Travel technology is a mixed bag of blessings for travellers and travel agents. It’s convenient to store maps on your phone. It’s great to have an app direct you to the neighbourhood restaurants when you’re in an unfamiliar part of New York. You can even
Technology for travel agents
Travel agents using general distribution systems ( GDS) to book airlines, flights and prices, can now research, sell and issue tickets in increasingly streamlined ways. Travelport, Amadeus and Sabre Pacific are the leading GPS providers. Traditionally, the software comes with a blue screen interface and lines of code that appear baffling and magical to clients. Because the look is outdated when compared to websites and smart phones, many GDS are updating to more modern user interfaces. Sabre Pacific has enhanced their existing interface with a graphical view, making it look more like a smart phone or online technology. “We have done tests and the graphical view is just as fast as the blue screen GDS,” Sabre Pacific chief information officer Mark Mison said. Travelport has launched the Smartpoint App which adds on to the Galileo desktop and allows agents to use a click and point functionality instead of the codes. Amadeus, meanwhile, has a new mobile and tablet based reservation tool. With the rise of online one- stop- travelshops such as www. expedia. co. nz and www. booking. com, can travel agency systems keep up? Travelport general manager Alexandra Fitzpatrick, is confident their Universal Desktop product can take on the internet. “You can shop on one screen,” she says, “and you couldn’t do that at home as you’d have to go through ten different sites to find the best rate. It is much faster than you could do at home.”
The pitfalls of customers booking online
For travel agents coming across customers booking online, you might want to pass on the pitfalls. The unsuspecting traveller may be in for a rude awakening. Although many deals look attractive online, some of them are not that special when you read the fine print. First, there are the incredible airfare deals you supposedly can find online. Most of them, you soon discover, cater for the US market in US dollars. But even if you remember to do the forex conversion, danger still lurks. Some of those cheap airfares are on carriers you’ve never heard of ( up until recently, Air Ukraine transported passengers between all major European cities), to airports that may be many kilometres away from your desired destination ( just as an example, several cheap European flights will drop you off at not at Charles De Gaulle just a 23km train ride away from the centre of France’s capital city, but at Paris Beauvais-Tille Airport, France, which is 88km north of the actual Paris), they charge an additional fee for baggage pieces including cabin luggage. If you read the fine print, there may also be extra charges like booking fees and compulsory insurance. Sometimes you look at the website selling all those “cheap” flights and wonder whether any of their clients even get their tickets. Another problem with this do- it- yourself online technology is that it caters for the mass market and cannot handle anything remotely out of the ordinary. If you want to fly from Auckland to Cape Town, say, but you’d like your return flight to begin in Johannesburg, you’re in trouble. A travel agent can do it for you by typing in a few codes, but most websites don’t know what you’re talking about. Or the website won’t recognise your booking as a return flight and therefore it won’t qualify for the special discount price. Or you won’t be able to stop for a few days in Singapore on the way home, because the website will insist you take the first available connecting flight from Singapore to Auckland.
Real traveller feedback
Although some people manage to book their travels online and experience no problems, others have been disappointed. Here are three caution stories from less- thanhappy customers: Avoid little- known online rental car brokers: They charge you a full day’s rental just to pass your name onto a local car rental company. You pay online and you get an e- voucher for car rental at, say, Thrifty, so you think you’re sweet, but when you get to Thrifty they tell you to pay them for the car rental because the money you paid online was only a booking fee pocketed by the online company. Don’t book tickets through unregistered online travel companies. They have been known to charge your credit card for extra expenses you never agreed to, get the details of your flight wrong ( you ask for single, they book return), and they never pick up their phone, return voicemail calls or answer emails. My first name is spelled differently in my passport and I always forget that the name I use every day is anglicised for everyone’s convenience. That’s no problem when flying locally, but international air tickets are a mess. If I try to book through the Air New Zealand website, the ticket is issued in my anglicised name because that’s the name on my credit cards and Koru membership. The only way to change it is to ring the airline afterwards and have it changed, which costs money . . . or go via a travel agent in the first place.
Beloved by all travellers, TripAdvisor allows you to read other people’s opinion of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions around the world. What makes it so compelling is that you can leave your own reviews, making it an interactive tool that travellers embrace as part of their journalling experience. As with any such tool, it’s open to abuse, both by company owners who leave fake positive reviews, as well as by dissatisfied customers. Fortunately, most opinions expressed on TripAdvisor are genuine and people keep coming back for more, especially as you can now compare hotel rates and link through to online booking systems through the website. Although other such websites exist ( oyster.com, holidaycheck.com), TripAdvisor is by far the most extensive and popular. Says a traveller: “I never let my travel agent book me into a hotel I haven’t checked out on TripAdvisor. Sometimes a property sounds nice in a brochure or on their website, but when you read customer reviews, you discover the plumbing is run down, or the buffet breakfast rudimentary.”
Remember the bad old days when the in- flight movie was your only entertainment in the aeroplane? Nowadays, you get your personal games and movie console on most flights, but the irony is, you don’t even need it. In your hand luggage rests your faithful kindle with hundreds of books, while your pocket holds your own portable games/ movie console – the iPhone. Most countries have free wifi in airports and big cities and combined with mobile phone roaming, they keep you anchored to the social media and email messages, ensuring you always have something to do that’s more urgent than admiring the Eiffel Tower. Come to think of it, you might want to switch off your technology when you get to Paris.
MySentosa app, free and available on iPhone as well as Android, lets you find a dolphin encounter on Sentosa Island, Singapore.
TripAdvisor allows you to check out customer reviews prior to making a booking.
Tramada, with its multifilter searches ( creditors, debtors, clients and bookings), aims to help travel agents work efficiently.