News | Distribution | OnlineIntention-driven travel shops, airlines and beating the clockThis article was originally published onBy Viewpoints | November 18, 2013 The airline industry has transformed possibilities for individuals and businesses: affordable air travel, along with digital telecommunications and trade liberalization, is one of the three chief drivers of globalization.NB: This is a viewpoint by Eric Dumas, CEO of Vayant Travel Technologies.So while the industry has changed our world, it struggles to turn a profit: over the last 40 years the sector has achieved a 0.1% net profit margin.According to the Financial Times, "airlines have specialised in shooting themselves in the foot by failing to control capacity in a desperate chase after market share".This means airlines, on average, are dealing with load factors of around 70 to 80%. Some flights are full – some are half empty.Airlines can discount this unsold inventory and offer the fares through the GDS. But this is essentially a "waiting game", with a sale depending on someone entering the right combination of Origin and Destination (O&D),Outbound and return dates and landing on the discounted flight. Of course, all the time the clock is ticking: once the plane pushes away from the gate an unsold flight is worthless.Yes, airlines can also promote discounted fares through their own websites, and push offers through their marketing database (emails are a powerful tool for reaching customers with targeted flight offers).However, this approach does not allow the airline to reach every potential buyer with their time-sensitive fares.Rather than hope that the customer comes along, what if there was a way for airlines to proactively target unsold fares at customers who have said they’re ready to fly?An emerging generation of online travel shops does just that – and could help airlines beat the clock. These innovative retailers capture traveller intention and use it to drive bookings. One example – Australia-based Adioso - is reinventing the way people buy flights.Adioso offers an intuitive, human-shaped shopping experience that works the way people think.So, instead of selecting a specific city pair on a given date, the customer can type "Melbourne to somewhere warm in August for a week" and Adioso will return the best flight prices for a number of destinations around the world that are warm in August.All at sub-second speed. If the original search returns prices that are too high, people can save their search and receive email alerts if better deals become available.The traveller-intent model makes leisure shopping a lot more fun for customers. The ability to use natural language to find flights (and discover new destinations) eliminates the tedious form-filling associated with entering O&Ds and datesIt makes a world of difference: looking for a holiday or finding a weekend break shouldn’t feel like you’re applying for a visa.For airlines, the arrival of intention-driven travel shopping could be just as significant, offering them valuable information about customer intentions and a new channel to push unsold flights to potential customers who are hungry for a good deal.Using the example above, the travel shop will be able to say to the airline: "I have 250 customers who want to fly from a London airport to a warm destination on any dates in January. Can you do them a deal?"With access to this quality of information about traveller intent, there is a clear incentive for airlines to cooperate with these new generation travel shops. One way would be to alert the intention-driven sites to special offers on their unsold seats.Airlines can also benefit from customer intelligence harvested by the intention-driven sellers by using it to drive their own promotions.In effect, the travel shop can tell an airline: "We have a huge number of customers who are interested in flying out of NYC to Europe for under $800, some time in October. Can you offer them a deal?"Technology already exists to do all this.Actually making it happen, however, will also require a shift in thinking and mean a new cooperative mindset. Airlines will need to consider how they can reward intention-driven sellers for the value they bring?Beyond building profitable relationships with intention-driven travel shops, airlines should also consider how they can harness traveller intent on their own web shops.As well as creating more opportunities to move their unsold inventory, adding intent could help airlines offer a more attractive online shopping experience.Intention-driven travel shops like Adioso are here today and offer customers an intuitive fun experience.But the arrival of customer-intent could have an even bigger impact on the industry: it has the potential to transform the economics of travel – and at last make it possible for airlines to sell every seat on the plane.If travel sellers can encourage customers – on their online shops or via their social media sites - to opt-in the possibilities are huge.For the first time, we have a situation which will allow everyone (the travel provider, seller and buyer) to be a winner.NB: This is a viewpoint by Eric Dumas, CEO of Vayant Travel Technologies.NB2: Clock luggage image via Shutterstock.