Sitting on a plane back from the annual Sabre customer conference in Las Vegas seems like a great time to collect a few thoughts.
This was a high-production event held at The Bellagio. With 300 attendees from over 100 hotel groups, the audience collectively managed the websites and online distribution of over 13,000 properties. Team Triptease was in attendance waving the flag for direct bookings.
Alex Alt, Sabre Hospitality Solutions' President opening address included a few comments on OTAs "as they continue to consolidate and become increasingly powerful it makes some in the industry nervous" he also added thoughts on Airbnb "The challenge for the hotel community is not incremental inventory. The challenge is how to respond to the customer experience innovations".
There was an excellent talk from Geoff Colvin of Fortune Magazine on the future of work in a world of smart robots: "the most common of jobs are going away". His advice for those concerned about their careers "don't ask what computers can't do, ask what humans are most driven to do".
Other highlights included Victoria Fabiano from Google presenting recent research on Mobile Micro Moments and five travel startups pitching for glory. The winner, Hello Scout is a mobile travel concierge staffed by freelance local travel writers.
The majority of break-out sessions focussed on Sabre's product developments past and future. Investing almost $1Bn a year (at a group level), there's certainly a lot going on. I was particularly impressed with the upcoming Synxis Voice Agent release for call-centres. Due out in June, this will bring significant improvements compared to the current system.
Strategically, Sabre Hospitality is investing in two key areas:
1. Sabre Profile Service - working towards becoming the single source of truth on customer data. Sabre's profile repository will bring in all the data from their systems and from other third-party sources. There are quite a few vendors fighting for the right to manage a hotel's single-customer-view. For Sabre customers, I suspect they will build the central system of choice.
2. Data Intelligence Suite - tools that provide performance insights and retailing insights. The goal is that these will power personalization, benchmarking and conversion optimization.
The conference was well run and there was lots of positive feedback from attendees. As a Sabre partner the one area I'd have liked to hear more on is their evolving open vs. closed ecosystem approach.
There was a lot of talk about open-APIs, the importance of integrations and working with the travel technology ecosystem. There was an increased presence at the event of Sabre partners such as Triptease and celebration of the formation of Sabre's Partner Management Team. All of this suggests following the open-platform/app model that has made Google, Apple, Facebook and Salesforce so powerful and valuable.
However there was also mention of the new tagline "One Partner. One Platform" and Sabre is clearly working to build out a single system that 'does it all'. So which will it be? a platform that enables and stitches together best-in-class or an effort to deliver everything for everyone under one roof?
In these wild times of hyper-innovation, the latter is unrealistic. My favourite iphone Apps are not built by Apple and the native reporting from Salesforce palls in comparison to their 3rd party vendor partners. I suspect a continued strategy of pragmatism driven by customer demands is the outcome. Trade-offs between 'good-enough' and 'best-in-class' will continue to be made every day by hoteliers.