Co-celebrating a 25th Anniversary

January 6, 2011
Co-celebrating its 25th anniversary with Airline Business in 2010, Datalex CEO Cormac Whelan shares thoughts on how the industry has changed - for better or worse – and how it must change in the next 25 years.
In many respects the same fundamental challenges and issues exist today for travel distribution as they did 25 years ago with one major exception-the customer! Today the travel customer expects many more options, has little affinity to any provider and has at his or her disposal an almost infinite channel to the content they require i.e. the air seat, the hotel room, the weekend package away. The economics of travel distribution have been put to the ultimate test with the many far reaching impacts of economic downturns, the dot com boom, SARS, 9/11, the fuel crisis and more recently a global recession. The consumer behavioural implications of the internet and the choice and channels it has enabled subsequently, have had far more reaching effects on the industry and they will shape travel for the next 25 years.
The travel company challenge is, how do I sell my products to my customers, maximise their options, choice and value while enhancing my channel efficiency and driving profitability? Easy! The only real answer is that travel companies must become retailers, and sophisticated retailers at that. The good news is that the technology is there to allow them to do that and to reach out to a whole new plethora of markets, customers and revenue.
At the core, technology advancements have been the prime enablers of new business models (e.g. LCC), new channels to market (internet, mobile and social media), and new products and merchandizing capabilities. We expect to see one touch loyalty, one touch booking and reward models as we have seen in the general retail space and we (as does today’s consumer), expect that to be mashed with social networking conversations and capabilities. For travel companies the direct channel to the next new customer has expanded exponentially and is now viral.

The distribution channel once defined as a chain of intermediary routes to the consumer is now firmly repositioned as the retail channel, whereby the airline assumes responsibility for all goods and merchandize positioned to the end consumer, irrespective of channel. The journey to travel retail for airlines continues with unprecedented challenges but with a fervor and passion also unprecedented. Even if those that can do and those that can’t (and they shall remain un-named) are still preaching.

The airline industry was the father of customer service and loyalty for many industries over the past twenty five years. Today, we observe a new generation of industry executives that brings that airline heritage of service to bear coupled with the learnings from retail, brand and channel success in other verticals. Whether Nike, Walmart, Amazon or Apple, it’s all about merchandizing and choice across channels, brands and customer experience.

Today’s and tomorrow’s travel shopping and retail experience must anticipate, recognise and predict the needs of the consumer; that technology is there today. At Datalex we call it ‘Persona’lization!

Business and technological flexibility have become as one and the future looks bright for travel retailers if we can dispel the myths of technology limitation and instill the doctrine of customer listening and tailored response. Then we can deliver on inspiring, personalized and profitable customer relationships for the next 25 years.

Together with our airline customers, we have met many of today’s retail challenges and enabled every strata of the supply chain to move beyond the status-quo and to put the old distribution business models to the ultimate test. For that we are eternally grateful and our challenge to our customers is to keep pushing us! Travel Retail is our Passion and Innovation our Religion.  Thank you for 25 years!

Cormac Whelan, CEO






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