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APIs enable new kinds of partnerships that are changing the travel business and unlocking new sources of revenue. Andrew Hennigan hears how this is playing out in rail

In the rail travel industry the complex global network of carriers is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because the global rail network reaches more destinations than airlines and a curse because, until recently, to exploit this advantage travel agents had to resort to phone calls to fully connect all the dots and arrange a complete end-to-end booking.

APIs, the application programming interface technology that lets websites talk to each other, are part of the solution. However, just providing every rail carrier with an API only half solves the problem. What was needed was a unified API that gave distributors and agencies a single, integrated access to book and purchase tickets. Enter London-based SilverRail Technologies, which aims to make the management of rail travel simpler for carriers and distributors by providing a single, integrated service for shopping, booking and purchasing tickets.

The creation of rail’s first unified API….enables distributors like Expedia to sell rail in multiple countries as well as offering a comparison to flights

“Before SilverRail, the search and booking process was fragmented and laborious for all but the simplest journeys, and third party TMCs and OTAs avoided integrating rail because of its complexity,” says Cameron Jones, Chief Commercial Officer at SilverRail Technologies. “The creation of rail’s first unified API has transformed this process, enabling distributors like Expedia to sell rail in multiple countries as well as offering a comparison to flights. At the same time it allows carriers to manage their own retail operations, adding rail to the customers’ options without losing control of the precious customer data.”

Multiple benefits

Benefits for travel businesses are not limited to convenience and cost savings. API partnerships like SilverRail also bring new opportunities to all partners. One of these is in loyalty programmes, which are increasingly important.

“For rail operators creating a loyalty programme is harder than just drilling down into customer data,” says Jones. “Unlike other travel verticals, rail companies have outsourced their digital customer experience to third party companies, resulting in a loss of customer data and slowing the innovations they can deliver”.

In some cases direct purchases through traditional channels can be as low as 5%, meaning that most of this crucial customer data is lost to the carrier.

By using an integrated API like SilverRail, carriers can, however, provide the complete customer buying cycle from planning a journey to booking and selling the ticket. The carriers then own the customer touch points across their website, mobile app and vending machines. Plus they can easily adapt to new sales channels as they emerge. This unified experience is also an advantage for customers who can navigate their way more quickly through consistent experiences.

According to Jones, for the first time ever, train operators now have a single, full view of their customers, enabling them to see who they are, their travel behaviours and preferences. “This will enable them to build their own loyalty programmes, using these insights to improve revenue and profitability through yield and capacity management”.

There are other benefits too and API partnerships help with more than just loyalty programmes. “We believe that open data enables huge improvements in transport,” says Jones. “By integrating data feeds into one, unified API we can encourage developers to produce new and innovative products that benefit all of our partners. We want to channel the entrepreneurial spirit and technical expertise, providing the right data to allow app developers to help us improve accessibility and affordability.”

SilverRail issues a new functionality release of their API once every four weeks. These can include carrier updates and new industry innovations, helping the partners to benefit by future-proofing their technology investment.

It’s not just the rail industry that stands to benefit from API partnerships; indeed other industries that struggle to thrive online because of their complexities can learn from this approach. “APIs enable a customer-centric approach, helping to drive loyalty and make customer acquisition and retention more efficient while improving profitability.”

Ultimately API partnerships like SilverRail will unlock new value in the travel industry, bringing new sources of inventory and innovative, profitable products.

Cameron Jones will be sharing more insights at EyeforTravel Europe which takes place in London on May 3-4

EyeforTravel Europe 2017

May 2017, London

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