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Interview: Michele Ruberl, Alpitour World

Alpitour Group

TravelgateX has demostrated to act not only as of the technical “pipe” for travel product to flow in but also as an advisor on how to most effectively reach the product we need either by connecting directly or via intermediates”.  We’ve had the great opportunity to interview Michele Ruberl, Head of Enterprise Architecture & Integration at Alpitour World about the Group’s strategy post-Corona, the situation in Italy, and of course, the scope of its collaboration with TravelgateX. Read on and enjoy it!

Can you tell us a bit about Alpitour World?

Alpitour World is the biggest Italian tourism player. As a vertically integrated group grossing 2 billion EUR in 2019, it consists of Tour Operators, the second largest Italian airline, a hotel chain, Italian and European bedbanks and incoming companies, and two travel agencies networks.

While being a well-established reality with a number of household brands, the group has invested in a 3-year digital transformation plan to renew its technical assets and leverage a new technology footprint to reshape the tourism market of the next decades.

Has the crisis motivated Alpitour to make internal or external changes?
There are a number of indicators forecasting a change of the travel trends in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic towards domestic destinations, both because of the various bans and difficulty to reach destinations by air, and because of the inclination to help domestic businesses: this shall help relaunch Italian economy given the preponderance of the tourism sector in our country. In this scenario, Alpitour World which has historically focused on sending Italians on holiday abroad or welcoming foreigners to Italy is now preparing to sell Italy to Italians. While this involves a reshuffle of projects and priorities for all group’s IT departments, it is actually one more driver to accelerate along the path of the digital transformation, with the aim to become a tourism platform on which to graft business models with a rapid time to market.

What is your growth strategy post COVID-19 and how is TravelgateX going to help you?
As I was mentioning, the number 1 priority will be Italy initially, but we are all on the outlook to spot the new trends and “new normal” behaviour when the wish for travel will necessarily ignite a bounce. As a tour operator, it is paramount to be able to access a multitude of hotel suppliers to be able to quickly adapt to those new trends, and supplement our own inventory with, for example, third party hotels to pair with our charter flights. TravelgateX is and will be instrumental in integrating new suppliers by quickly activating multiple connections and enabling our business to “try out” inventory without cumbersome integration work. The other aspect of it is, TravelgateX has demonstrated to act not only as of the technical “pipe” for travel product to flow in but also as an advisor on how to most effectively reach the product we need either by connecting directly or via intermediates.

How did you come to work with TravelgateX?
We have been working with TravelgateX for some years now as a group, in both supplier and buyer roles with our bedbank JumboTours, and as a supplier with our tour operator Eden Viaggi. Moreover, I was personally involved in scouting TravelgateX in my previous post as the CTO of a hotel chain in Mexico.

With regards to partners in our platform, what destinations are interesting for Alpitour as a Buyer?
Alpitour’s job is to discover the best product, a very rich and diversified portfolio, so we necessarily need to supplement generalist bed banks with connectivity to niche inventory in very specific destinations. TravelgateX is an effective platform to help us get such inventory, either by exploiting one of the hundreds of existing connectors or by working together to quickly connect to new, niche suppliers. I can cite South Africa and Tahiti as destinations with a very complex product that we are able to reach through TravelgateX, but these are mere examples.

In your personal point of view, what would you say has been the biggest lesson learned from this crisis?
On the professional side: we have all been living a sustained bull market for tourism in the last several years, and a downturn was forecasted, but not at the speed and in the scale of the black swan constituted by COVID-19. So the lesson is, prepare for sudden change and have all your technical bases covered, to be able to support business in pivoting as necessary. From a technical/architectural perspective, this translates to a lean, cloud-based architecture ready to downscale and scale up again, technology as a service when possible, and preferring best-of-breed partners with in-depth travel knowledge to horizontal providers. And on the personal side: cultivate your cooking skills, they will become crucial for your wellbeing and good mood in a lockdown!

What kind of comeback strategies is the Italian Government planning?The Italian Government has put in place measures to sustain the economy and, more specifically to our industry, the travel companies cashflow, and it’s actively working to reposition Italy as a destination when the country reopens to tourists. Alpitour World has launched a Manifesto for Italian Tourism under the hashtag #ripartiamodallitalia (let’s restart from Italy) leading a number of players in the travel & tourism industry and personalities to lobby the Government for the implementation of further measures to help our sector, which represents directly the 13% of Italian GDP and indirectly much more so that we can become the propellers for the growth post COVID-19.

How can I start working with TGX?