23 January 2011

A View From The Trenches

PROFESSOR SABENA NOTE: I have called on the notable voice of Professor Murray to give his view on Direct Connect and what it means to him as an independent agent serving the business community. It is not often we have a guest columnist and I am grateful to him for his contribution. The words here are his own and I present them here for your edification.

These are his words.

I have been asked to contribute to this column on the subject of the value of Direct Connect to the consumer. Professor Sabena has been making the case that Direct Connect is not as bad as perhaps it has been made out to be. I am beginning to see a different picture. It may be helpful, if this project is to be understood by the end users (ie the likes of me who travail as the independent agents) if we start by dropping the term "direct connect". It may be correct but it implies that we would be linked to AA and AA alone. Perhaps something like "Universal Itinerary Source"... or something which implies a much broader selection, could be considered.

Please remember that the end user (Yup, me again) treat our traditional GDS like a car. We know how to drive it, but what actually sits under the bonnet (hood) is not something we concern ourselves with. Mechanics (technology geeks like Professor Sabena!) fix that bit. So, if your airline clients' want to put in a new engine, all well and good, but please don't scare the living daylights out of all us end users by suggesting our for-many-years-reliable diesel is about to be replaced by a couple of pedals... which may have some bearing on why the TMC's (Business Travel Agents) are beginning to get a tad hot under the collar.

You can do the basics, accounts, reporting, BSP, ticketing and such. So far so good. 6 airlines is not enough. You need all airlines or a way to get to a good percentage of them. More than that, I need to have the feeling that I have not missed something, which, in the present climate, is a feeling which grows greater day by day.

Presently, for booking, I need to use my traditional GDS, I then need to double check using Expedia or Travelocity (I am not, here, talking about simple point to point stuff) as a "crib sheet" for CAT35 fares, with the occasional input of Google Earth, if I am not too sure where a place is (last used to locate JUB!) I then need in some cases to have a quick check on the likes of meta search companies like kayak and skyscanner in case there is a lurking low cost carrier which I may have missed.

Having done that, I can take my crib sheet and replicate that on my GDS - and then play about with the results (sometimes expedia and others have a rather fanciful view of what is worth saving money on... a trip that takes, direct, say, 5 hours is not worth spending 22 hours on, to save £30). With this information I can then advise my client which itinerary represents best value (which is NOT the same as "cheapest") for their intended trip.

By trip, I mean such itineraries as LHR LOS ABJ FNA YAO LHR or LHR ASB DYU TAS LHR (and I think Baku was in their somewhere, as well) or LHR x/MIA BZE HAV (!) POP LHR or simply LHR LAX LIM LHR (and try to get LAX to LIM at a reasonable price - actually I did it on CO but there was a lot of bouncing about) or LHR THR KBL LHR (Yes! really!) These itineraries are a real test of a system (not to mention the agent and I am sure other TMC's have similar even more complicated stuff) . Once the itinerary is sorted, I need to be able to work on fares and how to ticket.

You will need to be able to offer, as you say, the CAT35 fares (which may or may not be an easy task. I can think of a few fare sources who may not be as easy as one thinks, to encourage to put their fares on) and I need to be able to juggle things around. Note the "I" here. That's "I" need to juggle things around. I don't want a system that suggests how I juggle things around, or a system that fiddles about making me point and click my way around. As you say, raw data is best, coupled with a very simple way of getting about that data. Perhaps here, in a strange way, the last thing any agent wants is "functionality". The point and click version of nearly all GDS systems never took off... can't think why!

Not forgetting, of course, hotels, car hire and auxillary segments (can you fit in Eurostar and continental rail?) and of course a www.virtuallythere.com or www.checkmytrip.com type interface for the clients (now updated with an i-bore app, or Tripit no doubt) but certainly the information all download-able to any soft fruit termed or other communication device.

Once any journey is underway, if there are any hiccups, I need to see what the airline has done, messages, action and the like. I need to be able to get into a booking and amend, re-issue, re-validate and so on in the certain knowledge that what I have done will be made to happen and what an airline has done, I am made to see.

As a business agent, I take the view that my clients pay their travelling executives to land them multi million dollar deals, they do not pay them a lot of money to work out how to get from A to B (and/ or C, D and E as well). As I say to them: "You worry about landing the deal, I will worry about getting you to the right office, well and refreshed, at the right time". I need to be sure - and I could not give a rancid roadkilled rodent what AA or anyone else says - that I have all the above in my reservation system "package"; that it is 150% accurate and more robust than a brick house - before I would even think of changing.

Now, if someone out there can provide me better tools, I can do a better job - and they are onto a winner, I would venture.

Bon chance!

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