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GDS Versus OnlineNovember 1, 2007 By: Eric Butterman Home-Based Travel Agent
Agents tell us how they like to make their bookings
In the last issue, we told you how GDSs and leading technology companies are changing the way agents do bookings. From SSL connections to booking incentives that slide $1,000 into your pocket, new options are afoot.
Some agents are jumping at the chance to embrace new offerings, while others are just jumpy at the idea of adjusting a booking methodology that has been working for them for years, or decades, for some. The old adage is "make new friends, but keep the old." Who do agents really consider to be their friends?
Using Review Sites
If you think home-based agents are just looking to their GDSs, think again (many, in fact, don't even have one). Ellen Gill of Springfield, MA, uses a GDS to book her air, but considers TripAdvisor to be her most trusted companion in helping her research sales.
"It seems that Americans and Europeans have very different tastes in what they like in hotels," Gill says, "so TripAdvisor really helps me to figure out who's making the recommendation, as much as learning about the recommendation itself. Also, I've found it interesting that many hotels are literally telling the agent to go to TripAdvisor because they're confident they'll get a strong rating. It leaves them free to be exposed, but if they're a great hotel, they shouldn't have anything to be afraid of."
For high-end hotels, Gill likes to deal directly with the property for questions. "But I've found suppliers such as Sorrento had an extraordinary price by working out of the box," she says. "One I just did in Rome from an online supplier had a much better deal than I could have gotten from the hotel itself. Expedia is another tool I use to gauge what kind of deal I should be getting. I don't want customers coming to me and saying I quoted them something far off from what they found online—that's the easiest way to look bad."
Gill says she'd use more GDS tools, but she doesn't have time to get accustomed to them. "There are so many support systems that travel professionals have today," she says. "If the GDSs made them simpler to use, then I'd be up for it. I don't have an incentive to learn complicated programs when I'm already doing well." The TripAdvisor web site, a tool that many agents say they use to research booking options
One anonymous agent felt the main problem with GDSs is the amount of clicks it takes to make a deal happen. "It's tedious," she says. "I used to be able to go in and compare prices on African cruises very easily. But now we have to click on 'sailing,' then two to three clicks on the sailing, then two or three to get the price, then get out of it and click on the second sailing date with the same procedure. Instead, I'll look at itineraries and sailing dates and then will use a few other avenues to get pricing. I need to cross-compare because my clients are retirees who have time and money and are willing to wait days to find the best deal. If they ask for the Caribbean in the wintertime it could be a whole-day project with the GDS to have to click five times for every ship sailing!"
An example of a GDS product she says she might use down the line is Sabre's TripTailor, which she believes will be a strong competitor to Travelocity and Expedia. Still, it's a potential problem for her because, she says, it requires you to buy immediately and purchases are non-refundable. "People go with agents to touch and feel and hold something, then sleep on it and call tomorrow with their decision. It would be nice to have a 24-hour hold feature on TripTailor. I'm home-based, so I don't have a client at my desk where I can show them on screen what's included for the easy sale. When I worked at a brick-and-mortar, a customer would just jump on it. When you have them on the phone instead, they're not always the decision maker. They really do have to call you back the next day."
Paula Hill of Farmington Hills, NM, however, believes the Sabre Distribu-tion Suite more than makes up for any TripTailor misgivings. "It's simple to use, because it pops up if you ask the right questions. For sample negotiated fares, you have to know what they book in to get it or go into direct access to the airline...but, as long as you know what class of service [the client wants], you should be all right." Hill also recommends VAX because of what she finds to be high commissions. "It also takes me directly to subscribers like United Vacations and Southwest without a problem—the site is very easy to navigate, and that's a big plus for me."
Sharon Emerson of Seattle, who focuses on hotels, likes to multi-task by using Marriott's web site, both to book and to get ideas for activities in different locations. "But you can't beat Google if you're doing an FIT and booking a hotel separately—you can look up several things at once."
Like Gill, she recommends TripAdvisor, but warns that you have to read through it a bit sometimes. "I think if there's one extremely good review or bad review," she says, "throw it out because the owner may have put it in, or a bad one may be someone who is just a negative person." Hill admits that she, too, just doesn't have time to call all suppliers for pricing. "I have my favorites to book through and I trust them to be dependable. My client does the same with me."
But for every agent who jumps on the web site, if not the GDS bandwagon, there are many who are just as comfortable using their phone today as years ago. Gene Sampson of Westfield, MA, for one, isn't buying into all the "new" opportunities. Having been in the travel business for decades, she doesn't think advanced booking methods will make much of a difference in helping the clients she's had forever.
"The only thing I use my GDS for is the airline booking, and the rest I do by dealing directly with tour operators," she says. "I'll look up tourism prices on web sites, but I'm not ever booking through them because I don't want to rely on them. Anything I can do the old-fashioned way appeals to me."
Still, she admits she might be willing to get more advanced in her thinking if the GDSs and web sites would show her a reason. "I'm not against making more money if I can," she says, laughing. "But I feel like many of the technology ideas are just talk. I see airlines charging fees and GDSs talking a good game, but not delivering. If someone feels I'm missing out, then do a better job of showing me why."
Lorraine Hollender of Las Vegas is another hold-out, also feeling that many of the systems are unreliable.
"All of my bookings come through a bridal show I do for a weekend event in Vegas, so 98 percent of my clients I meet in person and then call for follow-ups," she says. "I'm already into what they're looking for, so it doesn't take much convincing. I don't trust things that could go awry with the GDSs or web sites, because I want a person with a name and an extension to be accountable if my clients are unhappy. I need someone to call in the middle of the night to complain to. Really, have you ever tried arguing with a computer screen?"