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Building A New Bridge Between Traditional and Online Travel AgentsJune 29, 2010 By: Ronnie Gurion Home-Based Travel Agent
Editor's Note: When Orbitz announced it's new Orbitz for Agents program in February, fans of Travel Agent's Facebook page immediately engaged in a conversation with Brian Hoyt, Orbitz's vice president of corporate communications. As the conversation took place, Travel Agent invited the online travel agency to address the new program and the agency community. Below is what Ronnie Gurion, president of Orbitz Worldwide Distribution, shared with us.
As the travel industry gains steam with business and leisure travelers, hopes are high among both online and traditional agents for a return to pre-2008 demand. With summer travel in full swing, it’s time to move past previous misgivings and bring our combined strengths to bear for customers.
Since the advent of online travel agencies a decade ago, much has changed in how traditional agents partner with their online counterparts. With the rise of online travel, the line between our businesses continues to blur— just as Orbitz employs offline resources to support our business travelers, traditional agents increasingly rely on online tools and support. This convergence represents a unique opportunity for us to build a new bridge between our businesses.
For that reason, Orbitz has taken a fundamentally different approach to how we work with the travel agent community. We understand the value travel agents bring to customers, and why an online travel company such as Orbitz was a previous source of trepidation. As the world continues to book more of its travel online, however, and new mobile technologies provide anywhere/anytime access, we’re betting that we can grow and adapt together.
In February of this year, Orbitz launched Orbitz for Agents, a free program that gives travel agents the opportunity to earn commissions on hotel and packaged bookings. Orbitz for Agents pays 10 percent commission for hotel reservations and 4 percent for hotel package bookings. In addition to competitive commissions and broad supplier access, travel agents can set and charge agent service fees on a transaction-by-transaction basis, and apply an agent markup to keep 100 percent of these fees. In the four months since our launch, more than 5,000 individual agents have joined the program.
We designed Orbitz for Agents to address three critical requirements from the travel agent community.
First, we built a transparent solution that allows agents to access our technology and supplier travel products while retaining full control and ownership of their customer data. Customers will receive confirmations with their travel agent’s branding and contact information. Furthermore, we do not integrate any booking information into our marketing database like other competitive offerings, thereby protecting an agent’s most valuable asset— their customer relationships.
Second, we wanted to empower agents to build more profitable dynamic trip packages. Orbitz for Agents accomplishes this by giving agents the flexibility to uniquely price each package at any point in the booking process (the agent markups and service fees can be opaque or explicit to the customer, and the agent retains 100 percent of these fees).
Third, we needed to give agents direct access to a broad supply of specially negotiated hotel rates, discounts and offers secured by our global network of market managers— a significant supplement to GDS offerings. Plus, those who wish to create a package can access highly discounted rates on flights, hotels, car rentals that wouldn’t otherwise be available if booked separately. And when it comes to delivering even greater customer value and increased profitability, travel agents are able to build dynamic packages that deliver significant cost savings over GDS and standalone pricing.
This unique combination differentiates Orbitz for Agents from other online travel agent programs and delivers an incredible value proposition for prospective travel agents.
So what does Orbitz get out of this program? Bookings. Travel agents still own the relationship with their customers, but we’d rather agents book through us than anywhere else. We have no intention of usurping customer marketing data either. There’s a reason why that customer remains loyal to his or her agent. We even provide global, round-the-clock support for agents in our program, so they can provide first-rate service to their customers.
The travel business is no longer a strict zero-sum game between the online and offline worlds. The industry is witnessing a blending. Our goal is to bring the online breadth and global reach of Orbitz to bear for traditional travel agents, while growing our bookings together in a mutually beneficial way.