faceted, cooperative, hands-on methodology to reinvent processes. We only need refer to the three Red Hat principles for Open Source Change paraphrased here:

1) Replace planning with configuring for constant change
2) Replace prescription with enablement
3) Replace execution with engagement

Each of these involves collaboration.

A functional effort to deliver on the vision of an open-source, 21st century managed travel platform is within our grasp. This approach is not about building a new commercial enterprise. Rather, it is the founding of a collaborative industry group that coordinates and contributes to innovation by stripping away business and process constraints. This would allow for a ground-up reinvention of value and supply chains. Like an open source project, the goal is to accelerate progress and share learnings. This is a call to action in support of the spirit behind the Microsoft Manifesto and the promise of NDC.

This may sound too idealistic to ever get off the ground. But I am pleased to say that as of this writing, there are significant, influential parties in our industry that have expressed their willingness — even eagerness — to contribute time, talent, resources and funds in support of this pioneering approach.

There is much to gain. If we at least learn to manage change with less pain, that alone has tremendous value. But really, we should be aiming for more, and that is to deliver on the expectations we have set for ourselves through a proof of concept showing these visions can today be a reality for our shared customer, the traveler.

The door is open for those holding a piece of the puzzle and are willing to share in the interest of progress. Please enter. Let’s not talk, let’s do it.

Kurt Knackstedt On Fintech And ‘Distributech’
Mat Orrego On Approaching And Solving Problems In The Travel Industry, Pt. 1
Yael Klein On Failure
Simon Barker On Whether The Corporate World Is Ready For New Technology
Mary Ellen George On Making Sense Of The Travel Technology Space


  1. I think Pedro is spot on with his points in this piece. We need to expect our industry to actually grow into the technology that already surrounds us rather than expect technology to litter our path with new solutions. In order to get to what Pedro is saying, however, one needs to peel another layer. I certainly don’t want to incur the wrath of any of my many procurement friends but one of the big reasons why we find ourselves managing pieces, as Pedro suggests, rather than managing our process more holistically is because over the years procurement principles distracted our thinking to focus on the costs associated with every component of the supply chain. Many procurement professionals then try to negotiate the cost of every hair on that dog we call travel management process. And when you do that, “that dog don’t hunt.” Sometimes all you want is a dog.

    In order to get to where Pedro is trying to take us, we need to simplify how we look at the whole “product to customer” process. That’s what Amazon has done and why it thrives. I’m sure they scrutinize every cost and potential efficiency, but they don’t bring their customers into those efforts. They deliver a reliable product at a competitive price. Consumer travel apps and products are perceived to perform in such a more elegant fashion compared to corporate travel tools because the providers of those services take the same approach as Amazon. It’s all about the experience. And trust me, after nearly four decades in this business, I’m here to tell you that there’s no more cost or wasteful processes to wrangle from the supply chain. The kimono has been wide open for years. The revenues are all transparent. As you may have heard me say before, if our industry were any more transparent we would all be invisible.

    So let’s take all of the new tools, zippy technologies and fresh approaches that are available to us and recreate the experience as Pedro is suggesting. I stopped shopping at stores where “assembly is required” a long time ago. Having the whole package delivered complete may cost a little more but it can be very liberating.

    1. Thanks for adding that perspective Ron. Understanding the various aspects of how we got into our current challenges informs how to get out, and what not to repeat.

    2. May I challenge the “procurement” reference? Yes those procurement with a small p buyers may have negotiated every hair on the dog but those Procurement with a capital P buyers have added structure, co-creation, mutually beneficial financial deals, etc. I know you know your stuff so no doubt you were not generalizing but it’s easy to blame “procurement.” There are always two parties in a buy/sell and the sellers could have taken a stronger/different position too.

  2. Great piece Pedro – indeed we have known the technology has existed for ages yet it’s never about the technology, it’s about the willingness to try new things and have a culture which can cope with such efforts, along with an ability to be able to recognize and quantify the business benefits from leveraging new technology. A key challenge our industry has created for itself is the idea that working with a smaller number of suppliers is more cost-effective. You note this in your point that “Each of these (the building blocks of modern technology) exist today but they have not been tied together in a commercially viable way to be future proof.” A major reason why is that there hasn’t been a broad enough appreciation or understanding that today’s technology is exceptionally good at working and inter-operating with other new technologies. This does mean that you may end up having three, four, maybe even five or more technology partners instead of just one or two, but your business is all the more scalable, efficient and future-proof because of it. Creating a technology stack which is actually a stack, and not one or two monolithic and hard to move pillars, will require travel professionals and organizations to re-think and re-tool how they operate, but they will be nimbler and more dynamic for doing so!

    1. Hi Kurt – In so many ways, we have been blessed for decades with the ease and convenience of a few systems able to streamline processes. Contemporary demands for interoperability expose the rigidity within our conveniences – just when we need fluidity. I have no doubt we’ll evolve out of that rigidity and expect many of the solutions to be right from within our industry, combined with what we can borrow, or as Picasso used to admit “steal” from other industries! Thanks for your input!

  3. Good talking points Pedro.

    Having been in the industry for a while now (technology was a telex machine) change is happening at a considerably fast pace now largely driven by new technology and new wants.

    Whether everything is the “right” change remains to be seen but by: removing fragmented systems (often legacy approaches) and approaching this with the principles mentioned — and I would add a changed mind-set for all — I believe we have a lot to look forward to over the next few years and we should all be part of the change.

    Lets do it!

    1. Hi Darren – Changing mindsets is definitely core to transitions. The speed of change you refer to reminds me of an article I read about IBM, that considers their employees skillsets to be valid for three years, so they focus on re-training for continued relevance. To think we have been able to keep the same underlying methods for decades is quite a contrast. Appreciate your encouragement and validation!

Leave a Reply