Werner Georg Kunz-Cho, CEO
With an earlier career in aviation (Swiss, Lufthansa and CityBird) and other travel intermediaries, Kunz-Cho has been with Fareportal since 2012 as chief operating officer and co-CEO from 2017.
Headquartered in New York, Fareportal has seven travel companies in its portfolio, employs more 2,500 people in a number of locations including the U.K., Mexico, Canada and India.
What are the technologies that are going to help drive travel industry recovery and why?
In my view it is chatbot technology, voice recognition and voice to text. Also, technology supported self-service transactions. There is a growing customer segment that prefers to utilize automated services such as these for a wide variety of transactions.
Millennials are getting older, but they are not changing behavior. They want to do things online and have contactless interactions. Hotels are very good at this.
You can check-in and out without any direct human interaction. Some examples would be check-in, inflight food or other requests.
It goes from booking, to changing itineraries, boarding pass, and then all the way through the entire journey. Some major airlines, for example, now only accept payment through their app.
Similarly, onboard entertainment is often available only through the airline’s onboard wifi. Even some car rental companies now have touchless check-in and check-out.
We are building a number of platforms for various functionalities that will help us scale much faster and make product and feature enhancements easier and quicker to go to market. Enhancements that allow us to be nimble are more important today than ever. It will help also to expand our product portfolio more efficiently.
Consumers today are looking for options and flexibility. The pandemic has enabled consumers to have access to products that were initially restricted and are now available to them. Suppliers have expanded access to previously restricted products.
How will technology help drive efficiency as the industry builds back better?
In the area of service to our customers, we have expanded the reach of self-service tools that allow customers to make changes without speaking to an agent.
Also, we have significantly expanded our chatbot technology. That technology will help us to serve customers in large numbers simultaneously and avoid customer frustration caused by longer hold times, etc. The pandemic underlined the importance of keeping our customers’ needs satisfied.
In addition to that, these new technologies are in line with consumer demand, particularly from the Millennial and Gen Z markets. We are working on products that will have an enhanced flexibility component for the consumer.
For certain functions, lines will disappear. Think of car rental check-ins - the experience with many companies is entirely contactless. With all of these technologies in place, naturally efficiency will grow.
It will reduce human error, but it could also get you into a situation where you cannot override computer prompted actions. In the final analysis, it will be finding a balance between contactless and human interaction.
Customers will still need and want to deal with a person in situations of exception. Ideally, though, the number of these situations will greatly diminish.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities for Fareportal in the coming year?
Product expansion within the leisure travel market. It is important that we have a longer conversation with consumers as they work their way from trip planning to post‐trip.
We can interact with customers in a meaningful way through the mobile platform. Fareportal aims to be more than just a booking partner. Our vision is to be a virtual travel concierge for the consumer. We provide relevant products and services to support all the traveler’s needs.
We are also developing products that speak to some of the new consumer desires that have arisen since the onset of the pandemic. The booking window, the time from booking travel to departure, has noticeably shortened.
We launched a feature we call Explore Deals that allows customers to easily view travel options over a broad timeline from less than a week to an entire year, allowing travelers the opportunity to make spontaneous travel decisions at an affordable price.
What are Fareportal’s priorities for the next six months?
All of the above. We are really focusing our efforts on product and service enhancements that reflect today’s market conditions.
Do you see significant merger and acquisition activity/consolidation in the travel industry in 2022?
There will be further consolidation. Nobody has a crystal ball, but the pandemic created a few casualties.
Some consolidation in 2021 took place, and as we go through the next year, I believe we will see new alignments among travel industry players.
Consumer behavior changed in the pandemic, how is Fareportal adapting to those changes?
The most dramatic change is the noticeable shortening of the booking window. Consumers are waiting to make their decisions to travel and book much closer to the actual trip date.
That is why travel “inspiration” tools such as the Explore Deals we talked about above make sense as an addition to our suite of products and services. Consumers are looking for travel options with added flexibility.
Are those behavior patterns now part of life?
Yes, I believe they are. With an ever‐growing market segment that is looking for experiences, these types of consumer behaviors are likely to stay.
What weaknesses in online travel has the pandemic exposed?
I think the online travel space has benefited. Traditional travel agencies who relied on local customers suffered heavily.
The booking share for online travel agencies, when compared to travel agents as a whole, has significantly increased.
What we experienced in 2020, lockdowns and massive cancellations, confronted the entire industry with an unprecedented surge in flight cancellations and the incumbent customer service needs that go with that. The entire industry was overwhelmed.
So, I guess I would have to say the biggest weakness exposed was capacity. The good news is that the situation triggered many advances in this area that are very beneficial for the consumer.
With not much data to rely on from the past two years and the need to invest in customer acquisition, what marketing channels/techniques is Fareportal planning to lean on?
For Fareportal, it’s the ongoing and growing importance of customer growth and retention marketing.
Does travel ever return to the way it was?
I do not think so. There will be a new normal we are all eager to understand as the landscape continues to evolve.
It’s too early to tell yet, but we all agree more changes are coming.
What are your views on crypto, super apps and other emerging technologies and their significance for the travel industry?
With regards to crypto‐currency, this has been in “trial and error” mode for the last decade.
To date, it has not established itself as a statistically significant, regularly used consumer method of payment. At this point, cash is still king!
Super apps will be increasingly important. They increase convenience for the customer and will therefore continue to emerge and be widely adopted by the general public.
What is your greatest personal learning from the pandemic?
To do more, with less. The pandemic taught us to make changes we might not have done otherwise.
I’m an optimistic person by nature and I would say that the travel industry continues to evolve in a very positive way.
More from our In The Big Chair series...
PhocusWire talks to leaders across the digital travel landscape.