The advent of driverless cars and Tesla have caused the established automobile industry to have an existential crisis. It has taken Uber only a few months to turn a 115-year-old industry completely upside down. Today, changes across entire industries happen very quickly and radically.
Martin Bachmann is an old hand in the travel trade. He has owned several travel agencies, successfully sold them, and with these experiences established a successful travel tech company.
As the CEO of Business Travel Show exhibitor Umbrella AG, he constantly keeps his finger on the pulse of the times. In this blogpost, he shares his ideas on the future technology for TMCs and corporate travel departments.
Martin, a TMC manager recently told you that travel tech companies like Umbrella are responsible for the survival of the industry. Do you agree?
Small - and medium-sized TMCs have the skills necessary to work closely with the customer. This is incredibly valuable. But they do not possess their own technology. Developing this is an exciting task for Umbrella.
We offer the necessary tools for survival but a travel agency must also be willing to be helped. Unfortunately, some in the industry are harming themselves by being reluctant to leave their established paths and invest in the future.
Do travel agencies really have to completely reinvent themselves?
Reinvention doesn’t mean 'disruption thanks to Silicon Valley'. The industry can also be successful by going through an evolution and it doesn’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. But we still have to at least question everything and remove any out-of-date customs in the travel agency world without necessarily replacing everything.
The strengths of travel agencies rest on good contact with customers and personalised service. These trump cards have to be played. An efficiency-oriented, assembly line model without the personal 'touch' is guaranteed to head in the wrong direction. Robots can make things better and cheaper.
What are examples of services that need to be re-examined?
Open booking, i.e. the integration of bookings from all possible channels, is an absolute must have. Of course, travel agencies must also be able to handle direct bookings.
Another topic is customer data. I can only provide great service if I know my customers well. With Umbrella Faces we offer a wonderful tool. And it is possible to make more use of it than TMCs currently do.
Even the traditional, rigid pricing model of TMCs is no longer up-to-date. However, often old, clumsy IT prevents travel agencies from thinking at all about alternatives. But why should a customer have to pay for the whole machine if they need to use only a portion of it?
One topic where we scratch our heads again and again is reports. Ninety per cent of all evaluations from a travel agency are completely devoid of value. They are produced directly for the recycling bin. They are non-critical and - like open bookings - they cover only a fraction of the bookings anyway. It is clear to every insider that at least 30% of bookings already happen outside the travel agency channel.
The use of modern communication is also very versatile. A travel agency must now offer communication via web chats, Skype or WhatsApp. But hardly anyone does, because it requires the organisation to change.
All of these are topics for which we have solutions at hand or in the planning stages.
With the profile management tool Faces, Umbrella has had quite a hit. What are the reasons for this success?
Speed and know-how.
Speed: We always try to be as fast as possible. With everything. This starts with the response to inquiries and continues with the implementation of new ideas. At any time – sometimes even a few times per day - we can put new features into production.
Of course, this requires us to constantly review and improve our internal processes. For example, we have automated our testing. Such things are often very challenging but also a lot of fun.
Know-how: Every single employee at Umbrella has extensive industry know-how. We use this when we listen carefully to our customers’ requirements or problems. We often become consultants. I think our customers appreciate this very much.
Martin Bachmann is CEO of Umbrella, who are exhibiting at the Business Travel Show. Meet Umbrella and 270 other exhibitors on 22-23 February 2017 by registering for a free pass at www.businesstravelshow.com.