Travel TECH­NOL­OGY

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

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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.

TripAd­vi­sor

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.”

Bore­dom busters

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.

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