Few movies have stood the test of time as well as Top Gun, and while Ive let go of my childhood dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, Im now focused on technological advancements in air travel of a very different kind.     

The release of the sequel in 2022 got me thinking about some of the most memorable quotes from the original movie and it dawned on me that many of the themes are as relevant to the future of travel retailing as they are to flying fighter jets. 

Read on as I take a 4G inverted dive into some of the technological keys to success as the airline industry transitions towards a retail-powered future

I feel the need. The need for speed. 

Speed. For an elite fighter pilot, it can mean the difference between mission success and failure, or even life and death. For airlines looking to optimize offer conversion in a competitive retail environment, fractions of a second define the difference between conversions and abandoned searches. At Sabre, weve got you covered. Weve partnered with Google, whose global network has the highest throughput (fastest processing rate) available from any cloud vendor*. Just as the Navy Aviators in Top Gun need to deliver optimal performance under pressure, the same is true when it comes to network speed during peak volume periods. 

* 2021 Cockroach Labs Cloud Report 

Negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.

Scalability. Full is not a concept our airline partners need to worry about when it comes to data storage. Googles BigQuery database enables virtually unlimited volumes of data to be stored, analyzed and interrogated, allowing airlines to build a comprehensive and accurate picture of travelers and present them with the most relevant personalized and contextualized content, adding value for travelers and optimizing revenue opportunity for airlines. 

You can be my wingman anytime. 

Partnership. As a fighter pilot, you put your life in the hands of your fellow servicemen and women every time you take to the skies. From mechanics who maintain the aircraft to your partner in the cockpit, you need to trust theyve got your back. Likewise, all elements of the travel ecosystem will need to work together and forge new partnerships in a future world of retailers and suppliers. The very concept of retailing third-party content is predicated on the notion of partnership, and its a key enabler of industry transformation. 

Talk to me, Goose.

Communication. Clear and concise exchange of information is vital to any successful airborne operation. After all, the stakes dont get much higher. As the industry seeks to transform and become traveler-centric, the role of clear and timely communication in delivering an exceptional traveler experience will rise to the fore. 

Its what the very best retailers excel at. Whether it relates to proactively keeping customers updated about their trip, or ensuring clear lines of communication between retailer/supplier partners to facilitate seamless fulfilment, good communication can drive traveler satisfaction and loyalty, leading to further revenue opportunities.

Son, your ego is writing checks your body cant cash. 

Pushing the boundaries. In the movie, Maverick walked a fine line between following orders (conventional wisdom) and testing the limits of what his aircraft was capable of. In the airline IT sector, weve reached a point where recent advances in technology can enable airlines to access new levels of performance that were previously unavailable.

can drive sophisticated experimentation models that unlock potential and help airlines answer questions like what does this customer want and what value do they place on it. Optimized offers using these rich, data-led insights unlocks value for travelers and creates new revenue opportunities for airlines. 

You’re dangerous Maverick.”…

…”That’s right, Iceman. I am dangerous.”

Mindset. Being able to access a high-performance mindset is vital when flying a dangerous mission and a mindset shift is needed within the airline industry to embrace the change that is coming. It is a core component of successful transformation for individuals, airlines and across the industry. New technology and the progress it facilitates will demand different ways of working, and a goal-orientated frame of mind will set the industry up for success on the path to a retail-driven future. 

This is what I call a target rich environment.    

Opportunity. Theres little doubt that the opportunity presented by moving to an offer- and order-based retailing model is vast. In a , McKinsey put the figure at $40bn (or $7 per passenger) in additional revenue by the year 2030. Technology can open new avenues of value creation; from a wider choice of products and services including third-party content, to more targeted personalization, improved merchandising and enhanced fulfillment and delivery. The potential is vast and those airlines that are able to identify and embrace opportunity will surely reap the rewards. 

Many airline industry systems and processes pre-date the release of Top Gun some 35+ years ago, a time before technology and the internet played such an integral role in our day-to-day lives. Change is long overdue, and just as autonomous fighter jets represent the future of aerial combat, its clear the airline industry must advance towards our shared, technology-enabled retailing vision. 

Ill wrap things up with just a single quote from the sequel. Its a quote that encapsulates how I feel about the tipping point weve arrived at in the airline industry, and the need for airlines to prepare for what lies ahead in the coming months and years.  

The end is inevitable Maverick. Your kind is headed for extinction.    

Maybe so, sir. But not today.    

Preparedness. Change doesnt happen overnight, and it will take time to transform the airline industry into the retailing powerhouse its capable of becoming. In the meantime, traditional technology continues to play an important role. A phased transition will be required and the blueprint will depend largely on the specific starting point, objectives and end goal of each individual airline. Those airlines that are able to adapt and transform fastest stand to gain the most, and the planning and preparation for such change can, and should, begin now. 

About the Author 

Andrew Thorpe is part of the Sabre team exploring what the future of travel will look like and how airlines can succeed with offer- and order-enabled retailing.

At Sabre, were mapping out potential transition paths for our airline partners, ensuring well be ready to support customers to transition at a pace that matches their ambitions. The future is open, and were excited for what lies ahead.

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