A year after starting in the role of commercial director of Amadeus in the UK, Lee Hayhurst spoke to Maria Whiteman about how the technology giant is trying to changes perceptions
By the third quarter of next year Amadeus will have settled on a list of third party travel technology providers that it considers best in class.
This will mark the re-launch of the GDS and tech giant’s partnership programme, which is seeing a version developed specifically for the UK market.
Since Diane Bouzebiba came in to head up Amadeus’s UK operations as managing director, she has spoken about taking a more consultative partnership approach to its trade partners.
And now the results are starting to be seen with a new team of consultants supporting an expanded account management facility under a well-known face in the UK travel sector, Maria Whiteman.
Commercial director, Whiteman, brought the seven-strong consultative team headed by Guy Snelgar, another familiar trade face this time from the corporate travel field, under her remit six months ago.
With previous roles with online agent Directline Holidays, aggregators The Holiday Team, Travel 2 and operator Hayes and Jarvis, Whiteman is well qualified to know what the trade wants.
“In technology the grass is always greener on the other side. When I was a customer at Directline we went through a technology migration project to see who to move to.
“The problem is everyone always says they can do better than the incumbent you are with. So we are coming at this neutrally and getting a lot of our customers’ views.”
Amadeus is looking at numerous areas of travel technology where it accepts it is not going to compete with established players.
This includes front, mid and back office systems, developers offering solutions that combine all three, and CRM (Customer Relationship Management).
“For us to develop our own leisure back office would take years and they are changing constantly. To try to catch up with what others have done would be near impossible,” said Whiteman.
In other areas like mobile, Amadeus has its own well-funded development projects and believes it will be best placed to deliver market-leading products.
Whiteman said for third party technology suppliers to make the grade the key factor is the quality of the technology, followed by their willingness to work with Amadeus.
“We have a list, and that’s an issue in the UK because there are so many suppliers, it’s quite fragmented.
“We are going through a process of saying who are the obvious ones we want to partner with either because they have best in class technology, or it integrates seamlessly with Amadeus.
“From that we will have two to three in each of the areas. For every key requirement area we need a choice so there needs to be a minimum of two.
“I’m not rushing it. I want to make sure we have all the right people, the right buy-in, the right value-ads and so on.”Separate corporate and leisure partnership programmes will be launched before end of 2015, although probably not before the third quarter.
Whiteman vowed there will be no commercial aspect to which firms are chosen because it is vital that its consultancy work is considered to add value to both existing and new customers.
She said Amadeus has set its stall out not to compete with rivals for market share on the basis of incentive payments to customers.
So it is crucial to be seen to add value in this consultative area, to help travel firms get the most out of their existing technology or to find new solutions on referral.
“That’s how we’ve managed to contain incentives. We are holding our position and saying you have to see the value in the technology.
“Most of our existing customers have stayed with us. Where it’s slightly harder is where we are acquiring new customers because they can’t see it yet.
“What GDSs are all guilty of, is a customer is brought on board and they then don’t hear about anything you can offer until it’s renewal time. Suddenly everyone’s in front of them.”
As part of the tendering process, Amadeus consultants now conduct a Strategic Growth Assessment when renewals come up involving a two or three day workshop resulting in a 20-page document.
Whiteman claimed that due to Amadeus’s size, scale and investment in to research and development, it is best placed to become a leading technology consultancy.
“A lot of the little players try to do it but they’re too small. You need to have the funds and be as credible as Amadeus.
“My vision of the future is to be the PricewaterhouseCoopers of the leisure technology consultancy field. We are big enough to do that and have the funds to do that.”
One of the advantages of using a consultant, Whiteman says, is that they know when something it not working and where the problem lies.
“There’s this big worry if you get technology from many different places it’s very easy for one supplier to say the reason this is not working is someone else.
“Where Amadeus is trying to add the value is even though we might not provide all the solutions we are your consultancy partner and we will oversee the whole integration.
“It’s our responsibility to ensure if there is a problem we know who it’s with.”
Looking back to her time at Directline, Whiteman said she would have valued this service and collaboration with Amadeus that has products the OTA needed, despite not being a GDS user.
Directline was among the major casualties of Google’s first Panda algorithm updates, losing 80% of its SEO traffic before recovering most of that through conversion optimisation.
The Croydon-based agent was eventually bought by rival Broadway Travel and its call centre closed down.
“Until a year or 18 months ago speed and results was the main challenge only for the OTAs, but we are hearing that for all segments now, even business travel.
“They want intuitive search self booking tools that gives lots of choice but really quickly.
“If I had seen Amadeus’s Extreme Search when I was at Directline Holidays I absolutely would have taken it.
“It works on a huge cache but you get results back in millisecond. Only someone like Amadeus can do that because we get that data from so many users.
“A lot of third party travel aggregators are coming to us for that product because they can’t do it themselves.The reason customers are taking Extreme Search is because they are doing a lot of work on meta-search and if you don’t return results within seconds you are not up there.”
Whiteman conceded Amadeus has yet to really establish Featured Search, a further development of Extreme Search, which returns limited results based on pre-defined preferences.
However, she said the idea of showing a smaller number of more relevant results is being successfully exploited by early movers like easyJet and Thomson Holidays.
As well as referring clients to third party providers Amadeus is also partnering with them on developing new products, an example of which is Cruise Shop built by CWTdigital.
“One of the big things I have had to change since I have been here is not to try to shoehorn our own products in all the time.
“Where we think there are firms with better products in the market we will partner with them to offer those to the customers as well.”
Ultimately Whiteman sees consultancy and content as being the key to ensuring the GDSs are seen by its customers as the invaluable technology partners Amadeus has set its sights on becoming.
And nowhere is that more apparent than in the lowcost airline sector where even Ryanair has returned, offering agents access to their content without having to pay for it.
Amadeus’s lowcost bookings globally last year were up 21%, it has 70 budget carriers in the system and says that its fully-integrated solution makes it five times quicker to book than on the airline’s site.
Whiteman said: “It gives credibility to the value of the GDS. The more content we can put in there, everything in one place and fully integrated, the more efficient it is.
“For OTAs getting lowcost content through the GDS now makes much more sense.”
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