Farelogix reported the release of the latest version of SPRK, the technology company’s travel agency desktop tool that enables agencies to source content from multiple travel providers including controversial airline Direct Connect. SPRK, initially introduced to the travel agency market a little over a year ago, is being utilized by a growing number of travel agencies, including several online travel agencies (OTA), Farelogix reports.
In response to increased interest in SPRK, Farelogix has also launched a new website, www.sprkagent.com, where interested travel agencies can watch demonstration videos (also found on the SPRK Agent YouTube channel), explore SPRK documentation, make product suggestions, and ultimately track enhancement schedules and software improvements.
In addition, registered SPRK agents now have access to a users-only portal, which includes latest product notifications, documentation, maintenance schedules and, coming soon, a new series of webinars for training purposes, Farelogix said.
“One of the fundamental drivers behind airline Direct Connect initiatives is the opportunity for closer agency-supplier relationships. As such, Farelogix is content to play the role of technology provider while the airline and agency determine their optimal relationship. Once that’s in place, if the agency wants to use SPRK, the desktop is available at no charge, upon referral from the airline,” Jim Davidson, president and CEO said.
This past year has brought marked enhancements to the SPRK desktop, especially in its PNR servicing and merchandising capabilities:
• For call centers and agencies providing post-booking support, SPRK now supports automated exchange, traveler flight status notification, automatic seat optimization routines, as well as improved agent workflows for handling schedule changes. The software already supports critical post-booking functions such as refunds, splits, exchanges, seat/itinerary changes and more.
• SPRK now has even deeper integration with airline merchandising engines (including but not limited to the Farelogix FMS2 system). While the precise products/services available to agency users will vary by airline, the software itself has reached a level where, according to Davidson, “We can accommodate pretty much any ancillary product or service an airline chooses to make available to its agencies/corporations/travelers, with agency, corporate and traveler authentication that facilitates the availability of offers based on ‘Who’s Asking and through What Channel.’ That’s quite an accomplishment.”
• SPRK’s ancillary service capabilities have been expanded to support flexibility in the timing of document issuance (e.g. Instant Purchase vs. time-limit driven; before, after, or simultaneous with ticket purchase). SPRK already supports multiple settlement methods (EMD, MCO, direct payment, fare integrated, etc.).
The SPRK desktop, first announced in December 2009, is a web-based point-of-sale solution that enables travel agencies to shop, book and service multiple types of travel content sources – Direct Connect, GDS, or other.
“From the beginning, we designed the SPRK desktop for travel agencies interested in having easy and efficient aggregation of travel content from multiple sources, including the flexibility needed to book new ancillary products and services that the airlines will continue to roll out in the coming months and years,” stated Davidson. “We are also continuing to update and offer an open source desktop version under the Hawkeye brand, which is available to anyone via free source code download.”
Several of the SPRK enhancements were based directly on input from agency users. In addition, a recent “hands-on” focus group of seasoned travel agents, none of whom had prior experience with SPRK, returned some interesting reviews. After using the product to complete a series of activities, ranging from simple bookings to complex exchanges, agents gave SPRK overall high marks in nearly all categories, including Ease of Use, Making a Booking and Ticketing a Flight. Among the many positive comments were “very dynamic and easy to use,” “easier to find the fare rules and manage refunds and exchanges,” and “user friendly.”
Agents also unanimously expressed support for the software’s capabilities to bring ancillary products and services to the agent desktop at various points in the shopping process, using a variety of mediums including video and photos, Farelogix says.
Despite the positive market feedback, Farelogix recognizes that graphical user interfaces are not for everyone. “We realize that die-hard cryptic command agent users will undoubtedly claim that any graphical user interface slows them down,” added Davidson. “However, we firmly believe that the gains in the agency’s ability to access new products and services, as well as ease of training, will prove well worth the trade-off.”
Davidson said: “I’ve been rather amazed by the level of interest in this free product. Developing a travel agency point-of-sale desktop is not, and was never, our core business model, but we are pleased to see such an interest in this agency desktop. We look forward to working with travel agencies in responding to the influx of inquiries and, as we see more agency adoption of SPRK, we will continue investing in product enhancements based on direct user input, as well as to accommodate whatever new products the airlines create to offer more consumer choice and to enhance the customer-airline experience.”
There is no charge for agencies to use or obtain support for SPRK. To sign up, interested agencies should contact one of their preferred airline suppliers who is pursuing a direct connect strategy. Davidson explained.
Farelogix also provides fee-based integration services for agencies or third party providers integrating with the XML API or using Hawkeye.