After a career spanning 30 years in the travel industry, including roles at all three GDSs, Guy Snelgar talks about his new venture, Barndello Consulting, and why he loves the complexity that comes with technology
Tell us about your background
I used to work in the implementation and planning team at Travicom [which later became Galileo, then Travelport] and then the telesales team, then found myself years later in the sales and account management team. That was the latter half of the 1990s. When I left there, I went to Portman Travel, then Amadeus and Sabre before joining Diners Club.
You then returned to Travelport – why was that?
Having said I’m done with GDSs, and technology, I found that I missed it. The opportunity came up at Travelport, which was a chance to get back to what I know. To some extent, you can’t change who you are. I actually missed the complexity of it. In a perverse way, I liked the fact that, to have a proper discussion with a customer about all the aspects of the technology in the business, can be a two-day discussion. I did three years there, and this summer decided it was time for me to move on and do something different.
What do you hope to achieve with your new business?
The primary focus is to work with corporates and TMCs. There’s a technology part, but also a sales part – I’ve spent most of my career in sales. There are a lot of people out there, at the moment, who are facing challenges that haven’t been there before. And I think I’ve come from quite a good place in terms of my experience, having worked with technology companies. In the past 10 years, I’ve probably spoken at some point with every single agency in the UK! So you hear about situations, what works, what doesn’t work what they’re going through, what they’re hearing from their customers.
How do you plan to work with travel buyers?
I’ll help them understand what they want out of a TMC. I’ve seen enough RFPs in my time. I’ve seen good ones and bad ones! I’ve seen ones where you read them, and you can clearly see what they want to get out of their travel programme. The programme has a purpose, goals and objectives. With others, they’ve just gone out to the first TMCs they’ve found in a list, and sent them a document. So I’ll be helping buyers understand the value they can get out of it, asking the right questions.
NDC gets seen as a goal in itself. It isn’t. It is one type of connectivity between the customer, TMC and supplier
Do corporates fully understand the value a TMC brings?
People don’t generally see what the TMC does behind the scenes. The question I found myself asking when I talked to TMCs was that the corporate buyer they deal with probably knows why they use the TMC, but could they articulate it? If the buyer’s finance director asked them: “Why are we using a TMC, and why are we using that particular TMC?”– could the buyer respond in language they understand? And if they can’t, how do expect to keep that business when they get challenged about going to another TMC, or asked why the company doesn’t book the travel itself?
So it’s about communication as well?
Put it into language they understand, as in this industry we tend to talk in our own language. We talk about codeshares, NDC, wait lists, classes, but we’re not good at talking in our customer’s language, language that makes sense to them. I’ll consult during the RFP phase, renegotiation, right through to implementation. But it’s not just about the delivery, it’s also about communicating to corporate bookers. There’s a hearts and minds thing, it can be an elongated process.
I’ll help travel buyers understand what they want out of a TMC. I’ve seen enough RFPs in my time. I’ve seen good ones and bad ones!
What else would you like to see fixed?
There is a revolution coming in the [transaction fee] commercial model. We have an industry that is based around the one bit that doesn’t add any value. And we don’t charge for all the stuff that adds value. It is unusual to charge for managing the programme, providing guidance and advice, duty of care. All those things, the reasons people use TMCs, we don’t charge for. We slap it all on the transaction fee, and wonder why we get people saying “why do I need to pay for that?” I’ve spoken to some TMCs who are looking to break that model and change it, but is the market, and the industry, ready for it? It feels like stepping off a precipice. But it’s coming. The first people who do it will be seen as crazy. When four or five people do it, it will be seen as maverick. When 20 people are doing it, it will seem like a really good idea.
What challenges do buyers face when selecting an online booking tool?
When I used to run Sabre GetThere for EMEA, I worked with a lot of blue chip clients, rolling out online booking tool globally. It’s a minefield. What infuriated me was that you’re implementing something, and as often happens, it’s not gone as expected, or it wasn’t successful. You find out afterwards it’s because there was something you didn’t know about. The response from the salesperson is: well, you didn’t ask for that! But it’s not the buyer’s job to know what to ask for – they’re not the experts. So I’ll help customers ask the right questions, and prompt the suppliers to ask the right questions, and work through the minefield. You can always tell the difference between people who are going through their second or third round of booking tool choice.
What’s your take on NDC?
NDC gets seen as a goal in itself. It isn’t. It is one type of connectivity between the customer, TMC and supplier. It’s slightly ironic, no one talks about the various forms of XML and Edifact [Electronic Data Interchange For Administration, Commerce and Transport] messaging that have been used to communicate with airlines in the past. No one cared, it didn’t matter. People ask: can I get what I need to get to book this flight?
So who has the answer?
In terms of coming up with the solution that makes NDC work, the GDSs are best placed to do it. They’ve got the people, the expertise, the customer base, the footprint… and the technology and know-how to make it work. If they get it right, they are the best people to do it; if they get it wrong, new entrants are coming in who will overtake them.
What else are you looking forward to as an independent consultant?
It’s nice not having an agenda, other than what you genuinely believe and feel is the right thing to say, as opposed to having to frame the conversation so you can talk about certain things.
Snelgar is confirmed as a speaker at the BBT Forum on 7 November, where he will take part in a session entitled “How to harness the power of your travel bookers”. There are a limited number of free buyer places left for the event. To register, click here