Travelport, IBM to Use Blockchain, AI to Aid Small Hotel Distribution

Technology
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Travelport has announced a new expansion of its partnership with IBM to use blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) technology in travel distribution. Through IBM Blockchain, Travelport will be able to streamline the validation, distribution and settlement of hotel content between Travelport, travel agencies and hotels, Travelport said. Separately, Travelport is turning to the IBM Watson Data Platform to personalize customer experiences with new tools and traveler recommendations.

In the first of two programs, Travelport said it is implementing IBM Blockchain to streamline the hotel ecosystem. Providing choice through content, seamless booking and fulfilment experience is now crucial to traveler satisfaction. In recent years, travelers’ interest in unique experiences has grown and by implementing blockchain, both travelers and the hotel ecosystem will see benefits around the management and increased availability of so called ‘long tail content’ which independent hoteliers may offer, such as a walking tour or fishing expedition.  

Travel agencies, whether brick-and-mortar, online or corporate travel managers, have faced many challenges with ‘long tail content’ due to the diverse nature of travel services and products, the large number of travel suppliers and their limited technical capabilities, Travelport said. Processing everything across all these parts of the ecosystem can be complicated and the entire process to reach a completed transaction often takes time. Consequently, agencies are often unable to sell the content due to possible issues in traveler experience and the cost of processing.  Likewise, the long tail content suppliers such as hoteliers are frustrated with their inability to get offers and wider experiences highlighted and packaged to travelers before they arrive at the hotel.

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Together, Travelport and IBM determined that using blockchain based distribution, long-tail content could be effectively managed to provide travel agencies confidence in the travel experience and ease of sale, while also enabling long-tail content suppliers to participate with minimal technology and budget investment.

“One challenge facing our industry in the new digital world is that onboarding content from smaller hoteliers can take time. We know it’s what travelers want, as differentiated experiences are driving Millennial and ‘bleisure’ travel habits, where travelers mix their business trips with leisure time. Using blockchain as a means to provide this experience is a value-adding deployment of this new technology. With IBM, we’re removing barriers that limit travel choice.  We’re putting the ability into the hands of the operator to upload bookings and work through contracts and administrative tasks within the blockchain network rather than manually managing and owning these tasks, which is normally the expensive part of transactions,” said Mike Croucher, Travelport’s chief architect, in a written statement.

“The benefit of blockchain in travel is it provides the ability to put a smart contract across a distributed ledger. By implementing a smart contract, settling payments within the network and so forth, the technology significantly lowers the processing time since it manages diverse ledgers across multiple companies in a way that takes manual processing and other processing out. The other benefit here is that you are also adding transparency to the system across all parties in the travel network,” said Elizabeth Pollock, industry client leader, IBM Travel & Transportation.  

In a second initiative, Travelport and IBM are working together to find new ways to generate enhanced travel experience by leveraging Travelport’s travel data resources. By applying IBM’s Watson Analytics Studio to this data, Travelport will develop new services to aid travel agencies, such as highlighting the best time to buy or providing personalized offer travel recommendations based on previously combined travel, and much more. These will enable travel agency subscribers to bring more value to the travelers they serve, while making it easier to buy the vast range of travel supplier content Travelport offers.

These initiatives are two of many partnerships between Travelport and IBM, ranging from back-end processing infrastructure through to a tailored travel management tool for corporate customers, the IBM Travel Manager which was announced last month.

Travelport also needed a platform that would accelerate their business growth and provide a foundation for technologies such as blockchain. The company recently upgraded to IBM z14 to deliver increased capacity and performance for their core GDS and airline hosting customers, while improving the customer experience by delivering the highest levels of security and availability in the market today.

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