Global distribution systems are key to providing the efficiency agents need to thrive in a changing travel market, says Travelport UK director Simon Ferguson.
Ferguson, who joined Travelport as UK and Ireland regional director last August after leaving the Travel Weekly Group, argues GDSs can help agents achieve efficiency rates up to five times those when they book travel product themselves.
He insists the increasing complexity of travel distribution and the proliferation of channels are playing to the strengths of GDSs rather than threatening their future as some in the industry seem to believe.
Ferguson said: “The great thing about the GDS is we only charge when a transaction is actually completed.
“We are not a media model where you pay for traffic. We are cost effective because we are clearly measurable and only relate to the actual segment bookings which are generated.”
He added: “We want to be the most-effective distribution vehicle for supplier content.
“Everyone wants speed. But there are two key elements to online search and shopping: one is can you very quickly find a good range of fares and good range of availability?
“Second, once you have found what you want, is it available? Is it bookable?
“Many technologies use caching, which means search is quick and does not hit the GDS, but the trade off for that speed can be availability.
“We want to provide both great speed and a great range of fares, but make sure it’s bookable so the agent isn’t getting sales failures.”
Ferguson explained: “As travel has become multi-channel, it has become more complex. As a travel agent, how do you manage that complexity?
“Fundamentally, a GDS is the best way to manage that complexity because we have the complete engine. It’s never the front end where there is a problem. It’s the back end, and matching those two [the back and front] up.
“That is where the value is. Most suppliers want cost-effective distribution, but they realise that whenever the complexity increases it’s more difficult for them to service business direct.”
Ferguson refers to studies suggesting a common factor among successful firms is that their employees are five times more productive than their competitors’.
He suggests agents need to be five times more productive than their customers could be dealing direct with suppliers online.
“If agents can service a complex travel request five times quicker than a customer can on the open web, they will continue to be the answer for customers”, he said.
“It’s partly about efficiency, but it’s also about creativity. It may mean offering a different range of services; it may mean offering a more personalised service.
“We want to make travel agents more efficient to create more time. Travelport’s Smartpoint desktop application is a great example: it uses a graphical overlay to the traditional GDS and translates the commands of other GDS languages.
“This reduces the keystrokes agents need to make by a factor of five, and also reduces training costs and time for agency owners.
“Technology can give them more time to be creative and more knowledgeable. They could be taking time to create more of a package or to explore an itinerary.
“If you can make you staff five times more productive then you have a great future.”