Q&A: Booking Boss CEO on disruptive travel technologies

Renee Welsh is the CEO of travel technology company Booking Boss. We caught up with her to discuss how disruptive technologies like Uber, Wotif and Airbnb have impacted the travel and tourism industries.

Technology has had a significant impact on the travel industry over the past two decades. Renee Welsh, CEO of travel booking and inventory management software provider Booking Boss, speaks about the challenges facing the travel industry and the technologies creating the greatest disruption in the sector.

Which websites or technologies have been the biggest disruptors to the travel industry?

“No matter how entrenched some processes are, people are reinventing the wheel and having huge success with it.  And consumers like it. This is why companies like Uber, which has disrupted the taxi industry, have become so popular.

Wotif disrupted what is now a very mature part of the sector – accommodation – about 10 years ago. I think Airbnb is doing a wonderful job of disrupting the accommodation sector now.

“There’s also new software in the flights arena that will standardise how ancillary products [such as meals, drinks and seats with extra legroom] are sold and this will really disrupt how airlines work with global distribution systems like Galileo.

“The interesting thing for us comes from defining what travel is and where it starts and stops. The US online travel company, Priceline Group, recently bought Open Table, which is the biggest online restaurant reservation business in the world. It’s interesting to see how these travel companies are accessing ancillary revenue, and this is where we’re seeing travel businesses start to evolve.”

What are the biggest challenges facing travel distribution, both locally and internationally?

“The greatest challenges are found in the activities sector, which includes anything from a small kayaking operation right through to large-scale zoos and attractions with millions of visitors a year. This sector is the third largest within the travel industry – it’s larger than car hire and package holidays combined. But up until recently, even some of the largest zoos in the country were using paper tickets.

“Booking Boss has created a booking and inventory management system that also integrates a point of sale and sophisticated reporting in real time.

“For example, you might have a skydiving business that has its own website, it’s own call centre and also sells skydiving products through 10 different online or offline agents. Traditionally, what they’ve been required to do is log into all of these different agents’ admin areas and update all of their products, pricing and availability. We know that availability changes twice every minute, so our system connects into multiple channels and syndicates the data in real time.

“Educating people within the sector that online is the way to go is also a challenge. Only 23 per cent of travel activity companies are online and allow customers to buy online. This is critical, because people expect to be able to research and book online.”

What other types of technology are travel companies looking for?

“They’re looking for one system that allows them to manage their business effectively and incorporates key features such as detailed financial reports.”

What features do travel companies require from their technology?

“It depends on the size of the company. Small businesses really just want to be able to transact online – that’s the first thing that they are thinking about, because they make more margin when they sell direct.

“The thing that we’re finding most companies want is to streamline their administration so that they have one system that they can utilise, and they want to be able to access it from anywhere.”

How have travel industry jobs changed over the past two decades?

“I studied travel and tourism when I finished high school. We were still learning to pull together flight itineraries from books and the amount of time we spent collating an itinerary was phenomenal. My first position was as an online travel consultant at Australia’s first online travel agency – The enquiries came in online but at that stage a lot of the legwork in creating the itinerary was still processed offline. Also, access to information was much more restricted – we simply didn’t have access to thousands of hotels and online information to be able to create better deals. Technology has fundamentally changed how people purchase travel products, as well as how people in the travel industry work.”

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