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Travel distribution in period of ‘unprecedented change’

Travel distribution is changing at a rapid pace as travellers expect more personalised content for their business trips with consumer tools disrupting the future of the industry.

A new report from London School of Economics and commissioned by Amadeus, shows how artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the use of portable technology could change the current face of travel distribution.

It states that industry and consumer pressures will generate more complexity in both content and technology: “As consumers begin to expect more personalised content throughout their travel journey, the technology managing the differentiation of airline fares and services will become more complex.”

It warns companies that do not innovate fast enough to adapt to these changes will miss out on growth opportunities.

The report recommends six areas for industry-wide collaboration:

Consumer expectations will rapidly spill over from retail into travel distribution. Players in the travel distribution industry will need to respond with broad collaborations for aggregating, processing and harnessing the big data involved. Otherwise, the explosion of complexity and differentiation of services in the short term could translate into potential confusion for the consumer.

The role of gatekeepers, the giant IT companies with major consumer interfaces, in travel distribution will continue to grow, notably through the use of virtual assistants, payment technologies and integration into social media.

The size and power of ‘mega-meta-OTA’ hybrids (online travel agents with metasearch capabilities and global brands) are likely to continue growing. Consequently, their influence will penetrate deeper into the distribution chain, with the ability to negotiate better content and conditions, whilst still receiving commissions.

The travel distribution industry is rapidly becoming a technology industry. Business models will need a more strategic approach that recognises the value creation of different technologies across the industry.

To avoid consumer confusion and lost opportunities, industry distribution need to go beyond bilateral partnerships and contractual relationships. Distribution business models will need to evolve to encompass more shared innovation, a culture of experimentation and cross-industry alliances.

Sharing economy platforms will continue to create new markets and erode the market share of suppliers and industry players who intermediate. The industry will need to adapt to this changing market and carefully monitor the impact of competition rulings in different regions as regulators play catch-up. 

Dr Graham Floater, director, Seneca | EGC director, London School of Economics, and one of the report’s authors, said: “The travel distribution industry is entering a period of unprecedented change - with rapidly changing consumer expectations, advances in data analysis technology and a blurring of the traditional lines between the various players. Our report identifies the disruptive factors that are likely to shape the industry, and eight future pathways for how the industry could develop over the next decade.” 

Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair, CMO, said: “Everyone looks at their part of the industry from their own point of view and doesn’t necessarily look at the consumer. The retail business is much more consumer orientated and has been for 25 years. The travel industry could learn a lot from retail in terms of opening up and what’s the best solution for consumers.” 

Download the report in full. It draws on evidence from five main sources: literature, interviews, data analysis and two industry surveys.

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