Automation 'can bring in huge rewards'
Automation is a word everybody uses today everywhere, no matter the industry vertical and it applies largely, from industrial grade robotics to software robotics, wherever human labour is replaced, at a certain degree, by machines. Of course, the concept is not entirely new and at least it is something meaningful starting with mass production at the beginning of 20th century. It is certainly not a hype and its adoption has speeded up, driven by digital revolution. Of course, travel industry can’t stay away from automation. In an industry largely defined by experience and human interaction, automation plays its leading role.
dcs plus started its journey in travel in 2002 with the first travel agency as a customer. 16 years and hundreds of projects later, we learned that one of the most common pain-points for travel agencies has always been the burden of manual processes. And of course, “errare humanum est”, the more people the higher number of errors with direct impact on customer experience and even becoming a weakness for the overall business. Today, in a context of a highly growing market, with more demanding customers, more trips, and fierce competition, automation has become now, more than ever, a critical success factor for the travel business.
There are different levels of automation and close to 100 per cent can be achieved even today. The necessary technology is here and there are agencies that already benefit. Culture plays a role in its adoption in various degrees with customers still valuating the human touch but most of the processes behind being completely automated. A typical customer working in a corporate environment may use an OBT (online booking tool) to book flights, hotels and other services associated to a business trip. While using the tool, he gets access to personalised content with negotiated fares, complies with internal rules, gets approval from the line manager and could arrange his entire trip without the intervention of a travel agent. Behind, there is a mix of features, mandatory in a solid travel ERP that helps automate the processes:
• Quality control rules ensure input data is accurate and mandatory fields are always filled in.
• Corporate fare rules ensure the management of hundreds and thousands of different tariffs and rules a TMC (travel management company) can deploy for its corporate customers to achieve competitiveness and flexibility in serving their needs. As these rules are defined by a contract it is mandatory to be correctly enforced. In our example, the corporate customer gets automatically access to the price and the rules from his contract
• Automatic invoicing allows all reservations made in various GDSs (Global Distribution Systems) and other systems to be processed and a cumulated invoice to be issued following the rules agreed with the customer, without human intervention
• Automatic balancing will ensure all the transactions made by end-customers and agency suppliers are matched and it creates the basis for the agency to get accurate reports and understand its business
• Automatic reports will create rules for customized reports to be issued and sent to the customer
Of course, the example can continue with more details, more processes and rules associated with. This empowering experience has become affordable for SMBs as well, which creates new opportunities for efficiency for a travel agency.
There are proven examples of travel agencies that implemented automation, getting immediate and huge rewards by cutting labour costs involved in operations to more than half, while reducing the number of errors and improving the customer experience overall. Of course, this additional gain means more resources in human facing activities and more chances to differentiate. It creates a competitive advantage. Again, the technology is here, its adoption is growing, and automation is not a nice to have, trendy fashion, but already mainstream. A travel agency has to live its times. Until the next wave of innovation.
* Writer is dcs plus regional general manager – APAC* Meet dcs plus on stand number TT225