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Arabian Travel Market 2011 Dubai

How can technology help travel agents better sell a region or sector?

May 06, 2011

Antoine Medawar is the Vice President, Middle East & North of Africa of Amadeus. This interview explores his views on the travel industry in the Middle East and how technology can help travel agents.

How can technology help travel agents better sell a region or sector?

We are in an increasingly competitive environment where all parties involved demand their due. Airlines wish to sell tickets more efficiently. Travel agents wish to increase profitability, better serve the traveler, and also secure customer fidelity when other options are open to make a travel reservation. And travelers want to save in their travel without losing quality in what they buy and how they buy it. Technology is crucial for travel agents to cope with these requirements and excel in their service to customers. Technology does provide an added value for the agent that will make the difference between just playing and competing with an advantage in a constantly-evolving travel arena. Amadeus is here to provide this technology support in terms of wider content, increased efficiency in travel transactions, and faster tools that will help agents to sell destinations and upsell additional services the traveler might feel like getting without increasing the complication of the booking process.

Despite the recent downturns in the economy, what sectors have you seen investing in technology?

Most players in the travel sector have understood that investing in technology is the only way ahead. Airlines are relying in technology to take care of their customer management and being able to concentrate and focus in their specific business: fly passengers. The airline industry has also discovered the substantive benefits of selling ancillary services to their passengers and the technology is there to make that happen. Travel agencies, rail, hotels, airports all see technology solutions applied to their needs as the future to successfully compete in their respective areas. If we mention Amadeus, the European Commission (EC) highlighted our company as one of the leading companies in Europe for investment in Research & Development (R&D) within its 2010 EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard. This annual report examines the largest 1,000 European companies investing in R&D and ranks them according to the total amount invested. Amadeus’ investment of €250 million during 2009, a 10% increase on the amount invested in 2008, to research and develop technologies for use in the travel sector was recognized as the largest in Europe by total R&D investment in both the computer services category and the travel and tourism sectors.

What ways have you found to differentiate yourself from the competition?

Consistent investment in technology, solutions that go ahead of the market, innovation applied to the travel player’s needs, deep understanding of the travel sector, close partnership in a long-term approach, global reach and solid local expertise and service. All this make our customers – not ourselves - say we are the best possible partner.

What changes have you seen in the travel industry over the last 12 months?

We have seen in this period, several factors such as the return of bookings, the will of the travel sector to invest in technology as a way to weather the storm, airlines entering into the ancillary services niche, and the growth of low-cost carriers entering into the global distribution systems – presently, travel agencies using Amadeus can make bookings with some 59 low-cost carriers.

From your point of view, how do you see the travel industry developing in the Middle East?

The Middle East is a land of communication, where people need to talk to each other and are interested in knowing from neighbors, friends, and family members. Traveling is a tradition and necessity here. On the other hand, inbound and outbound passengers will no doubt grow due to the recovery of business in the region and the importance of its geographic position, as we advanced at Amadeus in our recent report Securing the Prize for the Middle East, which sets out what the region should focus on to fulfill its potential as a dominant global hub. This survey, the first of its kind realized in our region, warns against complacency and exposes the risks posed by a lack of coordinated pan-regional policies in regulation, investment, and business operation. The factors enabling the Middle East to underpin the next wave of globalization created by emerging economies such as China, India, Latin America, and Africa include: the region’s geographic position at the center of the major air routes; its continued economic growth compared with the G8 countries; and the major investments planned in the travel industry, including US$86 billion for airports. Regarding trends in the region, we anticipate interesting changes that will impact the travel industry, such as the switch from PCs to Smart Phones and Tablets, development of optional services (ancillary services), corporations seeking full control, and also the growth of social media.

What is the business outlook for 2011 and beyond, and are you optimistic about the future?

Analysts point overheating and the potential for boom-bust cycles in emerging markets as a risk in 2011, but it is also possible that stronger-than-expected business investment rebounds in major advanced economies. We have benefited from a strong recovery in the cycle in 2010, and the prospects for the current year seem positive. IATA’s estimates for 2011 passenger traffic growth are 5.2% worldwide, while the Middle East would grow 6.2%, well above the world market. United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicts a 7% to 10% growth in tourism in the Middle East for 2011, while it grew 13.9% in 2010. We are confident that the travel sector will continue to overcome difficult moments and carry on being the driving force of the economy. As far as Amadeus is concerned, we look forward to 2011 with confidence. During 2011, we aim at reinforcing our leading position both in our distribution and IT solutions business lines.

How can technology help travel agents better sell a region or sector?
Antoine Medawar

Source: ATM 2011

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