New Booking Tool Announced at Conference

NEW ORLEANS—The mood at's ninth annual conference, which took place late last month at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel, was enthusiastic, as the consortia announced a new booking tool and new supplier relationships.
 Agents give the new booking tool a try at's ninth annual conference

During the conference, Steve Tracas, president and CEO of, announced the launch of EZGuider, an integrated web-based platform for booking leisure travel, built exclusively for and available at no cost to members. This no-charge news garnered a round of applause from travel agents during Tracas' keynote speech at the conference, which was followed by a performance by Rain, a popular Beatles cover band.

"We feel we can drive a significant amount of sales through the product to pay for it," Tracas said at a press conference held earlier that day.

Agents who use EZGuider can research, plan, quote and book cruise, tour and other ancillary products; the ability to book air, hotel and car is expected in first quarter 2008. Accessible on AgentNet,'s desktop portal, the tool houses all cruise lines through E-Cruise, an Amadeus product—also's parent company—as well as tour operators Globus and Travel Impressions. Tracas said he expects to have between 10 and 12 more suppliers signed up by the tool's full launch in November.

"It gives the opportunity to hire people who aren't 100 percent trained and gives a new venue to hire a sales person," said Kate Murphy, owner of Uniglobe Wings Travel in Blue Bell, PA and a advisory board member.

Travel Agent checked in with Tracas after the conference, and he noted a strong interest in EZGuider by the agent community. "The members expressed confidence in our direction," he said, "and I continually heard, 'This was the best conference ever!'"

The crowd seemed to agree. Despite a weaker turnout due to weather-related flight delays and cancellations, sessions—even ones at 6:45 a.m.—were full, noted Eric Ardolino, president of A&S Travel in Wallingford, CT, who also is a member of Vcom's advisory board.

"At the trade show, people were hanging around until the end," he said. "The hands-on sessions were totally different from most of the things I've gone to in the past." Of the sessions' content, Ardolino said, Vcom managed to "keep up with the times."

Awards and Announcements

Also during the conference, announced the winners of its first POP, or "Power of Partnership," awards. Agent-selected winners include Royal Caribbean as Contemporary Cruise Partner of the Year, Globus as U.S. Tour Partner of the Year and SuperClubs as Resort Partner of the Year. At's next conference in Las Vegas June 16-19, 2008, perhaps new suppliers Starwood Hotels & Resorts and the recently announced Viking River Cruises venture, Viking Tours, also will have a shot at winning a POP award.

In that vein, Starwood's director of global accounts, Jon Hodges, alluded to a forthcoming agent-centric announcement in August, but declined to give further details.

"Starwood is committed to travel agents, and we realize our future lies in incentivizing the agency community," said Becky Casey, senior director of travel industry sales for North America for the hotelier. —Jennifer Merritt