A Conversation about Why Travel Partnerships Matter During Recovery, with Brian Wishlinski, Season 3, Episode 2


As the airline industry looks forward to recovery, how do partnerships and alliances factor in? Brian Wishlinski, director of Partners and Alliances at PROS gives us the details about the travel ecosystem and how collaborations with third parties will make the industry more sustainable in the future.

Full Transcript

Aditi Mehta: Hello, and welcome to the third season of the PROS Travel podcast, The View from 30,000 Feet. I highly recommend you check out the first two seasons if you haven't already. This podcast is about digital transformation within the airline industry. This season, we're focused on the recovery of the industry from the pandemic and sharing how key strategies around digital transformation are still as important today. Now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight....

Aditi Mehta: Things have turned upside down in the airline and travel industry, but a lot of good has also come of it. Now more than ever airlines, their IT providers, and industry associates are trying to work together to quickly right the ship. And though there will be mistakes along the way, all of it will help make the industry more sustainable in the future.

Aditi Mehta: One part of that equation is partnerships and alliances that need to be formed across airlines and IT providers. To chat about this we have Brian Wishlinski, director of partners and alliances here at PROS. He works very closely with our partners across the travel ecosystem. So we wanted to get some insights into what his job is like during this time. Welcome, Brian.

Brian Wishlinski: Thank you, Aditi.

Aditi Mehta: Well, Brian, can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to the airline industry?

Brian Wishlinski: Sure, so this is my 22nd year in the airline industry space. I spent the first six years working for airlines. So I spent two years in revenue management at American Airlines, and then three years at Delta working with the consultancy in between, came to PROS in June of 2004. Quite honestly, I thought it was going to be a three-year stent and it's been 16 years now and I hope to finish my career off here when I get really old.

Brian Wishlinski: This is my second career. My undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering and I spent five years in the chemical industry, first working in a plastics plant south of Chicago, and then selling water treatment chemicals to heavy industry applications.

Aditi Mehta: So you found the airline industry and stuck with it for a very long time.

Brian Wishlinski: Yes, I've been a true airline geek since I was a teenager. I guess my first experience or my first sign of being an airline geek is in 80s. I used to collect airline timetables. So I used to send off and request them or call the airline toll-free number and I had a bunch of airline timetables in my bedroom. So that's how I came to love the industry and it, it wasn't my first career, but it's my second career.

Aditi Mehta: That's great to hear. I feel like I hear that story, a very similar story, a lot of people who are in the airline industry. It's just like, once you get hooked into it, you just can't leave. But currently, so you lead the partnerships and alliances for PROS Travel. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that entails?

Brian Wishlinski: PROZ has a history of working with partners in the travel space. A lot of that came through our acquisition of buy-ins in August 2017, where they had a very well established partner community working with providers of internet booking engines, mobile applications, and so on, to provide pricing and shopping. And since then we've grown the network of partners to include a lot of different parts of our industry, where pricing and shopping, revenue management, availability control, is important to a partner's overall product that they're providing to the industry space. One area that we've expanded into is providing pricing and shopping capabilities to PSS providers as that software market continues to go through some evolution.

Aditi Mehta: That's really interesting, historically, at least my opinion is that many travel companies tend to go it on their own. You see a lot of competition, not a lot of collaboration. Do you agree, and why do you think that is?

Brian Wishlinski: There are competitors out there that try to be a one-stop-shop for airlines and providing all the capabilities that they need from a software provider. But I think that one-stop-shop does not allow the airline to access best-of-breed technologies or best-in-class solutions. And I think that's where PROS has looked to its partner network, to be able to pull together a group of companies that provide best-of-breed solutions and provide that to the airlines. PROS is recognized as a leader in many different areas of the commercial side of the business and being able to partner with others that provide solutions that we don't necessarily provide, nor will we provide in the future. Allows us to offer that best-of-breed set of solutions to our airline customers.

Aditi Mehta: So do you think there will be a new focus on partnerships due to this pandemic and its impact on the industry? I mean, there has to be some degree of collaboration now between the IT players so that recovery is a possibility and we can accelerate recovery.

Brian Wishlinski: Yeah, I think that a COVID's causing a paradigm shift, not only in the airline industry, but in the providers of different solutions, whether it be software, or maintenance, or anything that the airline leverages. I think that there's going to be an extreme emphasis on cost, and cost reduction, as we come out of this crisis and being able to minimize the cost of what airlines spend. I think that's going to put pressure on some of the more traditional legacy systems.

Brian Wishlinski: I think also that's going to lead airlines that have in-house capabilities to look at how they can leverage what's in the marketplace for best-of-breed. From a vendor side or a provider side, I think that there's also that emphasis on keeping costs low, keeping cash burn low, and that's probably going to stymie some of the new investment. PROS is making investment in a number of areas, but it's always a limited resource.

Brian Wishlinski: And that's where partnerships come in, is that if there are partners that are willing to come together and provide a combined solution that allows mixing and matching of different, best-of-breed solutions, partnerships are going to certainly take on more of an importance. The other thing I believe that's going to happen in this industry, and I've seen this before, after significant events and downturns, is that I think there's going to be a lot of innovation. And there's certainly a lot of brainpower out there that has either been released from the airline or released from vendors and I think you're going to see a lot of startups. That also provides the capability for partnerships with these startups that have great ideas and they're looking for a partner to help them get into the sales space.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, that's a really good point. I mean, traditionally, when there are crises you see a lot more startup activity, you see a lot more investment or people who may have been displaced using their brainpower to create something good. So that'll definitely be something exciting to look forward to. In changing trajectories a little bit let's talk about when it does come to business partnerships and alliances, what do you think makes a good partnership? Are there pros and cons of partnerships?

Brian Wishlinski: Yeah, I think that from a broad standpoint is that there has to be synergies in how the products come together, both from a commercial standpoint, also from a technical standpoint. One of the first things that I look at in approaching new partnerships, or expanding existing partnerships, is looking at how the pieces of the puzzle fit together from a technical standpoint. Can we put the pieces together with minimal investment in new technologies or new connections between the different components?

Brian Wishlinski: The second is that from a commercial standpoint, how do you go to market? How do you price the combined product? What are the commercial terms? What is the commercial relationship, or the partnership relationship, and how can you bridge the differences between different organizations? We all have different metrics that we need to report to, to our investors, and making sure that we can find common ground in the partnership so that we're satisfying those reporting requirements as well as growing the revenue and growing the industry.

Brian Wishlinski: The final is more of a cultural standpoint. How do the organizations fit together? How do they work together? How do you resolve differences? How do you escalate problems or issues and how are they resolved at different layers of the organization? I think that's important as the teams start to work more closely together, whether it be on the sales side, or the technical side, or the marketing side, is really how do the teams function together and how is that perceived or portrayed to the end customer. So those are the three things that I typically look at from a technical standpoint, from a commercial standpoint, and then from a collaboration, or cultural standpoint.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, there's really good points there, are there any current partnerships maybe in the travel industry or otherwise that you find hit all three of those, that are really smart, any surprises out there?

Brian Wishlinski: I've been in this role two years and I think there have been some surprises and I think that in addition to a renewed emphasis on the PROS side is some of the changes that we've made from a product standpoint and some of the acquisitions that we've made. If I look at our current partners I think that there are a number of those partnerships that embody the characteristics I talked about.

Brian Wishlinski: The first is probably with Microsoft. So most of our travel solutions are hosted on Microsoft Azure and really collaborating from the beginning on how do we go to market as a software service provider and leveraging the experiences that Microsoft had in this space. And then as we've made the transition to be a SaaS company ourselves is really looking at other opportunities that we have with Microsoft, especially as PROS moves into the retail space. So what things can we leverage from Microsoft to make our entry into the retail space a lot better and a lot stronger.

Brian Wishlinski: The second partnership is with Hitit. So Hitit as a PSS provider out of Istanbul. They're quite active these days with the exit of [CDAR 00:11:45] from the PSS business. And, from a collaboration standpoint, I think that the partnership really embodies those three capabilities that I talked about. So from a technical standpoint, things fit very well together and from a pricing and shopping standpoint, and also looking at how we can expand the partnerships. From a commercial standpoint as well, I think the models are fairly comparable, and then from a cultural standpoint, I think it's a very good fit between the two organizations. We work very well together and being able to really address the market and provide that combined solution that's going to win in the marketplace over the next 12 to 18 months.

Aditi Mehta: Great, so are there any other partnerships that PROS has, you've mentioned a couple that you would want to highlight here?

Brian Wishlinski: Yeah, so I think that as our retail solution takes hold and we continue to develop our retail solution is that there are opportunities for us to partner. Particularly in the NDC distribution space and being able to leverage partnerships, or potential partnerships, with those that have a stronger footing in the marketplace right now. And being able to use those to expand the presence, especially as we move into the NDC space.

Aditi Mehta: Can we dive a little bit more into what we're doing with ATPCO and the new solution, it's called Price Elements. We recently launched this, how would it benefit airlines in the long run?

Brian Wishlinski: That's a great point Aditi. So Price Elements is a replacement for [FROP 00:13:27], which has been in the marketplace for at least two decades. So essentially what FROP or Price Elements does is it provides a snapshot of future-looking fares at an O and D level and revenue management systems, including PROS Revenue Management Solutions, use this as part of their valuation process for forecasting and optimization as well as availability control. One of the synergies that we found with our acquisition of Viant was that PROS could provide this dataset based on the information or the solutions that we already have in place. So we started working with ATP a couple of years ago to assess how we could streamline the process, as well as provide those files to our SaaS environments in a seamless way.

Brian Wishlinski: ATPCO currently has over 25 customers on Price Elements and now we provide the base data for Price Elements. What this provides for us as is a new entry point into some airlines where we haven't had much presence before, providing a better solution for ATPCO and then really looking at what is the next generation or the next version of this product to enhance what information is being provided, not only revenue management as well as to other revenue departments within the airline, like revenue integrity and revenue accounting.

Brian Wishlinski: This is another one of those partnerships that I think fits those areas that I talked about before. From a technical standpoint, the amount of work that we had to do on the PROS side wasn't a significant compared to some of the other development activities that we've got going on. I think from a commercial model standpoint we were very consistent. And then from a cultural standpoint as well the organizations fit very well together. The collaboration that has existed between our two teams has been very strong and you can see that just in the amount of communication that goes back and forth during the implementation. We've successfully implemented this product as of June 1st and moving forward, all new FROP or Price Elements subscribers will be on a PROS solution.

Aditi Mehta: That's really interesting. It seems like a lot of really good partnerships are in the works. I know 2020 hasn't gone exactly as planned for any of us, especially in the travel industry. What are you most looking forward to seeing in the next couple of months for our customers, the partners we work with, and the industry as a whole?

Brian Wishlinski: Well, first that I live in Chicago, the neighborhood I live in is on an approach path to two of the runways at O'Hare. And I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more airplanes taking off and landing. I'm hoping that that comes here in the next couple of months because every time a plane takes off or lands PROS has had some impact on the customers' view from a pricing revenue management or retail standpoint.

Brian Wishlinski: I'm looking forward to being able to travel again myself, both from a business standpoint and a leisure standpoint. For our customer, this has been very difficult. For many customers, it's about survival and being able to maintain cash flow and just making sure that the lights are on. And as we head into recovery, is making sure that we provide the best-of-breed solutions so that they can take advantage of those opportunities that are out there.

Brian Wishlinski: From a partner standpoint, I think that this also provides opportunities to help airlines reduce costs and provide best-of-breed solutions. And certainly, working with our partners on go-to-market strategies so that we can capture those opportunities. And then from an industry as a whole, is really proving the pundits wrong and saying that it's going to take several years for us to get back to pre-COVID, 2019 levels. And hopefully, get back to that quicker than what everyone is saying.

Aditi Mehta: Yeah, let's hope. We always end each episode with a question and I think all of us are just aching for the days of when we could get on a plane again and travel. So can you talk to us a little bit about your most memorable travel experience?

Brian Wishlinski: So in preparing for this Aditi, this is one that I could probably go on hours and hours and hours on. I've been to over 120 countries and I think each experience ... there's something about each experience that sets in my mind. I think international travel, you have to be flexible, you have to be patient, especially when it comes to dealing with security and visas and immigration. On more than one occasion, I've had to think quickly about how to get out of some situations where either I didn't have a visa to get in, or I was arriving before my visa actually took effect. So, working with immigration officers to actually get into the country.

Brian Wishlinski: From the most memorable standpoint is that my parents, 10 years ago or so, started taking the whole family on collective vacations. We were doing this every couple of years. And the last one we did was two years ago and we spent two weeks in Italy. So we spent a week in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast and then we spent a week in Rome and that was just a great experience to be able to be with my three nieces and nephew and my parents and my two sisters and their husbands and really using that time to disconnect from the work world and really enjoy being together. And we talk about those experiences every time we get together. We laugh about certain things, we fret about other things, but all in all, that was probably the best experience that I've had in the past couple of years.

Aditi Mehta: Wow. That sounds amazing I would love to go to Italy right now. And I think your story goes to show like you said, it creates such a huge memory that your family shares and it's something that you remember, that it's the reason why I know travel is just not going to go away anytime soon.

Brian Wishlinski: Yeah, exactly. I think that as part of our collective human culture, travel is such an important part of that. And being able to either visit friends and relatives, conducting a business deal or just experiencing something new, travel is such an important part of that. You think about how the world has changed in the past a hundred years where traveling to a new country took two months and now it takes hours. And I think that that gives me hope that our recovery will happen sooner rather than later.

Aditi Mehta: Yes, definitely. So, Brian, thank you so much for joining us today. Really great discussion about partnerships and alliances. And I would just remind anyone listening that if you have questions about how you could partner with PROS or you want to learn more about our partnerships and alliances, please let reach out to Brian Wishlinski, I'm sure he'd be happy to chat with you.

Brian Wishlinski: Always happy to talk to current and prospective new partners.

Aditi Mehta: Thanks for listening to the PROS Travel podcast, The View from 30,000 Feet. Special thanks to our guest and our producer, Genevieve Todd. We hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have feedback, a burning idea, or know of an industry expert we should feature, shoot us an email at amehta@PROS.com. That's A-M-E-H-T-A@PROS.com. You are now free to move about the cabin.

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