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Sylvie Hachey on Women in Technology

Women have always been a part of the world of technology and FTS truly believes that diversity starts with recruitment. Below is an interview with Sylvie Hachey, currently Head of product at Flight Centre Travel Group and Flex Travel Solutions’ advisor.

Sylvie shares with us her journey of 17 years in travel technology and the importance of gender diversity at the workplace — “it’s much more collaborative when you have both [men and women]. There’s more of a diversity of ideas.”

How did you get started in the travel technology field?

I got into travel tech quite by accident. I applied at Expedia in 2005, even though I wasn’t sure what Expedia was, and had to Google the company. It was for a connectivity account management role. We basically connected hotel supply to Expedia. There were only two of us globally who did that work.

As a woman in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, did it feel like you were breaking through a barrier?

Honestly, it didn’t. At Expedia, it never felt as if there was a gender bias, and I think it was a good travel tech company to start at. Higher up, there were more men than women in senior leadership roles, but it wasn’t something that defined the company.

“Don’t be afraid to go for it”

What are the disadvantages and advantages of being a woman in tech?

There are definite advantages to being a woman in travel tech. Women are fundamentally multitaskers, so they can focus on many things and still be exceptionally organized.

I also think it’s a good balance when you have both men and women on a team. Compared to groups I’ve seen that were mainly men or mainly women, it’s much more collaborative when you have both. There’s more of a diversity of ideas.

According to a 2021 Royal Bank of Canada report, almost half a million Canadian women who left the workforce during the pandemic, primarily due to childcare issues, have not returned to work. What are your thoughts on that?

Honestly, working with small children was a challenge even before the pandemic. Being able to work remotely has been both a blessing and a curse. Having the flexibility to arrange your schedule around your children can help women and families alike. But if you don’t have a support network, it’s very challenging.

I think companies are looking at how they can attract women tech workers through more flexibility, more accommodations for families, and offering a work-family balance. Providing that flexibility and offering education employees can do remotely would bring a lot more women into higher roles in travel tech.

What else could the travel technology field be doing to bring more women into the industry?

Women are still underrepresented, especially at higher levels and in leadership. We need to bring them in when they’re younger. The International Aviation Women’s Association focuses on education for women in the aviation sector. They’ve had a big focus on reaching women when they are young and giving them confidence. It’s also important to accommodate a work-life balance, where women don’t feel like they have to choose one over the other.

What advice would you give to women interested in travel tech?

Don’t underestimate yourself, and have a plan. Having a plan and knowing where you’re going gives you confidence. It’s also important to find someone to work with, either as a mentor or coach, who can help you develop that confidence and find your strengths. That also helps you build relationships. That’s helped me enormously throughout my career.

And don’t be afraid to go for it. I think women often don’t apply for a position because they think they don’t have every single requirement for the job. I have seen women judge themselves and not apply for something a man wouldn’t think twice about applying for. Work with people who help you build your strengths, so you feel capable of moving to higher positions to have the career that you want.

Accept the travel industry’s new reality and move forward

It’s time that we travel suppliers shift our thinking. We must stop writing off the previous year’s travel industry data as not helpful or unimportant because of the pandemic and how it impacted travel.

The proactive and much more useful approach? That last year’s data is precisely what we need — because we’ve arrived at the travel industry’s new reality.

Almost two years into the pandemic, with two significant COVID-19 variants on hand and others perhaps yet to come, the industry has changed substantially. We don’t know when or if travel will return to pre-pandemic levels and patterns. But here’s some of what our work with top industry experts has shown us.

The past two years’ numbers are exactly what you need

We often hear that we should “omit numbers from the last two years” because they skew our data. Instead, we need to realize that’s the exact data we need to help us better forecast and prepare for what’s to come. We need to focus on data that tells us how people are travelling now. The last two years’ data is exactly what we need to predict this next quarter and next year.

Our recent numbers will also help drive a sales team more efficiently. Salespeople need targets, forecasts, and budgets. We were at a standstill in the last two years. We didn’t create targets, and drove a little in the dark. But now that we have two years’ worth of data, we can better predict and create those near-future targets.

Speaking of prediction: how can we predict the future?

A few months ago, we were hearing that “it feels like May 2020 all over again.” Today, we sense optimism with lifted restrictions. But can we learn from all this to address the current impact and prioritize as an airline would?

How many people caught COVID-19? How many flights did we have to cancel? How did government regulations impact our cancellation rates? What precautions do we need to put in place so we don’t have to cancel flights? How does a closed border affect us, and how do we prepare new routes to fill seats?

Know your customer and seize the opportunity

We need to be proactive in knowing our customers. Some airlines understand there are many fears associated with travelling and safety measures (such as getting sick while travelling and getting stranded abroad) when marketing.

Some were even proactive in seeking the safest and smartest ways to move forward. Air Canada, for example, was at the forefront of adopting science-based safety measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 and get people back in the air. Canada’s flagship carrier was among the first to require temperature screening, mandatory mask-wearing, and testing.

We need that same level of proactiveness when it comes to understanding other consumer behaviours. For instance, while many people are travelling again, it’s no longer just about the destination. Now it’s also about the choice of airline and the traveller’s comfort level with new precautions, such as mask requirements at the destination, for instance. Or simply the cost of living in case of another lockdown where the traveller needs to stay longer at the destination. With travel more complex, people are turning to travel experts to interpret constantly changing conditions and COVID policies in different locations — and, even more importantly, to choose a destination based on the traveller’s preferences and risk appetite.

Focus on B2B channels

According to an American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) and Sandals Resorts survey, almost half of U.S. travellers say they’re more likely to use a travel advisor to arrange post-pandemic travel, even though they only rarely or sometimes used them in the past.

The same survey found that 80 percent of travel advisors reported hearing from new travellers who had never before used a travel advisor to book international trips.

Rising inflation is another reason people are turning to travel advisors. When people know they may not travel as often, they often turn to agencies to ensure their trip will be as successful as possible.

“Travel is coming back, and travel advisors are poised for an epic comeback,” said Erika Richter, Senior Communications Director at ASTA.

These past two years have shown us what’s working and what isn’t in the changing travel industry. Now it’s up to us to accept this new reality and be proactive so we stay ahead of the game.

Written by Abdallah Al Absi, Flex Travel Solutions

Abdallah Al Absi leads compliance and data initiatives at Flex Travel Solutions overseeing and safeguarding all policies, controls and audits. Part of the executive team, Abdallah Al Absi brings over 15 years of experience in management and transformation projects.

B2B Channels: Making the Most of a Powerful Sales Force

As the travel industry finds its way back post-pandemic, it has quickly realized the power of travel agencies and B2B channels. With new complexities such as cancellations, vaccine passports, and entry requirements, travellers are relying more heavily on agencies to book their travel.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, air tickets sold through travel agents in the U.S. were up 3.7% to USD $7.8 billion, and that upward trend is expected to continue.

B2B channels are becoming an increasingly important revenue stream for airlines and travel industry suppliers. It’s important to know how to optimize those channels for the best revenue management.

Why focus on B2B channels?

As global distribution system sales dwindle, travel suppliers are focusing more on direct booking channels.

The industry is accustomed to B2C marketing strategies, which revolve around the end consumer. But it still falls short overall in catering to the B2B segment with innovative marketing strategies and better customer service that drive sales. Many still use the same cookie-cutter approach across their entire agency book of business.

Facebook, Google, and Amazon understand the significance of making their ads more visible and relevant to end-users. Consumers don’t actually hate all ads — 83% of respondents in one survey said they’d like the ability to filter ads for a better fit. It’s intrusive and irrelevant ads that ruin the customer experience, which is why taking an intelligent approach to designing and targeting your content is increasingly important.

It’s one thing to show users promotions. It’s quite another to display targeted promotions that are actually relevant to them. For the most part, agencies learn about suppliers’ promotions through Facebook groups or email marketing campaigns that don’t consider their bookings history. An agency that mostly books the Caribbean or the Middle East, for example, is pushed promotions for destinations like Milwaukee and Tennessee.

What’s the answer? The industry needs innovation and process improvement in terms of distribution and how it markets to B2B channels.

Travel agency management through optimizing B2B channels

B2B optimization means creating promotions that feature certain routes, criteria, or agencies and making relevant promotions visible to specific agencies on multiple channels, including your own direct sales. Monitoring improves conversions and the likelihood of booking, and you can reward agents’ loyalty. You can set general or specific targets, integrate a promotion with your own loyalty program, or introduce a new one. The automation can push promotions and pull incentives dynamically and influence shopping results in favour of your own bookings.

Any travel supplier can create multiple promotions. The challenge is in introducing parallel promotions alongside existing ones. It takes extensive resources to handle the manual labour that generates, including bottlenecks on calculations, payments, and customer service. And it can be hard to measure performance when these promotions are launched, let alone adjust them in an agile way.

The Flex Travel Solution Business Rule Engine is one way to do this. It’s not merely a silo for promotions or marketing but an efficient, end-to-end process that optimizes the process from promotion and agency incentives to payment. Suppliers can avoid that cookie-cutter strategy and instead create targeted and dynamic promotions relevant to an individual agency. They can quantify results in real-time and adjust their strategy where needed for better yield management.

Optimizing your B2B revenue management can lead to much improved performance management and sales and an optimized user experience (including commission management and agents pocketing more of the commission). It’s a way to spend less time and save money on reconciliation, chasing payments, and disputes. Ultimately, it also leads to better customer service and outcomes as the travel industry moves forward with pandemic recovery.

Written by Sama Al-Obaidy, Flex Travel Solutions

Sama Al-Obaidy serves as Head of Product at Flex Travel Solutions, a travel technology company that helps travel industry suppliers efficiently manage and grow their B2B channels through intelligent revenue management, forecasting capabilities through predictive analysis and automated payment solutions.

As part of the executive team with over 15 years of Travel Industry experience, and having led key projects at companies such as IATA, Air Canada Vacations, Aimia and TUI, Sama brings invaluable experience and industry knowledge to Flex Travel Solutions product development team. She drives many initiatives to ultimately enhance the SaaS solution to keep up with industry standards and customer needs.