Net gains to be found among on-line options

Net gains to be found among on-line options

they want to travel rather than just looking. As a result, the conversion ratio from calls to bookings will be considerably higher," he said.

"Our key corporate bookers have cautiously adopted on-line booking technology over the past three to four years.

"However, we foresee a significant increase in user adoption over the next 12-18 months, particularly now that Internet technology has proved itself as a reliable travel delivery mechanism."

Grover added that the GDS has been approached by some corporate clients who do not currently book through a Galileo-equipped travel agency.

"This provides some excellent opportunities for our existing agency customers to sign up new corporate business," he said.

In the US, where on-line booking tools are more commonplace, rival GDS Sabre has found that business travellers are happy to use the Internet to make simple travel bookings, but will refer to their agent for help with a complicated itinerary.

Sabre senior vice-president and general manager for Business Travel Solutions Nancy Raynor said: "If the corporate traveller is booking a ticket to go halfway round the world for a series of meetings, they are unlikely to use their on-line booking tool. It is too complicated. They will have to work out different time zones and deal with different carriers. It just takes too much time.

"In this situation, the agent can prove that they are providing real added value by sorting out this type of itinerary efficiently."

WITH decreasing profit margins and an ever-demanding corporate client to satisfy, the last thing business travel agents have wanted over the last couple of years has been the threat of the Internet.

Many corporate travel managers have got wise to the fact they can surf the World Wide Web to book their own business travel. And many have been wondering that if they can do it themselves, what are they paying a business travel agency for?

In reality though, while searching on the Web is fun at first, booking a travel itinerary can be laborious, particularly if it is a complicated one.

The corporate traveller does not have the same access to a wide range of itineraries the agent has - unless he or she is prepared to spend hours clicking on to different airline or hotel sites.

Even then, the individual corporate traveller will not be able to access special deals the agent can access. The business traveller's do-it-yourself approach could turn out to be a false economy.

Recent signs are that, like their counterparts in the leisure industry, business travel agents are beginning to see the Internet as less of a threat and are learning to embrace it as a positive selling tool.

Much of this turnaround is due to the fact the four main global distribution system suppliers have developed their own Internet-based booking tools aimed solely at the corporate user.

They allow business travellers who want to book their own itineraries to do so, but give them access to their own GDS database, allowing a wider choice of itineraries and fares as well as highlighting special offers.

The agent does not lose out because he or she is still involved in issuing tickets and giving advice to the client.

Peter Grover, general manager sales and marketing for Galileo UK said: "Ordinarily, a corporate client would have to pick up the telephone, speak to the agent and ask for availability.

"The agent then spends 15mins on the telephone reciting to the client what is there on the screen. That is a big waste of time. A business traveller could phone up the agent five times to alter an itinerary or to check there is an earlier or later flight before a booking is made," he added.

"On-line bookings allow the client to select the itinerary themselves. It makes the whole process easier.

"By the time the user speaks to the travel agent he or she knows what they want. They allow corporates to be more knowledgeable.

Grover said this helps to reduce agents' costs. "For the agent, it helps to reduce costs. The agent can now spend quality time with people who have decided that they want to travel rather than just looking. As a result, the conversion ratio from calls to bookings will be considerably higher," he said.

"Our key corporate bookers have cautiously adopted on-line booking technology over the past three to four years.

"However, we foresee a significant increase in user adoption over the next 12-18 months, particularly now that Internet technology has proved itself as a reliable travel delivery mechanism."

Grover added that the GDS has been approached by some corporate clients who do not currently book through a Galileo-equipped travel agency.

"This provides some excellent opportunities for our existing agency customers to sign up new corporate business," he said.

In the US, where on-line booking tools are more commonplace, rival GDS Sabre has found that business travellers are happy to use the Internet to make simple travel bookings, but will refer to their agent for help with a complicated itinerary.

Sabre senior vice-president and general manager for Business Travel Solutions Nancy Raynor said: "If the corporate traveller is booking a ticket to go halfway round the world for a series of meetings, they are unlikely to use their on-line booking tool. It is too complicated. They will have to work out different time zones and deal with different carriers. It just takes too much time.

"In this situation, the agent can prove that they are providing real added value by sorting out this type of itinerary efficiently."

Galileo

Product: Web Traveller.

Features: real-time flight, car and hotel bookings. User can search via timetable, fares or availability; book up to four passengers on a single reservation; user can install personal preferences, such as meal requirements, seating requests.

UK launch date: February 1999.

Worldspan

Product: Trip Manager.

Features: real-time flight, car and hotel bookings. Guarantees that all reservations comply with the company's internal travel policy. Worldspan claims the reservation process is reduced by up to 65%.

UK launch date: to roll out later this year.

Sabre

Product: Travelocity and Business Travel Solutions.

Features: Travelocity is Sabre's Internet booking tool for business and leisuretravellers. BTS can be used to check itineraries by business travel managers using a PC, but does not allow individuals tobook.

UK launch date: Travelocity was launched in September 1998 and BTS was launched in spring 1999, with P&O Travelbecoming the first business travel agency to offer it to their clients.

Amadeus

Product: Corporate Traveller.

Features: two booking options. QuickTrip has been developed because 80% of trips are to less than 20 destinations and the facility allows the travel manager to pre-define the destinations for speedy bookings. ArrangeTrip is the traditional agency method where the traveller completes a simple on-line form. Both options comply with travel policy compliance.

UK launch date: February 1999.

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