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Can Travelport’s new tools tame big data?

March 1, 2014

(Published in TTG – 20.02.14)

Speaking at Travelport’s e-volve ‘14 conference in Monaco, data expert Reg Warlop called on travel agents to take advantage of innovations in search technology

“Data is getting out of control,” declared Reg Warlop at Travelport’s latest e-volve conference. “Each year it is increasing by 30%. It’s not just volume, but also complexity. You have to control it.”

Warlop, a vice-president of products at Travelport with responsibility for GDS cores, fares, search and airline systems, may have alarmed some delegates at the Monaco event. But he went on to highlight how newer tools such as Flex Explore and Search Control Console could ease the pain.

Soaring searches made by customers looking for holidays can lead to rising costs for OTAs connected to GDSs; as look-to-book ratios go up, so do associated data retrieval costs. Warlop believes that with more consumers browsing on their iPads, with longer lead-in times, it is a trend that can only continue.

“People are undecided, they’re looking a lot. We need to cater for that customer behaviour,” he said.

“For example, I want to holiday in Florida. I can see the pictures of the hotel on an OTA’s website, so I know where I want to go. But the next bit is painful, finding out how to get there.

“Our goal is to address that broken experience. Agents are telling us we need to offer more relevant search results. We’re focusing on accuracy, speed, relevance and personalisation.”

He urged agents to experiment with Flex Explore, a function available through Travelport’s Universal API, which provides real-time pricing in an “inspirational” way.

In motion

One OTA, Priceline, approached Travelport last year to improve the way people searched on its app, in a bid to boost conversions by inspiring undecided travellers.

The app, which uses Flex Explore allows users to search for holidays without defining a specific destination. A map features images of hotels, and users can zoom in or out and circle which properties they are interested in – with each price shown in real time, and bookable.

Warlop added that semantic search – search that takes into account the meanings of other words present in the sentence and in the rest of the text – was another area ripe for development.

“It’s not broadly adopted. We want someone to say: ‘I want to explore this.’ We’re ready, we can do it, but the demand isn’t that strong.

“It doesn’t need to be a big company. On the contrary, we expect an eager OTA. They’re boxing up against big guys. They need a competitive edge.”

Another tool that can help increase relevancy in results is Travelport’s Search Control Console, which allows agents to limit their search results.

Warlop said TMCs may want to promote a certain carrier, to hit volume targets, or restrict maximum ground time. “It’s about fine-tuning to your customers’ needs, and your business’s needs.”

One company had already set 1,000 filters, while within the console there are 40 “base functions”.

“Flight search used to be about direct or indirect, but now there’s a whole rainbow. Relevancy will drive conversion.”

Last year, Travelport said it returned 1.2 billion search results from 100 million queries. While big data may be key to survival, travel sellers need to invest in the right tools to ensure that big data doesn’t become – well – too big.

Reg Warlop believes there is a future for voice-controlled search. However, he told TTG that Apple and Google need to create a “travel dictionary” within their mobile operating systems.“Voice recognition partly depends on the voice software. They need to define a semantic dictionary for travel, so it’s more deeply integrated into the operating system,” he said.

If more structured words, terms or phrases were included, OTA apps may be able to recognise requests more easily – and so produce more relevant search results

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