Travelport held its annual Evolve summit last week. Lee Hayhurst reports from Monaco
Travelport says it is now taking more of an evolutionary than revolutionary approach to enhancing its travel agency selling technology.
The UK GDS market leader, which operates the Galileo and Worldspan systems, previewed a series of enhancements due to come into effect over the coming months at its annual Evolve conference in Monaco last week.
The new emphasis on gradual evolution comes in the wake of the development of Universal Desktop, a radically new type of agency system that dispensed entirely with cryptic green screens.
Roll-out and global adoption of the new system has not matched some of the hype as many agents still favour the old green screens and have proved resistant to such major change.
Universal Desktop has been successfully adopted by some large agencies, including Flight Centre, but Travelport accepts it was too big a step for most agents.
Instead, Travelport’s focus has switched to the new Smartpoint agency platform, a hybrid that combines both cryptic and more modern graphical user interface (GUI) functionality.
The latest version was introduced last November and Travelport promised agents at Evolve that from this year biannual enhancements would be added in May and November.
Jason Nash, vice-president of product innovation, said the Berkshire-based technology giant was taking a more agile approach to developing new product.
He said this would see software developers releasing aspects of the full product before testing and full release, rather than trying to develop everything before going live.
This approach is supported by Travelport’s new innovation ‘incubator’, Juice (Joint User Interaction Concept Experiments) Labs, which creates prototypes ahead of full production.
Travelport’s next-generation ViewTrip, which will allow agents to collaboratively create and build trips with customers in a mobile-optimised environment, is being built in this way.
Travel Weekly was given a detailed demonstration of the technology that will be designed to operate seamlessly with the latest versions of Smartpoint.
Codenamed Project Hermes, Nash said Travelport was seeking agencies in English-speaking markets to help it in the proof-of-concept phase.
“This is not the traditional way we have built software, but it is the way we are increasingly moving,” said Nash.
“We plan to have a beta test out to a small community of no more than four or five agents in about May, with release towards the end of the year. In an ideal world we want English-speaking agents and we need the right kind of agency.
“First, they need to recognise the problem we are trying to solve and, second, want to reach a more Generation Y age group. We think this is a good fit.”
Explaining to delegates why Travelport now feels the approach being taken with Smartpoint and ViewTrip is right, Nash said: “We are working on uniting the user experience so agents get a consistent experience, whether they are using Smartpoint or Universal Desktop, for certain elements of what they do.
“It’s an evolutionary experience.
Many agents told us Universal Desktop was too much change for them, too much cost and too much disruption to the ongoing business.
“Smartpoint is this great evolutionary tool. We have really focused on blending the best of the old with the new.
“In November we introduced Smartpoint 3.0, the first version to deliver on this unified user experience.”
Viewtrip: GDS tips collaborative tool to help agents interact with clients
The next-generation ViewTrip is designed to help travel agents sell their expertise and added value rather than just focus on price.
The product being developed will allow agents, either via a Travelport-branded or white-label version, to have an ongoing dialogue with customers.
ViewTrip is a collaborative trip creation and selling tool which agency customers, whether leisure or business travellers, will be encouraged to sign up to use.
Agent or customer can create a trip and it allows two-way interaction with the sales consultant, who can input product or offer advice.
Other functionality includes a budget tracker which sets an upper level and sets out graphically what proportion of the overall price each component represents.
ViewTrip also allows the customer to create a profile, data from which can be used to tailor offers, and features a traveller history.
Nash said Travelport hoped travel agents would use ViewTrip’s mobile optimisation
to continue talking to the customer even while they are on their trip and offer ancillary products.
“I have spent five years at Travelport and spent hundreds of hours watching agents use our products to create quotes for customers,” he said.
“It can take up to an hour for a complex itinerary, but the average is probably around 10 to 15 minutes.
“This is all about the agent imparting their knowledge.
“Most people are looking for the best value they can get rather than the lowest cost available.
“Often people are not aware of the choice or added-value that agents can deliver, so we are trying to give them a tool to put a little bit of personality into the booking.
“And we are giving the traveller the opportunity to have a dialogue with their travel consultant at a time that’s convenient for them, as they may not be able to take a call or go into a store at a particular time or date.”
Viewtrip’s key features
- Secure environment for customer and agent to update profile, past buying record, and to create trips and offers.
- Travellers’ preferences and loyalty scheme details can be stored to ensure these are taken into account.
- Payment details can be stored, giving the system the potential to become a payments engine in which the customer completes transactions.
- Fully mobile-optimised, so the features adapt to fit the screen size of the customer’s device, and information can be updated and consumed on the move.
- Budget tracker keeps an eye on spend. Corporate travellers could even set an annual budget.
- Notifications like changes of flight times or drop-off and pick-up points.
- A journey planner estimates the time it will take to travel to the airport from home as well as other details.
- Fully integrated with Smartpoint, Travelport’s agency selling platform, so agents can provide customers with rich content.
- Trips can be shared on social networks.