Mission automation: AI can boost sales and forecast better

Day 2 of EyeforTravel Amsterdam was packed with insights from senior executives at household names including TUI Group, IHG, Contiki, Deutsche Bahn and more

The TUI group is on a mission to automate in order to reduce margins for error, according to Aaron Sugarman, the company’s chief commercial architect. Sugarman, the opening keynoter on Day 2 of EyeforTravel Amsterdam, said that this was proving useful in forecasting demand and predicting cancellations. Another insight was that TUI aims for small data science teams of no more than ten people, because they are able to “get on with things and deliver”.

Continuing on the automation theme on the morning of Day 1, Jeff Garber, Vice President - Revenue Management Systems, IHG, explained that like TUI machine learning techniques were helping the hotel chain to both optimise sales and forecast demand better.

However, challenges remain. Raj Dhawan, Senior Executive - Technology, The Travel Corporation said that legacy systems and data quality were among the biggest hurdles to rolling out AI in travel. 

Also taking to the stage on the morning of Day 2 was Matthew Gardiner, a marketing manager, at IAG Cargo. At Heathrow, “which is as busy as it gets,” cargo has to go through various security checkpoints before getting to the aircraft, and there can be delays. By tagging all its vehicles, IAG now has much greater visibility across the business, and this helps decision-making. So, for example, if queues are building up, then a decision can be made to send trucks out the warehouse earlier than planned.

Looking to the future,Gardiner believes anything is possible! Simply put:“If you can get a truck to drive itself, imagine what else you can get to drive itself!”

If you can get a truck to drive itself imagine what else you can get to drive itself!

Both IAG and Contiki, one of the company’s under TTC’s umbrella, are moving away from so-called ‘waterfall project management,’ which in simple terms is a sequential, linear process, where each phase must be completed before moving on to the next. The reason is that when it comes to software development, it simply isn’t agile enough and can delay testing. IAG, for one, is now working towards agile project management.

To highlight the importance of agility Gardiner joked: “With robot pole dancers, even strippers aren’t safe from AI”.

Railway for the digital age

Closing the morning keynotes was Mathias Hüske, chief digital officer, Deutsche Bahn, who is helping to reinvent the railway for the digital age. As most travel companies now understand, the traveller today is always connected and uses their smart phone to do everything from book tickets to find directions, and they want to do so in real time. When things go wrong, the demand for real-time information becomes increasingly important.

In order to digitise all its processes, Deutsche Bahn, which serves 12.7 million passengers a day, went on a trip to Silicon Valley, which expanded the group’s horizons. According to Hüske, the group opened its doors to hundreds of start-ups with the object of learning from them. “We rebuilt everything from scratch, all back ends, and there was a huge cultural shift,” he says.

 The aim is to simplify the booking, even if that means taking the leap with technologies like voice

The aim is to simplify the booking, said Hüske, even if that means taking the leap with technologies like voice, which may lead to brand erosion because people just ‘Ask Alexa’.

One recent innovation is the Deutsch Bahn’s Komfort Check-in which, as the name implies, allows customers to check when it suits them from their mobile device. “You get on, check in and relax. People love this. There’s digital content, news, movies, and even shopping,” Hüske explained.

Peaks and troughs

How to minimise damage and loss was the topic of an afternoon session run by two Thomas Cook Hotels and Resorts executives – Commercial Director Daniela Hupfeld and Deputy Director Revenue Management & Pricing Cynthia Reitano. Their key message was to manage the peaks and troughs through sound pricing and strong messaging. At Thomas Cook, a total revenue management approach is being applied to hyper-personalise everything from breakfast to parking spaces and banqueting.

Meanwhile, Tina Haslem, Head of Product - Air & Supply, Travix, had this sound advice; it was important, she said, not to simply look at the basics like ‘click-throughs’ and to agree the parameters for performance indicators before a product launch. She also stressed that a well-managed data repository is critical in product development.

More advice came from Ignazio Pisano, Revenue and Capacity Management and Leisure Sales Director, Europcar, who believes the Holy Trinity in forecasting is "business, technology and maths".

Missed EyeforTravel Amsterdam? Check out next year’s line up here

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