Ernesto Mullor
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As Amadeus is commemorating its 30th anniversary this year, we’ve been looking at how far we’ve come and how far we still want to go.

We chatted to Ernesto Mullor, Amadeus General Manager for Central and West Africa, about his views on how the travel industry has changed over the past 30 years and about what we can still expect for the future.

What do you feel have been the main changes in the way people travel 30 years ago and now? 

We have without a doubt seen the democratisation of travel during the past 30 years.

Thirty years ago, only a selected elite of people could board a plane. Today, air travel is open to almost anybody. At least, that’s what we’re seeing in Europe, the US and Asia. But, also in Africa, we’re getting to this point and we’re starting to see a transformation.

Is there anything you are really missing from the ‘good old times’ of travel?

If you were part of the selected elite in the past, you will probably be missing the superior service that was offered onboard.

However, except for the service element, which has definitely taken a knock, I think we have seen improvements across the line in almost all areas. Sure, you are not treated like a king anymore when you board a plane – but do we really need to be treated like kings?

Is there anything you are definitely not missing? 

The paper tickets were a nightmare, and I don’t think anybody can miss those. Then, as discussed, there’s the fact that you’re not treated like a king or a queen anymore.

Besides from that, the planes are better and the in-flight entertainment has immensely improved. Even in Economy Class, passengers have their own personal screens and can decide what to watch. This freedom of choice adds a lot of value. Not all airplanes have this luxury in Economy Class yet in Africa, but we’re getting there.

Thirty years down the line, we might have lost some elements in travel, but we’ve gained many things in return.

What three technologies have made the most impact on travel?

1. The Internet and the Online World.

Today, every second ticket in the world has been bought online. For travellers, this means that they don’t have to go to the travel agency anymore to book their travels, the travel agency comes to them, to their home, on their device. Travellers today have the entire offer of flight options available to them. That’s been a huge revolution.

2. The Electronic Ticket.

It’s quite revolutionary that today, you don’t have to carry any travel documents with you anymore. You don’t need to show any papers when you’re at the airport – just your passport.

3. The Choice of Ancillaries

Travellers today can select and pay for extra luggage, a seat at the window, a special meal, and more. They can customise their trip to what they really want. All of that has been made possible thanks to technology. I expect this trend will continue to evolve – we’re only halfway towards a model of full customisation, but we’re definitely getting there.

What has been the most exciting development in travel over the past 30 years?

The most exciting development I’ve seen and experienced is the fact that you can now breeze through the entire travel experience with just your mobile phone in your hand.

You can arrive to the airport with your mobile, and get checked in directly by the system. You get your boarding pass on your mobile, and you can simply jump onto the plane. You don’t need any human interaction at the airport, the system even detects you as soon as you arrive at the airport.

The first time this happened to me, I thought it was very exciting. There were no queues, there were no people, I could just jump onto the plane.

This evolution definitely speeds things up a lot – unfortunately, security will slow travellers down, but security is a necessary element. Technology today definitely helps you do things a lot quicker.

How do you feel the role of the travel agent has changed over the last 30 years?

Thirty years ago, the travel agent simply provided the traveller with options to get them from A to B. That information is now available online.

Today, the travel agent is there to either fix a problem or assist you with last-minute changes, missed flights etc. The focus for the travel agent needs to be on post-sales service, on advice for complex journeys, or on being a one-stop-shop for its clients. This is where the travel agent can not only add value for the customer, but also make money.

Travel agents today need to sell and advise customer on everything from air to hotel, to transfers and tours. When the travel agent manages to control the entire holiday package, from the taxi that picks the traveller up at home and gets them to the airport to the choice of hotel amenities, they’ll be able to not only make a lot of money, but also to fulfil the clients’ expectations.

What were the biggest fears in the travel industry 30 years ago?  

During these past thirty years, online has been the biggest threat and disruptor to the travel agent. Having said that, the role of the online travel world has been led mostly by specialised travel agencies.

Today, the airlines have managed to bypass travel agencies – 20 to 30% of the total volume that was once sold through the travel agency, is now sold directly by the airlines. A lot of travel agencies have disappeared because of this.

A little bit more about yourself…

Thirty years ago, I was in high school. To be very honest, I didn’t’ have big dreams to work in the travel industry, but I did have dreams to work abroad and to have an international role.

In that way, I feel I have accomplished my goal. I work in an industry that is extremely international where borders simply don’t exist. That’s what I wanted.

In the next thirty years, I will retire. However, before I retire, I’m hoping to still have at least 20 years in the travel industry and to be exposed to other areas of the world. I’ve lived and worked in Europe and in Africa, but there are more areas I would like to get to know still.

Where do you see travel in the next thirty years?

I think that the most exciting development we’ll still see will be that travellers will be able to completely customise the trip they want and will be able to do it from home.

You will be able to talk to the airline and tell them: I want to fly in seat 7 A, I want to have this specific meal, I want my usual driver called John to take me to the airport. Travellers of tomorrow can expect that they will talk to someone who knows them and who knows exactly what they want.

Today, the reality is that airlines don’t know you and very often travel agents don’t know you either. In five years, technology will allow travel agents and airlines to pick up on a customer’s desire to travel by saying: we know who you are and what you want, this is what we can offer.


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