Asia Pacific is truly a region of extremes with its developing countries, advanced economies, and everything in between. Many cities in Asia are considered to be the most high-tech in the world. Seoul in South Korea is widely recognised as one of, if not the most, technologically advanced cities in the world, with Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong also competing for the title.
Certainly on my trips to Korea, Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong I have witnessed the advanced technologies that are part of everyday life. Ticketless transport systems, mobile infrastructure and high-speed broadband are just a few of the more noticeable examples.
However, even with all this technology infrastructure in place, it is an interesting paradox that the travel industries in these markets have been somewhat left behind.
While online bookings are growing organically just as they are worldwide, many systems and processes remain quite archaic. Perhaps this is most noticeable in the travel agency world, which many people would rightly assume must be primarily electronic, what with the amazing technology infrastructure available. But in reality, a day in the life of a travel agent in Asia Pacific is actually far more paper-based.
In markets like South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, a travel agent would most likely own one or two mobile phones, at least one being a smartphone. The agent would use this in their personal life to connect with friends, take photographs, research restaurants and find their way around the city using maps and navigation tools. They would probably use a transport system that involves them tapping their card on a reader as they enter the train or bus. They take for granted that they can access high speed Internet anywhere, anytime.
And yet as they sit behind the desk at their travel agency, they are faced with a pile of client files on paper that need updating manually, a stack of messages and faxes from airlines to confirm ticket prices, and they need to telephone a customer to let them know about a flight change.
While these practices are not unusual anywhere in the world, it does seem somewhat peculiar that such a high-tech country is still quite high-maintenance when it comes to travel agency processes. However, there is a shift occurring.
With airlines outsourcing their IT to new open systems, travel agents realise that in order to deliver the service that the travelling public wants, they also need technology to match. Korea is one example of a market where change is happening in front of our eyes. Korean Air has just announced that they will migrate to Amadeus’ customer management system, Altéa. And at the same time TOPAS, Korea’s leading distribution system provider, will adopt Amadeus’ technology as the basis for their next generation reservation system.
There is much for Korean travel agents and their customers to be excited about. New technology means the end of time-consuming manual processes and unnecessary delays.
With Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific already in the midst of migration to Altéa and ANA’s recent announcement that they too will adopt the system, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan are soon to speed up the way they do business in the travel industry as well. This ripple effect continues to spread around Asia Pacific as high-maintenance processes are abandoned in favour of a new high-tech way forward.