Innovation can help mitigate the risk and anxiety that travelers associate with flying during the pandemic. After we explored this idea in our recent open industry summit, we spoke with Serko CEO Darrin Grafton about what Serko is doing with Zeno, their online booking tool, to pivot to new market and customer needs, help the industry stay healthy, and understand emerging travel trends.
During our summit, Tony D’Astolfo from your team raised interesting points. He touched on how corporate travel might be some of the last to come back because of caring for employees’ health and new layers of approvals. What kind of trends is Serko seeing in this type of travel right now?
We’re seeing different trends across global markets. In New Zealand we’ve seen an immediate recovery to 70% of pre-pandemic volumes, and even in markets where there are lockdowns, we still see a lot of the government agencies and front-line service workers traveling, and any business that’s not restricted by those government regulations. Energy and resource companies are bringing in rotations and going through quarantine processes. The circle of where people are traveling to is contained now; most of this is domestic travel.
Can you share any information that Serko has been able to gather from the impact of strict travel restrictions in the Asia Pacific region?
Workflows have changed massively. Health checks and employee checks are growing. People that used to have no prior approvals necessary are going up to three, four, or five levels depending on the type of travel occurring.
Travel managers are trying to manage people and financial risks while understanding quarantine restrictions pertaining to hotels and airlines, too. That’s where some of the work that we’re doing together comes to the forefront, and the feedback has been phenomenal from the industry. We were one of the first to connect Routehappy Content from day one. Zeno was designed from the ground up to support any new content that adapts through ATPCO's Routehappy Content model. We’re able to see how fast we can pivot using this product.
It’s become essential because if you don’t provide complete information, travelers have to go to the airline site to find out the information, and when you have a trip involving multiple airlines, it’s really time consuming to find this information which is changing daily. Together, we’re able to aggregate all that information at the point of sale across every type of source. It makes it familiar and it makes people feel like they’re more informed and more confident about their safety when they’re booking. Travel management companies (TMC) are winning a lot of business because of the airline content, too, and people are moving to our types of modern, open platform because they get that level of information in one place.
What role does Routehappy Content play in managing the expectations between the information you get when booking through Serko and once you’re on the actual flight journey?
We’ve got a whole mobile strategy around how we can take the traveler on that journey together with the airline content. We use it to make the process convenient and stress-free to inform travelers of their next steps and what they can expect. We’re not just providing this information, but also suggesting insights to help new travelers. The technology is now a requirement to show the airfare information including the restrictions and flexibility of change.
What we’re doing together to bring this information up to the user enables the TMC and the airline to see what they’ve negotiated come to life. This is what we call modern retailing. Serko and ATPCO have shared this vision from the beginning. We need to shift this industry forward, which is why we’ve championed the Routehappy Content product from day one as part of the Zeno product vision.
You’ve gone live with Structured UPAs. Can you talk about what value you’re trying to provide customers with that?
It’s all the insights that you now get through those attributes that we’re seeing users click on. This is where the feedback has been phenomenal. More than 90% of our booking volume in Zeno is done through our recommendation engine. The UPAs and their attributes enable that airline information to be shown to the user right away. They can click on the things they want insights on: Health, masks, and airline safety measures. At the point of sale, they can make an instant decision, and our AI engines can do the same. We can apply what people feel, not just how they do, into that same process. It’s essential now.
True production is done on personalization. There are more dimensions now based on the fare, the flight, seating, personal attributes, how you react to health and safety, etc. The fantastic thing about this is that because we’ve inherently designed from the ground up together with ATPCO, as well as on the NDC platforms, we’re able to bring this to life.
Speaking of NDC, what innovation do you think is most needed for content on NDC?
As you transition a process from legacy to a modern retailing system, there’s so many more choices you have around baggage, seat selection, meals, and more. All this airfare information helps users make a decision. Some of that must be paid personally, some is covered, some is bundled in. Then you add loyalty and all the other pieces that come together. Those things didn’t occur before.
The shift to NDC is the enablement of true modern retailing in business travel. Our job together is to bring that across every airline in the world with a unified experience, which requires information for every new way that workflows and designs could come together. It becomes a complex process, but if we can unify the design, we create a process that becomes familiar, which we believe we’ve done. It’s going to be an ever-progressing model of what the airlines need, to the traveler’s need at the time.
What is the biggest takeaway from Serko’s experience functioning in a post-pandemic world?
The biggest component is listening and being flexible. Agility is key. Every country has a different way of doing things, so you can no longer build technology that is rigid. If it works for America, it won’t necessarily work for Australia, and so on. The level of change that COVID-19 is applying through government lockdowns and regulations requires flexibility.
We’ve always talked about providing concierge-style service, but we needed to become focused on customer experience. The global travel shutdown gave us the time without all the pressure coming from volume to make sure our usability was right. We are leading from the front and trying to help people through this. We want to do whatever we can do to help this industry stay healthy. Coming out of this, I think the industry will be better automated. I want change and disruption to be able to happen easily, and that’s where the partnership with ATPCO can evolve as we move forward.
Building the new tomorrow together
ATPCO looks forward to the future of modern, end-to-end airline retailing and working with partners such as Serko to boost personalized offers and enhance content automation as the need continues to grow in a post-pandemic world. Serko is one of the many positive industry examples of an organization using the uncertainty of a crisis as an opportunity to listen to users and deliver the tools that are most needed. For more information on how content can help, visit our Routehappy Rich Content solutions page today.
Serko, the online travel and expense management technology provider, started its partnership with Routehappy (now part of ATPCO) several years back with a likeminded vision of pushing the industry forward with modern retailing. Today, Serko’s travel management platform and mobile app feature the integration of all Routehappy Content products including Amenities, Universal Ticketing Attributes (UTAs), and Universal Product Attributes (UPAs). Serko exists to make corporate travel a seamless experience for both the traveler and travel manager, using intelligent technology to make the process of booking, managing, and reconciling business travel and expenses a better experience for all.