Talking tech with a 50-year-old travel business
(Published in TTG – 17.12.14)
As Ian Allan Travel reaches half-century, managing director Pat O’Neill tells us how technology – and in particular a close relationship with Amadeus – keeps the TMC ahead of the game
With so many strings to the TMC’s bow – including corporate travel, academic, charity, event management, leisure and aviation tours – Ian Allan Travel’s Pat O’Neill has many plates to spin.
As a result, partnerships are key and the managing director has spent 12 years nurturing a special relationship with Amadeus – its main IT provider.
There are many components, with honesty perhaps the most important.
“Why do I like working with Amadeus? It is a technology partner, and not just a GDS,” O’Neill says. “From the outset, Amadeus brought in its people to look at our systems, performed a full review of them, and always identified where we could improve efficiency for consultants.”
As an example of this open relationship, he describes one Amadeus project manager, Fiona Brown, as a “godsend”. “Fiona comes in a couple of times a year, and we give her carte blanche to come up with new suggestions. I’d let her go through my drawers if I’m being honest!”
Amadeus offers a “floor walking” service – where staff visit the Shepperton-based TMC and literally walk up and down through the offices. They answer any questions thrown at them, but are primarily on site to help with any new features or tools.
The pace of change in the travel industry is constantly increasing, according to O’Neill, who began his career in business travel in 1986.
And when he joined Ian Allan Travel in 2002, he recollects a changing landscape, with low-cost carriers emerging and the industry moving from commission-based to fee-based models.
“We need to be able to react quickly. We sometimes have new requirements from Amadeus, and we can’t wait a long time. Technology moves so quickly.”
As a result, it has a “war chest” for development in place. This acts as a fund should any urgent work arise – which is not necessarily restricted to spending solely with Amadeus.
Yet it can be called upon for consultancy work, and for bespoke projects, such as ticketing, or quality control. “Amadeus Offers, and Amadeus All Fares Plus, are key to the way we work,” he says.
“Amadeus Offers allows the consultant to hold bookings and to reselect avoiding duplication of the process. We continually put in requirements to get these advanced. And if the industry requires it, we expect Amadeus to react quickly.”
In terms of other Amadeus tools, O’Neill singles out Ticket Changer as taking “a lot of stress out of the reissuing process”. Ticket Changer lets agents reissue a ticket in four steps, down from an industry average of 19, and Amadeus claims there has been huge adoption, thanks in part to no Agency Debit Memo being created. It can be a complex issue, and at Amadeus it is the number one reason for calls to its helpdesk.
Looking ahead to the next 50 years, global expansion is on the cards for the TMC, which has 75 staff. To aid this, it is a member of the International Travel Partnership – which gives it global representation.
For now, the TMC is well placed to serve its diverse set of customers, and its open relationship with Amadeus is seemingly helping the company go from strength to strength.
PICKING A GDS: THE ‘BEAUTY PARADE’
Ian Allan Travel goes through a GDS renewal process every three years. It last renewed its contract with Amadeus in June 2014, and managing director Pat O’Neill jokingly refers to the tendering process as a “beauty parade”: “The GDSs come in with their latest products, and we regularly do an audit of their current offering, then adapt and apply – the three As.
“I’ve gone through four managing directors at Amadeus,” he notes. “When it comes to retendering, it’s always a thorough process, for both sides, and we set up a working party for it.”
Amadeus key account manager Debbie Hougton, who has worked with Ian Allan Travel for four years, says this “beauty parade” is a perfect opportunity to allow Amadeus to show prospective clients what it is capable of developing. “We try to get workshops in, to make it pertinent. Similarly, we’ll show we can develop something. But we’re dependent on their honesty, and opening up.”