Twenty-foot giant screens showcased virtual assistants, while Oculus Rift headsets were on display to demonstrate virtual reality ski holidays. However, the event is also a breeding ground for innovation on a smaller scale, with a number of start-ups and entrepreneurs tirelessly treading the floor at London’s Olympia to ensure their voices are heard.
Step forward one such innovator, Sahil Shah. The 24-year-old Cambridge University economics graduate was at TTE to promote his company, Sujester. Shah, who also attended the Cambridge Judge Business School, launched Sujester in August last year and believes it can improve the travel agent-customer relationship.
"In some travel agencies, the customer is just given a brochure, and that will be tour-operator heavy, with a lot of detail about accommodation"
The app offers a scrollable timeline on to which users add activities or holidays – available via a pull-down menu – on to certain dates. For example, a retired couple might want to plan a sightseeing holiday to Japan in March, then the next year a summer camping trip to New Zealand, followed by a safari in South Africa for Christmas.
Once the “wishlist” is complete, it is automatically sent to the travel agent, as the platform is white-labelled and can be fully partner-branded. “Sujester is about enriching lives through travel, to understand what the traveller wants, rather than looking at the one trip. Agents can ask ‘how can we fulfil the client’s ambition over the next few years?’” says Shah.
“It’s about driving the customer experience. Most travel agency deals are price driven or destination driven. And in some travel agencies, the customer is just given a brochure, and that will be tour-operator heavy, with a lot of detail about accommodation. Sujester is about looking at the next trip, and the next trip, and the next trip…”
A more holistic view
Shah says he wants to help agents to move away from being reactive, and be proactive instead. “The agent will know what the customer wants,” he explains. “They can reach that customer at a much earlier stage – during the inspiration phase. It adds that customer acquisition and takes a more holistic view.”
Shah says he is currently in talks with several travel agencies, operators and consortia that want to white-label the app, which can also be used collaboratively. Sujester customers would be charged on a per-lead basis. However, he also wants to involve tourist boards, and other “content partners”, which would also be charged for appearing on the app.
He adds that the set-up is easy, as there is an “outward-facing API” that passes the leads straight to the travel agency. Meanwhile, there is an element of machine learning involved as the tool can also make recommendations on what to do based on the user’s previous choices.
Shah aims to launch a pilot within six to eight weeks with a major travel firm – all part of a plan to create an even louder voice for TTE in 2018.