I spent the last couple of days at The Beat Live conference in Chicago and on the whole, it was a very impressive conference. Most refreshing difference was the limited use of Powerpoint in favor of much more panel discussion and audience Q&A. When you get someone like Tony D’Astolfo from Rearden Commerce moderating a panel you really see how much difference a good moderator can make. For someone like me who has been critical of poorly run panels in the past, I was watching with interest given my upcoming moderator role at Horizons in under one months time.  

I caught up with a number of airline employees at the conference, and it was also great to talk to Scott Hintz from TripIt, Gianni Cataldo from Datalex and Jean Collier from Travelport, all of whom I hadn’t spoken to for well over a year. Geoff Heuchling from Marriott made the most intelligent comment on stage regarding social media when he described the importance of a measured approach that took into account the long term commitment to maintain such initiatives, and Marc Casto from Casto Travel probably gets my award for the best questions/comments from the floor. Firstly his comment on some state laws prohibiting credit card surcharges (which the two of us discussed over the coffee break afterwards), but mostly for his comment near the end of the conference about transparency – I’ll get back to that point later.

One well attended session was that featuring American Airlines’ Managing Director of Distribution and Mechandising, Bridget Blaise-Shamai. Almost everyone was wanting to hear her talk on direct connect, but I actually took away a few other interesting points given my view on the growing importance of personalization in the online passenger experience. She referred to “psychographic and demographic data” as well as tier level and other data sources as being at the heart of the new HP host they have signed for, and later said “we are moving to a personalized shopping model at American” in reference to the AA position that ATPCo filing of ancillaries is not flexible enough for where they want to go, saying instead that they have been talking to and studying Dell and Amazon for best practice models. Holly Hegeman of PlaneBusiness had been quite down on the prospects for AA only the day before when doing the lunchtime presentation, and there is no doubt that AA are adopting a crash through or crash strategy on many of these things. Time will tell whether or not it pays off for them. 

But the key takeaway for me from the conference was that I got a much better first hand view of all the posturing of the different players when it comes to the touchy subject of ancillary services. It was hilarious to hear people from airlines, to corporate travel buyers, to TMC’s to GDS’s to newer technology entrants all saying exactly the same phase “we support transparency”  when it seemed to mean something completely different to most of them. This is where Marc Casto nailed it when he said something to the effect of, we are all talking of transparency, but to some that seems to mean transparency lite, where the fees for ancillary services are hidden behind 10 clicks and within a massive body of text on an airline website. I spoke to a number of TMCs and corporate travel buyers at the conference (these are people I rarely speak to in my normal daily work) and it was extremely enlightening to hear how fed up they are with the way things appear to be going.   

And if you are wondering about the photo, The Beat readers choice award for The Most Admired Technology Provider was won by Amadeus. My colleagues Nigel Aston and Debbie Iannaci are pictured with Jay Campbell from The Beat.