Questioning the travel industry status quo, one blog post at a time

Archive for the ‘The Offer’ Category

It’s amazing how, over the years, so many people have said to me, “Jim, you really need to get some professional help.” I never really understood what they meant by that, but maybe someday I will.

This got me thinking about another situation where the need for quality professional help is evident. Just consider the plight of the world’s airlines as they struggle to make major and agonizing decisions regarding their PSS.

Should the airline change PSS providers? Renegotiate certain contract provisions? What can be changed, exactly, to ensure that airline innovation is not stifled moving forward?

Keep in mind, the PSS market is still dominated by just a few powerful players that impose contracts lasting 10 or more years. 10 years! During those long years together, the airline-PSS relationship can often be characterized by performance problems, rising search costs, and painfully slow delivery of new capabilities. Oh, and don’t forget the one-size-fits-all community model, which these days is a setup for disastrous results when you look at today’s requirement for airlines to create, control, and deliver their offers in real time.

So what can airline execs do today to protect their products, brand, and innovation over the next decade? Well, for starters, it might make sense to get some professional help before signing that new PSS contract. There are many areas that deserve a deep dive, but just to suggest a few:

PNR Data Control. Nowadays, airlines need to delve into the minutiae when it comes to PSS contract terms around who controls the data. That’s because it is key for the airline to have unimpeded access to PNR data to be able to market products, services, and ancillaries to the consumer throughout the travel journey. As an example, look at what Delta just did. Wow! Happy Customers and More Revenue! (Hmm, Delta has control over its PSS…there’s some food for thought.)

Access to Third Party Products/Services/Engines. Airlines seeking to control strategic elements of their offer – Availability, Schedules, Pricing, Merchandising – are striving to bring these capabilities under their control. As dynamic retail evolves, these critical elements will need to operate outside of the PSS, yet interoperate within it. Will that new PSS contract allow it? And at what cost? What might be heresy to some is the path to dynamic pricing and offer control for many others.

Dealing with Fail Cycles and Penalties. And, of course, there is the problem of how to deal with PSS product delivery and fail cycle management and penalties. Service level requirements are increasingly more critical as airline outages appear more common than ever; as is the ability to renegotiate financial terms as things like the cost of computing power continues to fall. Does that new contract give you the ability to renegotiate fees (up or down) every few years based on scorecard performance and product delivery?

Airlines use traditional RFP processes, driven by procurement for a new PSS selection. I admit I find this interesting when, in general, it’s a two-horse race. But RFP or not, what’s essential is that airlines get smarter before agreeing to contract terms that may at first glance sound innocent enough but in reality prevent any technological progress throughout the term of the agreement. An up-front price reduction that seems like a win for the airline on the date of signature is often-times a long-term losing proposition if key non-price contractual terms are not thoroughly negotiated.

Airlines making PSS decisions today are not just making a decision about the cost of services provided; they are also making future revenue generation, brand protection, customer engagement, and loyalty decisions for the next 10 years. They are also competing with airlines who are in fact getting smarter on these same topics today and ensuring their path to controlling their offer.

It’s probably not a bad idea to get some Professional Help.

It’s an understatement to say that we are living Moore’s law in terms of the pace of technological change. The adoption of smart, wearable technology, and voice-controlled systems — and the fact we can do nearly everything we need to do on our phones — was not part of our reality just a few years ago. To keep pace, retailers of all types are challenged to engage with their customers using the latest technologies and methods. Airlines are no exception, and the pressure has never been greater for airlines to up their game.

Airline executives realize that they must find ways to engage with travelers at any point in the trip process, and make it easy for travelers to shop or be presented with offers anywhere, and at the right time. “Show me you know me” is the name of the game, and if the airline doesn’t figure out how to be a “single source of truth”, they will lose the customer relationship. (And by the way, there is a long line of entities willing to take over that relationship if the airline doesn’t claim it – more on this later).

For many airlines, shifting to the world of dynamic retailing is exceptionally difficult. Why? Because it means they have to take control of their offer – something most airlines have never done. And yet with Moore’s law in play, there is a need to do it now or risk losing out for years to come.

Here’s some good news: recently there has been an increasing amount of practical discussion about airlines taking control. Airlines are responding by examining available options to take control of their offers, distribution channels, distribution costs, and brand. As an example, Farelogix hosted a “Control Your Offer” event in April that was attended by airline executives from around the world, spanning Revenue Management, IT, Ecommerce, and Distribution – http://farelogixoffersymposium2017.com/. This demonstrates that this next wave of change is big, and involves the full range of airline stakeholders.

There is growing recognition that effective airline control means not only “single source of truth” API’s (NDC), but also airlines taking control of their own merchandising, pricing, and inventory (availability). Yes, I said it. Airlines must have control over their own pricing and availability for all channels. When you think about it for a few minutes, it’s these ingredients that command the respect of distribution companies from any sector around the world. Yet for reasons steeped in history (“it’s always been this way”), or performance (response times), or cost (excessive scan fees, MIPS charges, and look-to-book fees), or simple convenience (easier for someone else to worry about it), many airlines freely give away control to third party distributors, GDSs, Metas, OTAs, PSSs, whereby these entities “re-manufacture” the airline’s pricing and inventory in ways that they (not the airline) see fit. For decades, airlines have essentially given away control over their brand and product. And this is precisely what has to change if airlines want to succeed in the world of dynamic retailing.

Here’s more good news: Believe it or not, airlines today can easily retain or regain control by simply in-sourcing and controlling pricing and inventory, and requiring any and all distribution partners come to the airline for this information. Now I say easy and simple, two words that seldom get tossed around our industry. But, a few things have changed that make airline control as defined above a reality.

First, there is real competition in airline pricing and availability providers. The GDS/PSS and ITA/Google are no longer the only games in town. Farelogix, for one, has made a significant investment in developing a highly scalable, performant, and cost effective airline pricing engine (FLX Shop & Price) and real-time availability engine (FLX Availability Calculator) capable of serving the “single source of truth” requirement for airline pricing and availability, and interoperability with our merchandising engine (FLX Merchandise). I’m sure others are also innovating in these areas as choices grow for airlines that are ready to take control.

Second, the cost of computing power has drastically reduced, and this enables airlines to up-end decades of legacy IT models. For example, the new Farelogix pricing and availability engines run on commodity hardware and can be easily managed, configured, and even hosted (cloud or physical) by any airline, accessible by any distribution partner, and with better response time than any cache or incumbent solution can offer. This eliminates the need to have expensive legacy PSS-based community pricing and availability systems, and makes the words “scan charges” or “look-to-book” sound about as relevant as “hey bring over your VCR and we can watch a movie”.

With technology no longer the barrier, the biggest challenge for airline executives now is to move quickly before someone else takes the opportunity away. We know that incumbent PSS/GDS providers will certainly do their best to contractually delay the inevitable shift to airline-controlled engines, and airlines need to address this. But it’s not just the PSS/GDS vying for airline control; I attended a recent CAPA conference in Dublin where Bobby Healy, CTO of Car Trawler, made an impassioned presentation about airlines losing control over their customers to the world’s most powerful search engine. He also has elaborated on this in writing, and I encourage you to have a read: https://www.tnooz.com/article/google-enemy-airline-distribution/.

The clock is ticking. If airlines don’t find a way to regain control over their offers, there is a line of entities ready to take it from them.

More than 90 people converged on Miami earlier this month for the Farelogix “Controlling Your Offer Symposium”. This was the industry’s first event dedicated to technology for airline-controlled offers, and it was a huge success. Attendees included senior executives from 23 airlines, representing IT, revenue management, pricing, e-commerce, merchandising, and NDC/distribution.

The event kicked off with our CEO, Jim Davidson, explaining that the offer is a virtual, electronic contract between an airline and its customers. An offer is unique, dynamically created in real time, and relevant. And since most airlines today do not control the offer, they cannot guarantee the price of an offer in search until later on in the process. The big takeaway for attendees was that it’s really hard to stand behind an offer if you don’t create it.

Henry Harteveldt, Principal at Atmosphere Research Group, spoke about activating the offer and its role in distribution and revenue management. He explained that airlines are “doing business in the era of Beyoncé, but are constrained by Beatles-era technology.” He discussed the factors enabling a new era of active retailing, and in particular focused on the importance of mobile as both a channel and catalyst for building better relationships between consumers and airlines.

Mike Wittman with the International Center for Air Transportation at MIT focused on the science behind the offer and dynamic pricing. He explained that dynamic pricing goes back to “who’s asking” – looking at everything from the point of origin and search pattern to frequent flyer number. He also examined the role of offers in driving revenue gains, increasing yield, reducing load factors, and more.

Scott Garner, President, Data & Analytics at ADARA enlightened attendees on the Traveler Value Score, a powerful new metric that accurately assesses the customer’s potential value as a traveler. Following an overview and then live demo of the next generation Farelogix pricing, merchandising, availability calculation, and schedule building engines, spokespersons from American Airlines, Air France-KLM, WestJet, Emirates, and United shared their stories of innovation after taking control of their offers.

For a quick glimpse into the Symposium, watch our recap video:

Thank you to everyone that took the time to attend our event.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Previously, I discussed that airlines must be the single source of truth. The question is how do you get there?

Existing airline technologies and processes are perhaps the biggest challenge. Legacy systems and ideas were not designed for this new world of hyper-connected customer relationships. Just think about it – data is not integrated with the pricing engine; control of the offer is outsourced to the PSS or GDS; and there’s no dynamic pricing. IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) to the rescue!

The hyper-connected relationship demands personalization. But the reality is that your airline might have some great CRM data, or maybe even some good analytics and propensity scores – but how do you integrate these into the pricing engine that creates your offer when it’s sitting at your PSS and outside of your control?

What about Dynamic Pricing and the new science of Revenue Management? I know some of you who live and breathe this stuff are mumbling at me right now or thinking: “Gee, everything you’ve said sounds great, but it’s not reality! We live and breathe filed fares, 26 inventory buckets, and pricing engines that can’t possibly handle the billions of requests of the hyper-connected consumer! Get real!”

Yes, yes, I hear you and yes, that’s a challenge.

In some cases, the airline is still outsourcing these essential elements to a third party – if not the GDS, then the PSS. And if it’s outsourced, guess what? You’re on somebody else’s product roadmap, not your own. That’s a problem.

And how about the airline as the single source of truth? This is where NDC and all the work that has gone into it comes into play. NDC is a giant leap forward in solving that challenge.

So how does an airline get control? Game-changing, transformative innovation! For example, Farelogix provides technology that enables better revenue management – from filed fares to dynamic pricing. Our next generation offer engine optimizes all aspects of the offer including merchandising, pricing schedules, and availability. And of course, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics will soon be the new normal.

I think Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research put it best: “Dynamic pricing will require the ability to conceivably create and publish endless prices/offers in a frictionless manner tailored to a customer of one.”

As long as you remember that you and your airline are the single source of truth for your hyper-connected travelers, we’ll get there together.

To succeed in today’s hyper-connected customer environment, you must be the single source of truth, dynamically determining and delivering your best offer, in real time, through any channel.

What does this mean?

It means that you – and only you – must create your offers. You can’t outsource it to anyone. You create offers based on your knowledge of your products and services, knowledge of your customer, and strategic use of big data and predictive analytics.

Then, you deliver that offer to all the channels and points of contact with your traveler so your customer knows that no matter how they interact with you, it’s still the same relationship. They can rest assured that you will be consistent. In other words, you are the single source of truth.

If you don’t step up to this challenge, you will fail. If you delegate the creation of your offer to a middleman, your consumer relationship will be faulty and – you will fail. This is the competitive terrain we’re in now. It’s the world of the hyper-connected consumer. Consumers today are hyper-connected because they want to connect to the source – and that’s you.

The New Science

 Dynamically creating and controlling the offer is the new science of Airline Revenue Management. In a study published last year, Atmosphere Research Group reported that airline executives see that the impact of Dynamic Pricing and Predictive Analytics will drive the biggest change in their distribution strategies. There’s a reason why scientists at leading universities around the world are being recruited by airlines to help redefine how they create their offers.

This is the way our industry – at last – is transforming into the world of retailing. Without question, this is the single most transformative time since the Internet was created. It’s not going to be easy and we all know why.

In my next post, I will address the challenge that airlines face in becoming the single source of truth.

 

In my last post, I told you how technology is changing your conversations with hyper-connected customers. I also promised to tell you what your biggest asset is.

You might think your biggest asset is your airplanes, or your people, or your newest business class seats. But no, the most vital asset that any of us in the airline industry have in our relationship with customers is “The Offer.” Without the right offer, nobody buys and nobody stays loyal. Without the right offer, you lose the relationship and the revenue.

The offer is what flows from you to your customer throughout this conversation and this relationship. The offer is truly your biggest and most important asset.

The concept of an offer is not new, of course. Offers have always existed. But in the past, an offer was a price on a product or service, and everybody who came to shop in your store – or even your website – generally saw the same prices or close to the same prices as your competitors.

Today, the offer is complex. In fact, its every bit as complex as the customer relationship you are in now. Every offer needs to be personalized and optimized – created specifically for a specific situation, person, product, and service. In other words, every offer is unique; just like people are unique in their own ways; just like every customer you have is unique. You could even say the offer has its own anatomy, or DNA. Every offer is unique and created dynamically in real time.

Think about it this way. Every single time you interact with your customer, a new strand of DNA – a new offer – is created. And what goes into the manufacturing of this offer? A lot!

We’re talking about Merchandising, Dynamic Pricing, and Predictive Analytics. We’re talking about loads and loads of data! There’s customer data – things like demographics, shopping and buying history, and loyalty. There’s data about your products and services. What’s the aircraft or the load factor on the flight, and how many premium seats are left? These might impact what you offer and for how much. There’s also data that comes from Predictive Analytics. What is this traveler’s propensity to buy this particular product?

All of this data is assembled and analyzed, and an impactful offer is dynamically calculated in real time. Hopefully, this unique offer delights the traveler and makes you some money in the process. This is the future of Revenue Management, and it’s the holy grail for the world’s leading airlines.

And guess what? Nobody except you – as the supplier with access to all of this data and intelligence – can ever create an offer this good or this impactful. You can’t outsource this to a third party or a GDS, or even a PSS – because they don’t have all the data! They are not in this specific, hyper-connected relationship. It’s you, and only you, creating your offer – your biggest asset. Think about it!

Of course, you can also request an invitation to attend our exclusive event dedicated to technology for airline-controlled offers in Miami, Florida, April 5-6, 2017. Visit farelogixoffersymposium2017.com/ for more information.