AT&T and Sabre Labs Team Up on
GeoFence for Traveler Customer Experience

Executive Interview: Sarah Kennedy Ellis, Director,
Sabre Labs and Chris Aron, Lead Product Marketing Manager,
Ecosystem Development and Platform Solutions, AT&T

Sabre and AT&T are developing and testing solutions that take advantage of AT&T’s newly enhanced Location Information Services (LIS)-Hybrid, which allows developers to build geo-aware mobile applications. They are exploring how device-based location information services can help airlines, airport retailers, and other travel-related companies deliver intelligent, predictive and personalized services throughout a traveler’s journey. We spoke with Sarah Kennedy Ellis, Director of Sabre Labs, and Chris Aron, Product Marketing Manager, Ecosystem Development and Platform Solutions at AT&T to learn more about the technology and business aspects of the partnership.

This interview discusses how location awareness can improve the travel experience for travelers, airlines, and hotels.

LBX People generally think of Sabre as a reservation system. Tell us about Sabre Labs.

ELLIS Sabre is a technology company, and Sabre Labs is an incubation lab. Sabre Labs works and collaborates with companies on emerging technologies that we think will impact the travel industry in 2-5 years. Specifically we are focused on location, artificial intelligence, and data mining technologies. We are responding to questions from airlines and hotels on how to better serve their passengers and guests.

Our objective is to develop more insight into the 24 hours prior to departure (the travel window) which creates the opportunity to improve the travel experience—for the traveler and the airline and hotel from an operational perspective.

LBX Tell us more about the location component of your research efforts.

ELLIS Location is critical to four key questions or way points that define a passenger experience:

→  When did the passenger enter a radius within close proximity of the airport?

→  When did the passenger enter the terminal?

→ When did the passenger clear security; and

→ When is the passenger within 10 meters of the gate?

See Figure 1. Each one of these points has an impact on operations, and the ability to process and react to that information in real time will dramatically improve the traveler’s experience.

FIGURE 1. This figure illustrates how a traveler’s experience can be improved by knowing where they are at critical points to and at the airplane. Graphic courtesy of AT&T.
FIGURE 1. This figure illustrates how a traveler’s experience can be improved by knowing where they are at critical points to and at the airplane. Graphic courtesy of AT&T.

Some examples of this improved experience are:

→ Airlines could be alerted when passengers have physically entered the airline terminal from where their plane is departing—and maybe even when they’ve entered the wrong terminal and could avoid missing their flight via a simple mobile notification.

→ Airlines could improve efficiency and communication during the boarding process by messaging to travelers when it is time for their group number specifically to board the plane—without the passenger having to be in earshot of the gate intercom.

→ Airlines could know when a passenger has entered the terminal and direct them to the security line with the shortest wait time.

→Airlines could know when a high-value customer is very close to the gate and could make an informed decision to hold the plane for a few minutes.

LBX Who is developing the app, Sabre or third party developers?

ELLIS We have internal teams collaborating on solving questions or problems raised by airlines and hotels.

LBX What are the personalization issues/questions? What have passengers been asking for?

ELLIS Right now we are responding to operational
questions from airlines and hotels. Currently, our research and development is not driven by the passenger.

LBX Who determines the geo-fence?

ELLIS We have determined the four waypoints I described in the beginning based on research we have done on critical travel points from proximity to the airport to 10 meters before the gate.

LBX Where will you pilot it?

ELLIS We are just in the testing phase right now in our Dallas-Fort Worth headquarters. We turned a building into a fake airport and a fake hotel to simulate the travel experience.

LBX What’s the business model for this?

ARON We have mature business cases in roadside assistance where the service provider picks up the cost. The airlines and hotels will probably pick up the costs because the focus is on operational efficiency, customer experience, and competitive advantage. But we are still  at the beginning of this journey so we anticipate that  the business model will evolve over time.

Do you have any advice for companies entering this new research stage in location technology?

ARON Location technology is now mature. However, the bigger issues are consumer adoption and privacy. The business and people side of the technology still needs to be addressed. Companies are still working on connecting the technology to an acceptable business strategy. There are still many nuances to the technology and the applications available. Educating the marketplace is still a challenge for the location industry. You can quickly lose a business stakeholder if it’s too complicated; but progressive early adopters will have the advantage.


Chris Aron is currently responsible for AT&T Location Information Services Officer, a cross-carrier network location solution. Prior to joining AT&T, Chris has held a variety of marketing and product positions for large and small organizations. Chris started working in the mobile space in 1996 with Ericsson building one of the UK’s first GSM networks. Since moving to the U.S., Chris has launched network monitoring solutions for Acterna (now JDSU) around the globe, launched M2M telematics solutions for PassTime, led EffectiveUI’s marketing efforts, and optimized SMB product portfolios for Qwest. Chris has a passion for all types of location technology.


SKE_Headshot_CrossProcess_Sept2013Sarah Kennedy Ellis is the Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Development for Sabre Hospitality Solutions, where she manages strategy and product marketing for Sabre’s world-leading hospitality solutions portfolio, in addition to supporting Sabre’s hospitality-related M&A activities. Since joining Sabre in 2007, she has held a variety of product marketing, strategy and technology management roles including her most recent as head of Sabre Labs, the dedicated emerging technology incubator and trends research lab at Sabre’s global headquarters. She is often invited to speak at industry events on the topics of innovation, emerging technology trends & millennial retention, and her expertise has been featured most recently by CNN, MIT & Tnooz, the travel industry’s leading publication. Sarah holds a BBA in Business Management & Journalism from Baylor University, as well as an MBA specializing in Marketing & Strategy from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Editor’s note: This article was first published at on February 18, 2014.