Asia’s Smart Cities market is burgeoning and Amadeus Asia-Pacific is firing on all cylinders to be the leader in the travel & tourism segment that holds the promise of millions of dollars worth of contracts.
Amadeus identifies at least three Smart Cities projects in Singapore, Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor and Hong Kong that it wants ‘in’ and believes two cities in Australia will also soon offer opportunities. In Singapore, it is already in talks with the Economic Development Board, Singapore Tourism Board and Changi International Airport, according to Simon Akeroyd, Amadeus Asia-Pacific’s vice president, corporate strategy and business development.
Smart Cities, simplistically, refers to the effective use of information and communication technologies to save people’s time and improve their quality of life. In Asia-Pacific, more advances have been made in sectors such as fintech and security surveillance than travel & tourism, Akeroyd said.
“There are three Smart Cities or zones projects I see in Asia that are being RFP-ed (request for proposals) today or will be in the next six months. If they put up an RFP, we will respond with our portfolio (of IT solutions). Getting one of those for me will be a coup,” he said.
The expected scope of the projects is, however, nebulous at present. For example, a major focus of Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor is “to improve existing connectivity and foster innovation” in the three eastern Thai provinces Chonburi, Rayong and Chachoengsao which span over 13,000km2. Core areas of development in the travel & tourism sector are the expansion of U-Tapao airport, the development of high-speed railways and facilitating an increase in arrivals to the Eastern seaboard.
Akeroyd acknowledged: “The scope is very broad and not very defined. It’s a problem but also an opportunity. What the government means is, ‘help us, tell us what we need to do’.”
Amadeus in turn has defined four large actions it wants to offer:
- Attract: Help attract more arrivals through travel intelligence, digital advertising and Amadeus Video Solutions
- Facilitate: Help facilitate smart travel with the various solutions it has. One such example is iCUSS, movable check-in kiosks that can be rapidly deployed and relocated for use by the traveller or the airport staff to provide full-service operations, giving greater freedom and flexibility to passengers throughout their journey to and around the airport. It has worked with Hong Kong International Airport on this.
- Connect: Help connect travellers to smart commuting through solutions such as Amadeus Ambient Service that enables ambient interactions that deliver the right service at each step of a traveller’s journey.
- Serve: Support cities to serve first-hand tourist information to their visitors via solutions such as Mobile Amadeus CheckMyTrip and Amadeus Destination Content.
Amadeus is not the only one in Asia that wants a piece of the pie. Think Accenture which has introduced ‘The Connected Traveller’, or SITA, a leader in providing IT seamless travel solutions to airports and airlines. But Akeroyd sees opportunity, not competition, to connect the fragmentation in the sector. He aims to position Amadeus as the technology company that helps pull together the private and public sectors to advance the development of seamless door-to-door travel experiences.
“It’s a similar approach to Amadeus Next (the startups platform he launched in Asia-Pacific), which is to create a kind of a central meeting point for all the interested parties. We would invite them – startups, airport authorities, DMOs, NTOs, etc – to gather around this initiative of Smart Cities. We try to attract them to a community that’s not Amadeus-only business. With Amadeus Next, for example, we bring people together and, if we have the money, we’d jump in for sure. The idea is to promote the idea of mobility initiatives, smart travel & tourism, not just us being commercial,” he said.
Added Akeroyd: “The ambitions and requirements of smart cities are so varied that it is unlikely that any one player will be able to do everything. So, we will all most likely have to collaborate. Therefore I suspect that the key to becoming the ‘Smart City leader’ is to be the best collaborator.”
But why is Amadeus Asia-Pacific jumping up and down about this now?
Two reasons. The region is the epicentre of urbanisation, with 22 of 39 megacities (by population size) worldwide being in Asia-Pacific, 11 in China alone, according to CityMayors Statistics cited by Amadeus. Additionally, travel & tourism is surging in Asia. A recent WTTC study shows the world’s top 10 fastest growing tourism cities are all in Asia.
Not only that, governments in Asia have made “an amazing step forward” in digitising cities and have been more open about sharing information, Akeroyd said. On the other hand, the private sector is investing in enabling true mobility across the entire travel journey.
“When I talk about, say, bike share in Europe, Europe does not get it. I tell them it is not just about bike share in Asia. For these startups, it’s a new way of creating critical mass – they’ve got hundreds of millions of users using their apps in a habitual way and will start moving from bikes to selling bus and train tickets, shorthaul low-cost air tickets – I suspect it is something that will surprise Europe,” he said.
Asia is the ideal testbed for Smart Cities initiatives compared to Europe, Akeroyd added. “Asia is less legacy system bound. It is also more excited than burdened by the idea of innovation. Sometimes in Europe, innovation is treated as a problem. Asia sees it as a positive step to grow; Europe sees it as ‘how do we accommodate the innovation’.”
The second reason is Amadeus has, over the last five years, been building its back end, which makes it equipped now to pursue Smart Cities initiatives, said Akeroyd.
“Originally we’re known for making search technology and booking. But we’ve been buying the IT back end of many parts of the travel journey, programmes that run hotels, rail, airports, airlines, etc, that it enables us to connect the journey, increase the amount of touch points for travellers moving down the line,” he said.
Last year, Amadeus said it committed US$800 million to R&D for innovation globally, half directly linked to technologies that furthered its Smart Mobility initiatives including biometrics, traveller identification, IoT, massive data platforms and passenger handling solutions.