As an industry representing 10% of jobs globally and on track to reach $1.5 trillion in gross bookings by 2020, the travel market is one that’s ripe for innovation and disruption.
But in order to shape the future of travel, brands in the space - from startups to long-established players - need to take a step back and start by focusing on the travel experience, says Rashesh Jethi, SVP of engineering for Americas and head of innovation for Airlines at Amadeus IT Group.
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“One of the things I learned very early on is, if you start with the basics, you can never go wrong,” Jethi says, speaking at the Voyager HQ Travel Disruption Summit in New York this week.
“If you start with the travel experience and say how do I make this whole process better … innovation and disruption really add a lot of value,” he says. “By innovating and providing a better experience, you automatically add value, and as anyone in business will tell you, you’re always looking to create value.”
To close the gaps in the end-to-end travel experience, technology plays a fundamental role - and travel companies need to invest in and embrace it.
Jethi says two of the biggest buzzwords in travel technology right now - artificial intelligence and blockchain - both have potential, though the former has a more practical application.
AI, which encompasses machine learning and deep learning and also powers things like chatbots, is “a broad umbrella that frankly stands for everything we haven’t been able to figure out yet,” he says.
Blockchain in my opinion is completely overhyped.
Rashesh Jethi - Amadeus
Though the technology has been around for more than 50 years, its availability at a low price point now allows for broader adoption. “What used to be really dependent on having massive investments and super-smart people now really just requires data and super-smart people,” Jethi says.
Blockchain, meanwhile, “in my opinion is completely overhyped,” he says, noting that a Bitcoin transaction takes 10 minutes to process compared to what Amadeus can process at one second.
“I’m not saying it doesn’t have potential … but that’s one where it’s a solution without a problem to solve.”
Augmented reality also stands to upend the travel experience by improving processes like boarding an airplane or running a concierge service. AR, along with VR, could also transform in-flight entertainment and shopping, though it’s currently expensive to implement.
Jethi also points to opportunities around lesser-known technologies such as 3-D metal printing and hyper-haptics, which create a sensation using nothing but infrared beams.
Challenges and the future
One major challenge those in the travel sector face is innovating on top of legacy technology systems. “The industry does have a problem if you don’t go the hard, somewhat expensive route of freeing yourself from legacy technology,” Jethi says.
“Everybody has a different maturity spot when it comes to their tech. The challenge is stitching together the perfect experience.”
Everybody has a different maturity spot when it comes to their tech.
Rashesh Jethi - Amadeus
The forward-looking travel suppliers making those investments and that are moving to open systems are the ones encouraging innovation, he continues.
Another perceived inhibitor of disruption is regulation, though Jethi says the primary function of regulations is to keep people safe, and initiatives such as GDPR create opportunities to come up with solutions.
“If you’re an entrepreneur looking to innovate in the space, be respectful [of regulations].”
The travel experience is also encumbered by the antiquated infrastructure of airports - which Jethi believes in the future will hardly resemble airports at all. “This is a left-field prediction, but I think airports are going to be malls that just happen to have a flight terminal,” he says.
“I see a lot of leading airports really shifting their mindset. We have almost captive audiences who for the most part have nothing else planned for that time. How can we make the most of it?”