The Conversation: Ken Cameron, Evolvi
Managing Director, Evolvi Rail Systems Andy Hoskins speaks with the boss of the corporate rail booking system as he marks ten years at the business
Ken Cameron notched up a decade of service with Evolvi Rail Systems in January, the latest chapter in his lifelong career in travel.
The journey began as a reservations agent with British Caledonian and has seen him help establish travel tech specialist Amadeus in the UK and take on roles at Eurostar and then IATA in Geneva. Most recently, he was Head of Operations at Rail Settlement Plan.
“Travel is a fantastic industry,” he says, “and I don’t think I’m unusual for having spent considerable years within it.”
Many business travellers will not know the Evolvi name, even though it accounts for around 60% of all corporate agency rail bookings in the UK through the Evolving booking tool and Evolviws API.
“Travel management companies own the relationship with corporate users and the visibility of the Evolvi system depends upon how the booking and fulfilment tool is implemented,” Cameron explains.
“If it’s through a third party system like a self-booking tool or a TMC’S own bespoke system then the end user won’t necessarily know they are using Evolvi.”
While the Evolvi system allows business to better manage their rail travel needs, it also continues to innovate in the complex arena of booking and ticket fulfilment. It has over one million registered users across 22,000 corporate clients of TMCS and handled more than 8.6 million transactions in 2017.
Impressively, it has also seen the average ticket value (ATV) fall from £59.03 in 2013 to £56.82 in 2017, despite annual fare increases of up to 3.9% over that period.
Nevertheless, the corporate market has its limits. “We're finding there is more demand for us to supply rail content for a wider variety of systems,” says Cameron. “We're investing heavily in the development of our API to provide highly configurable content for travel portals. We are becoming more of a technology provider than just a TMC partner.”
The corporate rail travel market is dominated by competitors Evolvi and Trainline, with the latter benefitting from a high-profile presence in the consumer market. Is that a problem for Evolvi?
“I think it is a bigger issue for the industry rather than Evolvi. The consumer market and business travel market are very different and our focus is creating value for TMCS and other clients,“says Cameron.
“The consumer market is where competition is required and the industry needs to do more to promote new entrants.” Cameron also identifies room for improvement in ticketing and onboard product from train operating companies (TOCS).
“I have concerns about the pace of progress towards true digital ticketing integration across the UK rail network, but I’m also worried that business travel still does not seem to be held in high enough esteem on certain networks,” he explains.
“The needs of business people are not unreasonable. We want a comfortable seat, a table, power socket, strong mobile signal and good, free, secure wifi. Some TOCS do take business travel seriously, but there are still examples of new rolling stock completely missing the point.”
Meanwhile, Cameron cites IATA as a source of inspiration for ticketing developments. “When IATA decided to move to airline eticketing in the early 2000s, it only took four years to reach 100% penetration. That was possible because it was properly scoped and funded,” Cameron stresses.
“The savings opportunities were enormous and the airlines invested time, effort and resource to achieve them. I’ve lost count of the number of years that the rail industry, commentators and Department for Transport have been talking about smart cards, wave and pay, contactless, barcodes, EMV, post pay... If we want to move forward at all in these areas, the industry could learn a lot from IATA.”
Business travel still does not seem to be held in high enough esteem on some networks. There are still examples of new rolling stock completely missing the point”