The mother of invention

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Marion Mesnage, head of research, innovation and ventures at travel technology specialist Amadeus, recently spoke to about the nature of innovation, what she wishes she’d invented and travelers’ attitudes toward sharing their personal information.

How do you foster a culture of innovation at Amadeus?
The best way to keep innovation going and to make sure we are relevant is to show value and to create a strong link between innovation and the company’s business and strategy. In the past we’ve worked with a more technological approach, but it’s important that the people in the company buy into this culture of innovation. People – our people at Amadeus in particular – love new ideas and they love to test new things.

In terms of adoption of new technologies, how do airports rate?
We’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm. Some airports in particular are very willing to reposition as showcasing very innovative things – for example, Changi and Dubai. In most cases the cities want to reposition themselves as being in the vanguard of technology and the digital experience.

What Amadeus innovation are you most proud of?
That’s like asking which one of my kids I am most proud of! Each of the projects we’re working on at the moment is at a relatively early stage and while we could bet on which one we prefer and which one we think has the best potential, that is precisely what we don’t want to do. What we want to do is to test these ideas on the market, to let the market and the consumers tell us what they prefer. Our approach to innovation is to build as quickly as possible, even a very simple minimum viable product (MVP) of the concept, and put it as quickly as possible in the hands of real users and real paying customers, to validate it. We gather feedback and then we iterate based on what we hear.

Are you ever surprised by their response?
Absolutely. We start with some assumptions – this is going to interest this segment, this is the problem that they will have, this is what they are going to like. And we end up with new findings and different data. This is quite a powerful experience.

What innovation do you wish had been yours?
Airbnb. As a consumer, it has really changed the face of my vacations – it’s amazing.

If there were solution at all that you could come up with, what would it be?
Like a magic wand? Sustainability – one aspect of it in particular, which is mass tourism. I travelled for 30 years, from a young age, when I backpacked to cities like Amsterdam and Lisbon. I’ve seen the difference between how those cities were 20 years ago and how they are now. It can be an experience killer. I was talking to a friend and complaining that it’s really becoming a problem, and that we need to find a solution. And she told me ‘You know what? Don’t go! You’re part of the problem!’ It’s true, we are part of the problem.

We are focusing on five main projects at the moment and we are about to start a new wave of 10 new projects. As part of this there are three projects around aspects of sustainability because we have seen that our customers are asking for it. We all suffer from it, from flight shaming, for example. We need to find ways to compensate.

What is your department working on at the moment?
Our mission is to come up with solutions that will be the standard for the travel experience in 5 to 10 years, so we are looking for transformative, traveler-centric ideas. We are thinking about the pain-points for the traveler today and how we can change them. And we are looking for impact.

Think about 10 years ago when Uber did not exist, Airbnb did not exist, the iPad did not exist. Look at the impact they have on our lives today. They have set the standards for our digital experience – that’s the kind of thing we want to come up with.

At the moment we are working on a project called Traveler ID, which we hope will address one of the main pain-points in travel today – the way in which personal ID and information is managed. At present, the traveler has to provide this information for verification many, many times, from booking a flight online to boarding, then when renting a car and checking into a hotel.

The Traveler ID platform enables the user – a traveler like you or me – to enrol once and for all, then benefit from frictionless personal identity management, on multiple journeys. It is a facilitation layer. It connects the users through their digital identity providers, whether that is a national identity provider, like France or China; a private identity provider such as MasterCard or [Chinese messaging app] WeChat; or an airline, by means of a loyalty card. We also connect the touchpoints, for instance borders, security checks and boarding.

We believe that people will be willing to share their personal information if they really understand the concrete benefits of doing so, for example in exchange for a frictionless experience, and if they really trust that they understand how their information is being used and when it stops being used. This is also what we do in this platform, we orchestrate when the information is sent to the touchpoint, then we ensure that it is removed from the touchpoint.

That’s one project. Another is one where we are working with a partner, Sigfox, a developer of IoT technology. They like to think of themselves as 0G. While other people are building very sophisticated 4G and 5G, they say ‘our network is very simple’. It cannot transmit big amounts of information – just very small amounts, but enough for many use cases, where you just need to transmit, for example, a location or a temperature or a time stamp. By doing this you have a technology that is low cost, low in power usage, so you can have beacons that last very long.

We’ve been exploring with them how we can apply this in the world of travel. One advantage of that technology is that they have a global network. They have deployed their network, they have positioned their antennas to have maximum coverage. As their network is global you could detect an object with their technology in London, then in Atlanta, then in Beijing. And this is exactly what we need for travel. It’s about moving things from country to country, and you don’t want to use different networks. They have one network and we can leverage that to do different things like baggage tracking or ULD tracking.

The promise of this technology is that it would enable users to track their luggage at a cost that is below the perceived value.

You can read more here about Amadeus’s Traveler ID pilot at Ljubljana Airport.

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