China Travel Summit Guilin 2019 Review

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The fourth annual OpenJaw China Travel Summit occurred last week in Guilin, China. The China Travel Summit is always a unique experience – and this year exceeded expectations with 20 speakers and panellists, 25 Chinese airlines and 250 delegates in the Shangri-La Hotel, surrounded by one of the most beautiful, picture postcard destinations in China. All those pictures of exotic mountains and rivers that you see that represent rural China – well, that is exactly what Guilin is. The city and surrounding areas are full of incredible hills, rice paddies and caves.

Guilin, China

The China Travel Summit is probably the largest event in China dedicated to travel retailers, and it is programmed to be a blend of inspiration and practical understanding, with a quality of content that is better that you can see at paid travel conferences. Here at OpenJaw, we help airlines to become better retailers. The fact that there were representatives from pretty much every Chinese airline – from the very largest to some of the smaller airlines – is a real tribute to our Chinese partners, TravelSky Technology, and their commitment to travel retailing as the future of value creation for airlines in China.

As always at the China Travel Summit, we started with a theme. And in 2019, the theme was around preparing airlines for the next decade – given it is less than two months away. Indeed, we themed the opening section as ‘Getting Ready for the next Ten Years of the Airline Industry.’ What was most interesting is the fact that, according to the latest T2RL statistics, China will become the largest travel market in the world by 2025. And both China Southern and China Eastern will supplant many US airlines as being among the most dominant players in the world, overtaking network carriers American, Delta and United by 2025.

China’s rise as a global leader in ecommerce has been nothing less than stunning. This year, online retail sales are expected to swell to US$1.4 trillion, representing a quarter of China’s total retail sales volume, and more than the ecommerce sales of the ten next largest markets in the world – combined. 

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Of course, we are very interested in this dynamic around the future of the airline business. OpenJaw has been focused on growing market share in China, and opened our China Headquarters in 2017 in Dalian that now employs 160 people. The tremendous growth OpenJaw has experienced in China has meant that we are the leading Western travel tech company operating in the Chinese market. 

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Liyan Zhao, OpenJaw VP China Operations, spoke at the conference about how OpenJaw has tailored one of its three platforms, the OpenJaw t-Retail Platform for the Chinese market, aptly calling it ‘DragonFly’ so as to enable airlines to capture value right across the customer journey. Today, the DragonFly Platform in use by Hainan Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Shandong Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, China United Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Chengdu Airlines, Tibet Airlines, Genghis Khan Airlines and Air Guilin. And expect more announcements over the next 12 months!

Speaking of the latest Chinese carrier to use the Dragonfly Platform – Air Guilin – we were lucky enough to have Mr. Zhang Wei, Chief Marketing Officer, Air Guilin speak at the China Travel Summit. Air Guilin are just two years old, and already have 11 aircraft. Mr Zhang told us of their ambition to use travel retailing as part of their strategy to bring international tourism to Guilin.

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The newest part of the agenda for the China Travel Summit were the two ‘Data Deep Dives’. What is a ‘deep dive’? It’s an examination of a subject or topic to build more detailed understanding of a topic. The two sessions – given in Chinese by our colleagues Dr. Beibei Flynn, senior data scientist from the OpenJaw t-Data team and Richard Chen, Programme Manager for the OpenJaw NDC Programme were about ‘Segmentation and Clustering’ and ‘Customer Lifetime Value’. Beibei and Richard spoke in detail about how to apply AI and machine learning to create customer segments and clusters, as well as explaining how to create a single customer view using identity resolution and data science techniques and models.

The week before travelling to China, OpenJaw Technologies was granted NDC-Capable Level 4 Certification for its t-Retail NDC Platform under the IATA NDC Certification Programme. NDC-Capable Level 4 Certification is currently the highest-ranking certification available for IT vendors who are developing NDC solutions for the airline industry. OpenJaw recently boosted its NDC leadership team by hiring industry expert Mona Kristensen as Director of Product Management for NDC and One Order. Mona spoke at the China Travel Summit on the topic of ‘Transforming Airline Retailing with NDC’. 

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As an NDC-Capable Level 4 vendor, OpenJaw has demonstrated its ability to deliver the highest level of NDC functionality to provide a complete range of retailing capabilities, including end-to-end offer and order management through direct and indirect channels. Mona took the opportunity to speak about how airlines can redefine their distribution strategy by enabling full, rich content and product differentiation in the channels of their choice, while also supporting servicing functionalities.

Next up speaking was Mr. Zhen Li, Manager EB Department of Sichuan Airlines who are a long time user of the OpenJaw DragonFly Platform. Sichuan Airlines are pretty big by any standards: it has 155 aircraft, and, aside from flying to Chinese destinations, Sichuan also flies to Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Dubai, Singapore, Thailand, Czech Republic, Israel, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy as well as the USA and Canada. Mr. Zhen spoke about ‘Reinventing Airline Retail Experiences’ and in particular the creative strategies the airline deploys to differentiate its brand using the symbol of Sichuan province, the panda.

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We were particularly delighted to have a panel of Chinese airlines on stage, chaired by one of our colleagues from our Dalian office, Zijian Sheng. The topic was ‘Digital Transformation and New Retailing Strategies for Airlines’ and included representatives from Chengdu Airlines, Tibet Airlines, Air Guilin and Genghis Khan Airlines. The panellists had an interesting take on travel retailing in China as many of them are starting out on their retailing journey, and are interested in capturing their share of the growing interest in inbound tourism to China – with travel retailing strategies at their core.

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Jonathan Savitch, Chief Commercial Officer, ATPCO, a partner of OpenJaw spoke about how retailing, used correctly, makes us want to buy. Jonathan believes that shopping needs to be quick and clear, but also immersive – particularly for travel. The latest retailing strategies in travel retailing present complex offers, fully and clearly. OpenJaw are partnering with ATPCO on their Next Generation Storefront (NGS) and NDC Exchange platforms which will enable flight shoppers to easily compare their options and choose the right product every time by using data-driven retailing standards to better describe and group airline products, so that sales channels can effectively present them in modern shopping displays.

China’s digital consumers are among some of the most avid users of mobile phones and social media in the world. WeChat, which has 1 billion+ users, has been called the ‘operating system of China’. WeChat is like Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Fortnite, WhatsApp, Paypal and YouTube – all together in one ‘superapp’. WeChat increasingly controls the interfaces to consumers across multiple touchpoints. OpenJaw launched the OpenJaw t-Social Platform as a next generation social media customer servicing and selling tool that integrates AI-based conversational messaging to tap into where consumer are today (and not just in China) – on messaging apps such as WeChat. The t-Social Platform is a fully automated chatbot agent that uses AI techniques to automatically respond to customers through conversational messaging for servicing and if appropriate, to switch context to selling ancillary products such as baggage and seat selection via IATA’s NDC standard.

At the China Travel Summit, Andrea Cartwright, Vice-President Sales, OpenJaw t-Social and Lei Yan, t-Social Tech Lead, OpenJaw Dalian spoke about deploying t-Social into the TravelSky GDS call centre with a Chinese language AI Engine. The solution is live right now, and has been shown to successfully automate complex conversational queries between travel agencies across China and the TravelSky GDS call centre.

The final presentation of the day was from Bryan Porter, the Chief Commercial Officer of OpenJaw. Bryan spoke about ‘Beyond the Standard: The New Distribution Landscape’. The opportunity for NDC is not only huge in the West, it’s also an opportunity for Chinese airlines. Tapping into the opportunity offered by NDC will enable differentiation through product attributes, upselling through bundling and fare families, as well as dynamic Pricing & Personalisation – particularly when the power of the OpenJaw t-Data platform is applied to NDC for offer personalisation and analytics.

At OpenJaw, we believe that applying NDC will enable true travel retailing and consumer engagement through all touch-points and all channels. NDC means breaking down the silos separating your direct and indirect distribution channels – and this was a message that Chinese airlines were eager to hear – just like airlines in the rest of the world.

Summary

2019 was the biggest and most successful of the four China Travel Summits to date in terms of airline attendees, the depth of speakers and opportunity. As mentioned above OpenJaw have unique access to the Chinese Aviation market, and the largest number of Chinese airlines of any Western travel tech vendor. October 2020 will see another China Travel Summit taking place. If you wish to be part of this exciting journey in what is soon to be the largest travel market in the world, I encourage you to get in touch with me.

Thank you for reading and here is one final image to illustrate the successful conclusion of yet another great China Summit in Guilin.

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