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INTERVIEW


Gehan Colliander is global head of travel for the Boston Consulting Group, and the newly appointed president of GBTA Europe. She talks with Paul Revel


EGYPTIAN-BORN GEHAN COLLIANDER MADE HER PRESIDENTIAL DEBUT IN NOVEMBER at GBTA Europe’s conference in Frank- furt (see p21), where she led some dynamic debates around distribution and data. These were hot topics at the conference, which saw Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr addressing a packed house as he defended the airline’s con- troversial global distribution system (GDS) fee. Meanwhile, Gehan quizzed a panel of experts on the impact of New Distribution Capability (NDC), asking them if it is “re-inventing the wheel”. In another on-stage debate she said, as a buyer, she was “allergic” to vendors accessing her travellers’ data “with inten- tions that are not in alignment with my organisation’s strategy”. I’m keen to follow up on these issues when I call Gehan in Stockholm, where she lives. “Travel buyers should ensure that they


are controlling the end-to-end process of their data flow,” she says. “And particularly, they should control the information that’s provided by their TMCs [travel manage- ment companies] to various vendors or third parties – many travel buyers are not doing that today.” Some buyers, she says, have gone “above


and beyond in controlling their data flow by restricting vendors to the ones that adhere to their own processes”. But many buyers are unaware of what data is flowing from TMC to vendor. “We need to create that awareness,” she says. “You have to audit all reporting activities in your organisation.”


Before Gehan’s career as a travel buyer – she joined Boston Consulting Group in 2008 – she worked for almost a decade in airline pricing and revenue management, for KLM and subsequently Air France-KLM. I ask her how this experience helps her current roles, both as buyer and GBTA Europe president.


“Being able to see the point of view of the other party is always important,” she says. “Alongside network planning, pricing and revenue management are the core activities for airlines – indeed, for any industry. But with airlines it’s more sophisticated, because of dynamic revenue optimisations – they are able to impact demand by swiftly altering supply through capacity changes. That’s something you don’t see in other industries. “I think understanding suppliers’ busi- ness models, their objectives and challenges, gives room for more constructive dialogue – and, ultimately, it’s about value creation for all parties.”


TRANSPARENCY ISSUES But she says the challenge and concern for buyers is not the complexity of pricing, it’s the transparency. “The capabilities of the airline to display different inventories, in different ways and in different channels – that creates the problem. Ultimately, what’s important is that buyer should be able to tell stakeholders: ‘I’m providing to you all available prices, with no difference whether you go to an airline’s website or connect with a travel agent or online booking tool’ – that’s the challenge.”


What concerns me is airlines trying to replicate the relationship they have with leisure travellers, with corporates


38 JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016


HEATED DEBATE Talk of transparency invariably leads to New Distribution Capability (NDC) – IATA’s much discussed extensible markup language (XML) data standard that con- tinues to trigger heated debate in the business travel community. For Gehan, again, a key issue is transpar-


ency: “Will the traditional airlines change the way they return fares? At the moment we have a certain basic level of transpar- ency. But if you’re in a situation where – like with some carriers who already have API [application programming interface] con- nections – the fare you get could be based on factors such as cookies, so they recognise you and return a fare that optimises the most revenue... then you lose total capability and transparency of the fare structure. “What concerns me is that airlines are


trying to replicate the relationship they have with the leisure traveller, in the corporate environment. And I’m very concerned about price customisation offers through specific booking channels that suit individual travel- ler needs, but not the corporate. “People working in the GDSs themselves will tell you there’s need for change. And I do believe the travel industry has reached the next milestone in evolution. But we need to have a balanced, transparent model that creates value for all parties.” Gehan, who is fluent in four languages


– Arabic, French, Swedish and English – is used to multitasking. She completed her MBA from Heriot-Watt Univer- sity’s Edinburgh Business School in 2006 while working for Air-France KLM and serving as the airline’s secretary general on its European Council. Now, on top of her ‘day job’ as global head of travel, she will serve as GBTA Europe for two years. What does she hope to achieve in this time? “I’ve accepted the role because I believe the GBTA is truly focused on travel buyers. And together with my advisory board col- leagues, I want to make GBTA the partner of choice for travel buyers – the place they go to for insights into industry trends and the latest innovations, for education, and to prepare for the future of the industry.”


Gehan Colliander joined the Boston Consulting Group as Europe regional manager in 2008. Promotions followed, and in 2013 she was appointed global head of travel. From 1999 to 2008 she held various senior roles in pricing and revenue management with Air France and KLM. She gained a BSc in business with a travel management focus from Helwan University in Cairo, and has an MBA from Heriot-Watt University.


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