Andy Keeley, the Commercial Director at intuitive, kicked off the discussion by explaining that travel companies often have to work with a myriad of bedbanks and technology companies called ‘channel managers’ and ‘switches’, which connect thousands of hotels with hundreds of travel firms.
Andras Simonfi, co-founder of Italian travel company Imperatore Travel, claimed that consolidation of bedbanks into a few major players was making it difficult for them to be able to offer a specialist service. Among the changes, in 2017, Hotelbeds Group bought GTA and Tourico Holidays, while Webjet acquired the combined JacTravel and Total Stay operation.
The bigger they get, the information can get lost and they cannot be specialist,” said Simonfi. “It’s like a restaurant – if you go to a restaurant and see the menu is 50 pages, you know they cannot be a specialist.”
Keeley added that major online travel agents (OTAs) were becoming less reliant on bedbanks as they sought greater control of relationships with hotels, but added that this was labour intensive and it required a lot of work to build those relationships. He said travel companies often don’t get a choice of which technology intermediary to use.
“A lot of our customers will have been contacting hotels directly over the years and now they are being forced to use the technology – the hotels will say they would love to work with you, but you have to have the rates and inventory pushed by a particular channel manager or switch,” he said.
In response to an audience question about the biggest challenge of working with channel managers, Keeley said it was the difficulty of managing relationships. “The challenge is lining up at least three parties, the tour operator, the channel manager and hotel, getting them all to work together and getting that off the ground,” he said,
Simonfi added that his company was dealing with 20-30 channel managers in the Italian market and a hotel might work with more than one channel manager at the same time.
intuitive specialises in providing a one-stop shop for clients to ensure they have the best connections on the market and Keeley said any travel company attempting to do this on their own would face an uphill struggle. “It would be hugely difficult,” he said. “A system like ours will connect to over 100 different bedbanks and 20, 30 or 40 different channel managers and switches. For a travel company on their own, even the best development team can take a month to connect to a system, but sometimes companies can take years to connect.”
Another item that was discussed was the fact that consumers’ increasing demands for activities in resort were often not being met because many local suppliers lacked connection to the technology. “With experiences, lots of local suppliers may be working off pieces of paper and not connected to the technology. It feels like it is some way behind,” he said.
Simonfi agreed but said it was working hard to rectify the situation, particularly regarding adding local suppliers to their system. “We are some way behind with the technology,” he said. “We are contacting small suppliers and trying to combine them into our system. There are many great local companies lacking the technology to link to systems.”
Simonfi said hoteliers were unhappy that some Fully Inclusive Tour (FIT) rates, that must be part of a package, were being made available on the open market by some companies. “Some companies do not respect FIT rates and that is an issue,” he said. “But I think the FIT business will stay – we need those rates to be able to offer packages.”
Meanwhile, Keeley said that flash sales by tour operators offering deals for a short period of time were growing in popularity. “It’s great as it gives the hotel the chance to get rid of some short-term inventory and it gives customers some great exclusive private deals, but requires a lot of work,” he said.
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“With experiences, lots of local suppliers may be working off pieces of paper and not connected to the technology. It feels like it is some way behind.”
– Andy Keeley, Commercial Director at intuitive
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