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Opinion: Innovation Is What Keeps This Industry ThrivingApril 7, 2008 By: George Dooley Travel Agent
Vacation.com and its 5,100 agency members will celebrate the
company’s 10th anniversary at its Conference in
the 10 consortium leaders who joined Vacation.com and helped it grow into a
The recognition of the “founders” underscores the continuity
in the industry and how organizations—in this case, consortia—have adapted to
new market realities. It also recognizes the dynamic importance of innovation
Agency groups such as Vacation.com are at the cutting edge
of new technologies, marketing initiatives and innovations. This year, for
example, Vacation.com is expected to focus on EZguider, a new desktop booking
system. (For more on Vacation.com, see our story on the company's partnership with Hertz.)
Vacation.com has a history of innovation, including its
pioneering Agentnet technology and Engagement marketing system now used by
2,100 of its members. And under the leadership of president and CEO Steve
Tracas, the company can be expected to sustain its record of initiatives.
As praiseworthy as Vacation.com is, it isn’t alone.
Virtually every agency and company in the industry innovates. Innovation in the
travel industry and among travel agents is alive and well and may be the key to
the future. Some examples:
• Nexion, the
Sabre Travel Network host agency, recently launched its
online community-networking capability for member agents. Its parent, Sabre Travel Network, has a reputation
for new initiatives, including the formation of TRAMS Marketing Alliance (or TMA), which is focused on building
• Travel Counsellors,
a major U.K.-based host agency, announced its entry into the
program that includes award-winning technology. Like many host agencies, such
Vacation Center (AVC), Travel Counsellors seeks to break new ground.
• The formation of the Travel
Acquisitions Group (TAG) by Carlson
Leisure Group in January offers a dramatic, new and innovative framework
for growth and expansion. TAG has already made its first acquisition, and more
• The National Tour
Association launched an initiative to encourage inbound travel from
and won support from the China National Tourist Office. The NTA is also
aggressively urging the industry to support its grassroots campaign to
encourage political candidates to recognize the economic contributions of the
travel and tourism industry.
• Virtually every tour operator—from Trafalgar to Globus,
Insight to Sceptre—offers innovations in their 2008 programs, including new
destinations, itineraries and features. Plus, new online booking tools are
regularly being introduced.
• Despite its current problems, the airline industry has a
long history of innovation and enterprise. Airlines such as American are testing new programs that
allow passengers in-flight use of cell phones while introducing new
international routes, such as flights to
Hoteliers and car-rental firms must be forward-thinking,
while destination managers are constantly searching for the new, unique and
salable. Add to the mix aggressive advertising and promotion to consumers and
the innovations of major GDS systems, and you have an industry addicted to
Perhaps the most innovative segment of the industry is the
cruise business. New ships, destination options, itineraries and onboard
services have opened up sales and marketing options to agents. River cruising
There is little that’s static in agency operations. Agencies
are developing new or enhanced websites, new telecommunications, e-mail
promotions and booking tools. What’s more, agents are offering new cruise,
tour, hotel and car options on a daily basis.
Is there a downside to innovation? The real challenge for
many agencies is sorting out these new initiatives to determine how they fit—if
at all—into their operations and marketing strategies. Will it benefit their
customer base? Will it sell? Implementation of the best-designed new program
often takes time. Training has to be factored in, and implementation costs are
often a barrier.
Skilled agency owners and managers often develop a special
sense about what will work and what won’t and whether an innovation matches
their needs. One certainty is that the pace of innovation and adopting new
initiatives will continue to challenge agencies and may well accelerate.