The global COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the travel business, but that hasn’t stopped Desert Adventures Tourism from expanding thanks to a move to the cloud, the adoption of travel management software, and new partnerships with online travel agencies (OTAs) that include dynamic links to booking apps.
Though tourism has taken a hit this year, the overall historic trend has been toward increasing international travel. Given the sheer scale of the industry, it’s now clear that technology provides the foundation for sustainable, optimal growth, and that digital transformation is a necessity for any travel business to prosper in a field that has become more competitive as OTAs proliferate.
Desert Adventures Tourism, based in Dubai, has undergone a digital transformation that has allowed it to expand its business, even during the pandemic.
“From the context of Desert Adventures (DAT), digital opportunities have offered to us the ability to enter new markets and service existing markets via new distribution channels,” says Senthilvelan Nandagopal, chief operating officer at Desert Adventures. Nandagopal notes, for example, that the company has reached new markets including Japan and South Korea via a linkup with Rakuten, the e-commerce giant that offers online travel booking services.
In 2018, 1.3 billion people travelled out of their country for tourism reasons, according to the World Tourism Organization, which expects the number to grow to 2 billion by 2030. Desert Adventures’ business, destination management, is a vertical within the travel industry and according to Nandagopal, success depends on quality of service delivery.
Tech scales business without increasing staff
Traditionally, staffing has contributed 60 percent to 65 percent of operating costs in destination management companies, but Nandagopal says that technology has helped Desert Adventures scale up operations to handle multiple new destinations without having to increase staff costs.
“Over the last two years, we have invested a significant amount in ICT to create the ecosystem and infrastructure. Going forward, we are looking at an investment of a million dirhams on an annual basis to sustain and grow our technology journey,” Nandagopal says.
Desert Adventures traditionally was a B2B player catering to high-end tour operators, but OTAs have been dominant players in the travel industry for quite some time now, Nandagopal notes, and this has upended the travel business. “When it comes to customer interaction, personalization and ease of engagement are two key areas that will make a difference in the customer journey,” Nandagopal says. To improve customer interaction, Desert Adventures has built out its electronic-distribution capabilities, backed up by its traditional travel expertise.
“We combine the wealth of our destination experience with cutting-edge distribution to provide comprehensive and flexible options to our customers. We in Desert Adventures provide multilingual and culturally aligned travel experts to deal with our customers” explains Nandagopal.
Distribution in the tour and travel industry includes all channels through which services and payments flow between consumers, tour operators, booking companies and suppliers such as hotels and transportation organizations. Desert Adventures’ distribution partners include tour operators and OTAs through which the company distributes tour destination inventory such as hotel accommodations.
Success in tourism depends on responsiveness
“Success of effective distribution is based on three factors: Comprehensive content accessible with minimal interaction; responsiveness – ability to produce the result within two or three seconds of the query; and price advantage (core strength of Desert Adventures). This is what we classify as cutting-edge distribution,” Nandagopal says.
Hotels offer static contracts (or rates) to traditional destination management companies and tour operators, and dynamic rates — which fluctuate depending on supply and demand — to OTAs and other digital players, Nandagopal says. Desert Adventures has built dynamic XML links to the systems of various partners it works with, and uses a revenue management model to analyse both static and dynamic rates in order to provide the most relevant and efficient quotes to tour operators, according to Nandagopal.
“While we continue to polish our strengths of service quality and excel in this area, digital transformation has helped Desert Adventures offer a seamless experience of dynamic rates (and) XML distribution to large OTAs and tour operators who have adopted the technology,” Nandagopal says. “While catering to the new digital-age customer, Desert Adventures offers ease of distribution, flexibility of dynamic rates and combines it with the traditional service excellence.”
COVID-19 has significantly affected the travel industry around the world and the UAE has been no exception. Compared with some other destinations, UAE stakeholders have done a great job in managing the situation in order to welcome tourists in a safe and secure manner, Nandagopal says. For example, the country promoted the use of online platforms for e-commerce and did away with long-held internet restrictions to enable remote working and e-learning, enabling residents to maintain business continuity during the time of lockdown, while curbing spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, Desert Adventures used the downtime to expand its supplier base – essentially, any organization, such as hotels, providing travel services — as well as to increase the number of its distribution partners, optimize processes and prepare itself to succeed in the new post-COVID travel scenario.
XML integration helps expand supplier base
“Pre-COVID, Desert Adventures was a strong DMC [destination management company] in UAE, Jordan and Oman. During the break, we have managed to sign up with hand-picked suppliers from seven other destinations to expand the product portfolio,” Nandagopal says. “This has been done by XML integration with the suppliers. Desert Adventures can now offer a total of 10 destinations with the same XML interface and our web channels.”
Leading up to this capability was a multiyear effort to automate business processes that were previously manual and labour-intensive. As part of this, Desert Adventures standardized on a tourism management application called TravelBox, from vendor CodeGen, which it uses to make bookings as well as connect to suppliers and distribute hotel inventory to multiple tour operators worldwide.
Desert Adventures moved TravelBox from its original on-premises installation and onto Oracle’s cloud infrastructure, to support increasing transaction volumes and improve system stability and security.
Other core applications that Desert Adventures uses ran on the Oracle database, Nandagopal notes. “Moving into Oracle cloud gave us the significant advantage of utilizing the premise license,” he explains. “Moreover, we were pampered by the service provided by the Oracle team as part of our previous engagement and there was no reason to shift away from such an excellent team,” explains Nandagopal.
The company was able to shift its on-premises workloads to the cloud smoothly, in three to four months, allowing it to shut down its on-premises datacentre, Nandagopal says.
Ultimately, Desert Adventures projects the migration to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure will yield a US$1 benefit over the next two years, due to increased revenue from new customers and reduced IT costs.