Eyeing Your Itinerary

Creating an itinerary is a proposition that might vary from client to client. For some customers, it's a slam dunk: They tell you specifically what they want and you put it together effortlessly. For others, it might be a casual thought about "possibly" doing a trip to Europe—now you have to quickly create a possible trip itinerary while the interest is there and make sure it's strong enough to seal the deal. Travel may not be an impulse buy like that magazine at the grocery checkout counter, but many deals are decided by agents who act quickly, rather than those who sit on their hands and hope the customer will sell themselves. Here are some resources to make that itinerary jump off the screen as fast as you need it.

A Selling Proposition

An agent can only be as fast as the GDS system he or she uses to create itineraries. Owen Wild, director of marketing for Amadeus North America, believes the Amadeus agency platform is geared toward speedy success. "The Amadeus selling platform is an area devoted completely to point of sale," he says. "Amadeus Activities and Entertainment is able to find a scope of city information and services that can provide options from top restaurants to sightseeing tours to theater tickets. You have to do more than get tickets for customers—you have to give them an experience. [Amadeus Activities and Entertainment's] quick booking capability for the agent clearly shows the commission opportunities throughout." Itinerary Tidbits

Despite Amadeus' offerings, Wild believes the main problem to be the unprecedented online access that gives the customer unlimited choices. Still, he says, the agent can find their cut by playing a proactive role in qualifying the customer in the itinerary process. "Once there is a selection of a location, the agent and traveler have a lot of freedom to set up a trip and become a team. For Amadeus Cruise, for example, a customer can say, 'I want to go to the Caribbean for seven days. Tell me the available options.' Now the agent has to give them the broadest based availability of content right away. We have around 12 to 13 major cruise lines we can offer, and if an agent gets into the detailed cabin information, they can offer something comprehensive but easy to understand." Acting quickly might result in a better vacation experience, as well as deals, for your client

Steve Matise, Travelport's director of strategic content, also highlights his company's cruise and tour product as the best chance to show itinerary muscle, but feels the biggest advantage could be measured in clicks. "You're six to eight steps from giving graphical quotes to customers, including ports of call, the cost and any taxes and surcharges," he says. "It's about the kind of clickable data where the customer can go back to the itinerary to answer questions when they would normally have to call an agent. But it also needs to appear polished and readable. There's also a whole area where agents can add comments and other information that came up in discussions with the customer. A seasoned sales customer doesn't miss a beat with their itinerary."

Lee Rosen, vice president of the Sabre Travel Network leisure segment, agrees with Matise that products need to appear seamlessly. "With a click on a commercial code, you can land in Sabre Cruises with a product [you've been talking about] up on the screen." From weather to suitcase information, Rosen believes itineraries have to continue to feature a greater depth to truly be valued. With Sabre Virtually There (www.virutallythere.com) as an itinerary helper, the company's website says that it "saves time and money associated with faxing and mailing travel documents; sets your airline apart from the competition with online document delivery; enhances the value of the services you bring your customers; supplements revenue with second-sale opportunities; and provides your customers with instant access to the most current travel data."

Diane Dyson, San Diego-based agent and owner of Travel By Diane, believes the ability to navigate the supplier sites with ease can make the biggest difference in itineraries. "Trafalgar and Collette Tours stand out to me as being easy to pull up information for itineraries. You have to be able to find places you can turn to quickly. Whether it's a website that's slow or a brochure they want to send you in the mail, you're going to lose your customer by thinking they'll wait for you."

Dyson also is quick to add information to her itinerary dealing with online community response. "TripAdvisor is a site I turn to all the time to reassure the customer that they're getting a great trip," she says. "You need to quickly get rid of the comments that are from negative people and come away with clear information that the customer will believe in. Listen for the type of highlights the customer wants to hit and then get recommendations that clearly show it will be worth it. You have to show the customer you're on the same page."

Your Itinerary's Future

While there are currently many resources for itineraries, there's still uncertainty in the future of how travel will be presented to the client. Says Wild: "We want to bring the most choice we can to our customers, so in the itinerary environment it needs to expand further into graphically based web tools. The Worldspan side will grow prepaid hotel rates—not top nationals, but regional alternatives that will put more focus on the pricing of itineraries." When it comes to Sabre, they want to grow their inventory so they'll have every last event a traveler would want, trying to know the customer better than they know themselves. "[Virtually There] can customize for the soccer fan so if his team is playing, he can catch the game just before taking off on his cruise," Rosen says.

With fuel prices rising and airline service ratings tenuous at best, any way you can make that itinerary stand out has to be considered. In fact, Rosen estimates the fallout rate for agent repeat business is 75 percent. That's why Dyson is willing to analyze every level of the itinerary process to make sure inefficiency doesn't cost her a client. "I'm always looking at how I can get them an e-mail faster or find a site to get them better quality information," Dyson says. "You've got to keep reminding your customer that you'll look out for them more than anyone else." — Eric Butterman

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