“Three kids in a garage are inventing something that will disrupt us all” - DataArt’s Charlotte Lamp Davies moderates industry-leading panel discussion that shows the travel trade ready to face the future


  • Security, ease of use, speed and data are driving technology spending in travel and hospitality.
  • Providing the same, great experience on all devices core for development in 2017.
  • Blockchain’s potential is clear – but whether it can work for the travel industry is still in question.

Charlotte Lamp Davies, Vice President of Travel & Hospitality, Europe, DataArt moderated the 2017 CTO Question Time at the UK’s foremost travel technology event, Travel Technology Europe (TTE). The annual panel discussion, held in the Innovate conference area saw delegates standing around the edges after all seats were filed, to hear some of the leading lights of travel technology outline their views, concerns and hopes for the industry.

The panel was composed of industry thought-leaders, Paul Saggar, CIO, Capita Travel and Events; Renee Tsielepi, Head of IT at Miki Travel; Antoine Boatwright, CTO of Hillgate Travel; Gunjan Verma, CTO of The Travel Corporation and Dan Harrison, Co-Founder and CTO of Snaptrip.com.

Under discussion were topics that are and will be crucial to the travel industry in the months and years ahead, including: legacy issues, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, cross-platform strategy and new technologies like blockchain.

Charlotte Lamp Davies said:

“I was delighted to once again chair this important discussion panel.  The discussion was extremely strong and presented an insight into the impressive stance travel technology leaders are taking – mature, realistic and innovation focussed, but only when it is innovation to help the customer, not innovation for the sake of it.”

Overview of topics and conclusions

  • 2017 will see a focus on security, ease of use, speed, and better performance using the data at our fingertips
  • Legacy technology: Integration and major migration are both delicate journeys that take time.
  • AI, VR & augmented reality: Conversion is key – it is important that the industry doesn’t introduce these without a use case. Don’t “try to find a problem to fit a solution just because it exists”. When it comes to troubleshooting – human attention is key.
  • Mobile strategy – Agility, parity and functionality are key. It is important to be able to provide a great experience on all devices and specific functionality updates will depend on trip stages in regards to travel.
  • Blockchain – there is no evidence of functionality yet. Potential is there, but what is the functionality?
  • Global affairs – All agreed it is vital at the moment to keep things simple and agile. Less build, more buy and customise or experiment and be brave enough to abandon.

Event highlights below:

IMG_3859 DataArt.jpg

What are your key tech focuses for 2017 and why?

Antoine Boatwright – Security, scalability and cloud solutions are the key focuses for 2017. Hillgate’s exceptional growth has meant the firm is now moving to its own cloud. In addition Hillgate will be aiming for “products for and by customers”. 

Dan Harrison - Scaling, automation, online payments and staying agile are core for Snaptrip.co.uk in 2017.

Paul Saggar – Data science, behaviour analysis, personalisation and big data are key to Capita Travel and Events this year. Smarter working personalisation is the aim.

Gunjan Verma - TCC is concentrating on simplicity and ease and being service-focused. The company is aiming to develop a hub of technology expertise for all the brands in the group. Personalisation is less important to the company than customer engagement.

Renee Tsielepi – Miki Travel is completing its migration to a new platform while successfully operating its existing legacy platform. The migration completion, which will bring improved performance speeds and cost reductions, is the focus right now. 

Legacy systems

Renee Tsielepi - In an ideal world migration is a smooth process but technology moves quickly and it is important to keep customers happy and informed throughout the on-going process. We need to build leaner tech to keep up with the speed of change.

Gunjan Verma - Integration is a journey. Technology should be easy to use and simplicity is key. There’s no roadmap. There is a need to run at speed while not losing applications.

Artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) 

Antoine Boatwright - AI is about creating new experiences rather than driving product. Find out what you want it to do rather than what it can do.

Paul Saggar - When it comes to conference and event planning VR & AR have serious potential. The industry spends a large amount of time and money to find venues and suitable locations – VR & AR could play a part in addressing this. AR can create an experience for customer as if they are inside venues, and the venue can be overlaid with branding. This could cut costs while speeding up decision processes.

Renee Tsielepi – AI and robotics are already coming to the hotel trade. Robot staffs are already active in a hotel in Nagasaki, with dinosaurs greeting guests.

Mobile strategy

Antoine Boatwright – Mobile is the customer-preferred format. Travel bookings are high on tablets. Focus is on agility and the ability to quickly adapt. Larger channel services – focus on parity, high level unchanging experience across the board. Responsive adaptive offering. Trouble shooting for travel remains focused around human attention.

Gunjan Verma - Your own trip experience is optimised while you travel otherwise the focus for all channels is parity and functionality.

Dan Harrison - Mobile first and rewrite around mobile. Different parts of journey different levels of traffic. Must provide a good experience on all devices while thinking about trip stage. You pay on a laptop rather than a mobile first.

Paul Saggаr – Capita offers a multi channel service and is focusing on parity between all our offer – we want the same customer experience whether you access it by mobile, website or tablet.


Paul Saggar - we are trying to find a problem to a solution. Blockchain works clearly in finance, but as regards to hotel distribution, there is no evidence yet that the problem so many are trying to fix can be done with blockchain. This technology is a long way off from solving problems in travel.

Renee Tsielepi - Start-ups around transport are using Blockchain like a P2P – the challenge is finding the community to use it – but Blockchain has definite potential. 

Gunjan Verma - TCC is dabbling in blockchain technology and will decide whether to continue to implement it at some point in the future. It is a technology to watch for future tech agendas. 

Industry trends 

Gunjan Verma - The market remains competitive. People still want to travel. TCC’s focus is to simplify and be a delight. It was important not to lose sight of complexity reduction and thinking of the customer first. 

Antoine Boatwright - Structure must remain lean, simple and scalable in both directions. A constant state of readiness is the key here. Events happen, firms should be able to respond effectively and accordingly

Dan Harrison - A weakened pound is helping the UK staycation market. They may not be flying, but money is still being spent.

Renee Tsielepi - It was time to build less and experiment more. What we’re delivering adds value. Be brave.

Dan Harrison - We have a runway of funding so we can act with abandon. But as a company we can never stop focusing on keeping the business communicating with our customers from beginning to end.

Paul Saggаr – While not new, the focus is now on less build, more buy. We know what we’re good at and can find someone who can build better and then add our layers to make it specific to us. Three years ago we would have created a proprietary system, today open source, with customisation is more effective.

What keeps you awake at night? 

Antoine Boatwright – In a good way, the universe of possibilities. Innovation has come to travel; we now need to make sure everything works.

Renee Tsielepi – The pace of change keeps me up at night. It is a daily challenge to integrate changes.

Paul Saggаr – While we’ve been sitting here 3 kids in a garage are inventing something that will disrupt us all. Our choice is to work with it or against.

Dan Harrison - How quick people can be to innovate. Barriers to entry are low. The question for the industry is: are we trusting and focusing on the right things?

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