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IBM's New Partnership With Travelport Will Bring Major Changes To Blockchain Technology And Travel


Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

 Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Following the famous words by Back to the Future’s Doc Brown, the future of the travel industry, will never be the same, thanks to IBM and leading travel commerce platform, Travelport’s latest announcement.

In its major announcement in August, Travelport and its strategic technology partner, IBM, have announced an industry-first artificial intelligence (A.I.) platform designed to help businesses manage corporate travel spend.

The A.I. platform, combined with Travelport data, intelligently tracks, manages, predicts, and analyzes travel costs in one place, fundamentally changing how companies manage and optimize their travel programs. Now, this week in a further collaboration, using the Blockchain, Travelport and IBM are also disrupting the distribution landscape.

I spoke with both IBM’s Travel & Transportation Industry Client Lead, Elizabeth Pollock, and Travelport’s Chief Architect, Mike Croucher, ahead of their official blockchain announcement.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Change Our Destinations 

There’s no question that traveling can be extremely overwhelming to the average consumer. In today’s digital age, it’s time to start using this technology to help streamline efficiency, rather than just to make a quick buck.

 If you look at our relationship with IBM, it’s one that has been in existence since the beginning of the global distribution system (GDS),” said Croucher.

Both Pollock and Croucher told me that IBM has always been heavily invested in travel, and a major supporter of innovation for Travelport for 30+ years.

“In this instance, we are looking at new ways of innovation. IBM brings their R&D, while we bring our experience and knowledge of the industry. Because of our history, we are now able to combine resources, breaking into A.I. and blockchain technology.”

For the consumer’s benefit, Travelport’s major goal with this partnership is to really understand blockchain technology and its vast potentials. “This is done by looking to specific use cases in the industry,” Croucher added. “With IBM, we are now executing our first use case.”

On the other hand, Pollock, explained to me that IBM’s opportunity to expand and disrupt the industry together, provides for a very exciting collaboration outside of Travelport’s core business model.

IBM’S Watson

IBM Watson headquarters, depicting IBM Watson, the technology famous for beating humans on the “Jeopardy!” game show. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The use of IBM’s Watson provides a huge advantage in this partnership. IBM’s Travel Manager utilizes the capabilities of the Watson, delivering services through the IBM Cloud.

Since winning Jeopardy! in 2011, IBM’s Watson has found its calling across industries. Its capabilities have since been used for utilization management in medical centers. But, it’s also been utilized for a wider range of A.I. related applications, including natural language processing, voice-recognition, and business analytics.

To learn more about how it works, you can watch its tutorial here.

“From my perspective,” Pollock told me, the ability to mine and leverage that data, to help make better, informed business decisions, will ultimately impact the performance of a company. That is the opportunity we see here, which helps drive new business models and revenue streams, creating greater value for shareholders.”

By utilizing IBM’s Watson, Travelport is then able to apply its expertise and knowledge on the travel industry to actual use cases.

“I’ve been in the travel and IT industries for nearly 40 years, seeing Watson develop,” explained Croucher.

“Once technology becomes high-profile, you need to understand how to apply it across industries. I think A.I. has become easier to apply and more cost-effective. Watson, over the last few years, has very much developed from a highly-skilled R&D, now being implemented across many verticals.”

IBM Travel Manager

In conjunction with Watson, IBM Travel Manager, features an interactive and intuitive dashboard that offers end-to-end visibility of travel spending, the ability to create alerts and notifications, predictive and pre-defined spending trend analysis, and natural language understanding to analyze text and uncover insights from structured and unstructured data. This product will be commercially available to customers, both through IBM and Travelport.

But, more importantly, the IBM Travel Manager gives users complete, unified access to previously siloed information, which, when combined with travel data from the Travelport global distribution system (GDS), is then used to create real-time predictive analytics recommending how adjustments in travel booking behavior patterns can positively impact a company’s travel budget.

Travelport’s database proves useful in recent partnership with IBM to redefine the travel experienceTravelport

According to Fiona Shanley, Travelport’s Chief Customer and Marketing Officer (CCMO), the Manager, with Travelport’s data, is unlike any traditional travel spend reporting solution currently available today.

IBM themselves, are very large corporate travelers, and we are now able to analyze their travel data, identifying when people buy their tickets and the manners in which they obtain travel vendors ,”Croucher told me.

“Putting this information together in IBM Travel Manager’s dashboard platform, we are able to understand travel habits. That is very exciting for us.”

Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads

The DeLorean Motor Co. (Texas), a suburban Houston company that rebuilds DeLoreans, most famous for its appearance in the Hollywood trilogy, “Back to the Future.” On the podium are ‘Back to the Future’ writer and co-creator Bob Gale (R) and Universal Studios Hollywood’s Chris MacKenzie (L). Photo Credit: (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

 So, what does this strategic partnership mean for A.I. and blockchain technology moving forward? Efficiency and privacy.

#1 –Streamlining the Consumer Experience 

Travelport will enable third-party platforms to speed up the entire transaction through a centralized ledger, streamlining the consumer experience from A to Z. This not only includes integrating booking systems, transactions and other backend systems seamlessly, but lessens the burden on all travel agencies/portals to manually update systems – ensuring fewer lost reservations and travel-related hiccups for a more positive traveler experience .

 As major travel and hospitality companies begin to apply advanced technologies such as blockchain and A.I. to the business model, IBM believes the travel space to be heading in a very upward direction.

Utilizing blockchain technology, according to Croucher, requires an understanding of actual use cases.

“We need to find a use case about distributed ledgers, not the actual application of the Blockchain.”

#2 –Inspiring Millennial Travelers Within Their Own Social Media Channels

From a millennial traveler’s perspective, the travel industry is a mess. It’s overwhelming when looking to book flights, hotels, and other travel accommodations.

As Croucher emphasized to me during our phone conversation, we as millennials, want to be inspired. More importantly, we want to be inspired within the social media channels we are engaged in, without having to exit those channels.

“Take Instagram for example, you will notice it’s very travel-related,” explained Croucher. “The younger generation wants to be inspired, but it stems from the content they see from their friends. They want to visit these places, often impulsively and on short notice. Therefore, we have to rethink how to get millennials to travel within the channels they are engaged in.”

As Croucher pointed out, if I browsed through my Instagram feed or Snapchat Stories, I would see friends in many different travel destinations. But, what if I were to click on an image or swipe up in a story,  and able to then identify where my friend(s) is/are, cross-reference that with my location, and then spitting out a travel itinerary in getting to that destination along with flight prices? Talk about very little work to do, and I didn’t even have to jump on third-party vendor sites like Expedia or Travelocity.

#3 –Migrating Data to a Databank on the Blockchain

 Taking Croucher’s example one step further, user privacy rights aren’t as much of a concern as one would think.

“I’m not asking you to click on any particular picture,” Croucher added. “It’s something you are choosing to do on your own, because you saw something engaging within your own channel, clicking on it. While the technology does recognize where you are, you are asking for that recognition. The thing to keep in mind is as long as that information isn’t being stored or recorded somewhere, there shouldn’t be a privacy concern, because it’s simply providing you with an answer back, if you were to travel on short notice.”

Travelport’s Chief Architect, directed me back to the Blockchain to take this idea home.

“Looking forward, if we were to integrate how the Blockchain works with that of a database and a crypto-key, we have a real winner. Imagine a world where you put all of your data into a databank. With a crypto-key allowing access to a particular block on the chain, where the recipient is accessing data that you as the data holder, decide to provide for a certain amount of time, before it expires. This isn’t tokenizing your data to the world, but rather, a new direction where with laws and GDPR regulations, consumers can take back ownership of their data.”

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