MIAMI — Hugh Jones runs the world’s leading provider of technology solutions to the air transportation industry. Before coming to Sabre, he was president and CEO of Travelocity Global, where he was responsible for a portfolio of online travel businesses including Travelocity, lastminute.com and ZUJI.
Jones began his career in the travel industry with American Airlines in 1988, where he held finance positions, including international controller, based in London. During his first stint at Sabre, he held a number of executive positions, including COO of the Sabre Travel Network.
Hugh Jones spoke to Airways about what Sabre does for airlines, how it helps improve the passenger experience and the importance of its customer-centric approach.
Airways: What exactly does Sabre do?
Hugh Jones: We provide software solutions to airlines. The solutions we provide are a broad portfolio and those solutions allow airlines to better plan, market, sell and run their operations.
We are a software and service provider that allows airlines to more efficiently run their operations and offer a better passenger experience.
How does Sabre partner with airlines?
We have 550 customers, mostly airlines and some airports. They are mostly commercial airlines, but we also work with charter and cargo operators. We partner with 82 of the top 100 airlines in the world, who use at least one of our solutions. Our solutions portfolio is organized into 13 families.
Two examples of that are network planning and schedule management for airlines. These solutions are that help airlines plan their schedules, what they look like and how profitable they are.
In the simplest terms, we provide software applications that help airlines run their businesses. We’re known in the industry for providing distribution and software solutions to the airline and hotel industries.
Who do you see as your competitors?
Probably our biggest competitors are both third-party companies that provide solutions and airlines that build their own solutions in house.
I have to convince airlines that I can provide a better solution than what they do on their own. But our closest competitor is Amadeus. But because our portfolio is so broad, we actually compete with a variety of competitors.
Amadeus is considered our largest competitor because we both have GDS and airline technology businesses, so we do bump into them. We also compete with Jeppesen in operations and crew management and Pros in the revenue management areas.
What are some of the ways that Sabre’s technology can help airlines improve the passenger experience and address market issues?
We come at this in a number of ways If you think about the passenger experience, airlines have been focused for several years on how they address this. They want to differentiate themselves with customers and deliver on their promises.
The solutions we provide allow them to better understand who their customer is, sell and service those customers better and then on back end, deliver them a better experience.
We produce solutions that allow airlines to capture and store information so they can use it at the point-of-sale to better know their customers. Our core customer data is delivered in real time, so airlines can sell a more differentiated product that offers a more contextual experience for customers.
We also help airlines with retail merchandising to create product bundles that are more dynamic, including branded fares and ancillary products at the point of sale and at check-in. We also provide mobile concierge solutions using roving agents that allow airlines to check passengers in.
If there’s a long queue to get to the gate or they need to check a bag, the concierge can do that. Airlines can redefine the check-in process and help customers avoid long queues.
We can also help with crew management. Sometimes you get to a gate and a plane or a crew isn’t there. We have an integrated suite of operations that can align passengers and crew to make sure that an airline can recover more quickly and seamlessly so passengers can get on with their journey with as little inconvenience as possible and at the lowest cost for the airline.
During the Sabre Airline Solutions Global Conference, your CEO in his keynote address emphasized the need to develop a customer-centric approach that makes the most impact in travel. Why is that approach so important to offer Sabre customers?
The only way we are are able to provide real, meaningful and measurable value to customers is if we are working with the airlines to bring solutions to market. We also must evolve our current products to address new areas of opportunity so those solutions add value to airlines.
We have a variety of ways to engage with customers.
For instance, we have a new crew management system that we’re working on with Singapore Airlines as the launch customer. We believe that it will pre-sell well and create a community of customers. We like working with airlines that want to help us with thought leadership and have an investment in our solutions.
Sabre also has an executive advisory board made up of 15 to 20 C-level individuals. They give us feedback on industry trends and the success of our products. We get feedback from them on whether we are investing properly. We also do workshops with airlines and hold individual customer meetings so we can better understand what their needs are and how to address their issues.
Running an airline is a complex set of processes that we try and automate. That yearly conference is one way to showcase what we’re doing.
What do you think your company will look like five years from now?
Given our growth profile, we’ll be larger. What we depend on — our life blood — is innovation. We will continue to bring new capabilities and new solutions to market. As we are able to add new customers and derive more market share, we can invest in bigger and new solutions that offer customer value and bring in revenue.