Posted August 12, 2014

Travelport's Upcoming Agency Desktop Advances Shift 'From Distribution Provider To Marketing Partner'

Los Angeles - Expected this fall, the latest version of Travelport's Smartpoint agency desktop blends into a single, common agency screen traditionally filed airfare content and content fed through XML-based application programming interfaces. Demoed here for The Beat last month during the Global Business Travel Association's annual convention, it also allows users to incorporate their own apps.

"The approach is traditional ATPCo fare-filed content and XML API-sourced content that we bring together for a ubiquitous, common experience for the agent," said Travelport chief commercial officer Kurt Ekert. "There are not disparate, one-off ways to get that content. That's very different than the way we have done business—or anyone has done business. Regardless of how we consume content, it's a seamless experience for the end user. That's a fundamental change in the industry."

For example, when an agent's search display includes an option to book a premium-economy seat from certain carriers, an embedded frame appears with all of the product's information.

Those airlines that have signed up for Travelport's Rich Content and Branding extension (now more than 50, including Delta and United) will use "an extranet-type interface" that enables them to set parameters for when and where certain ancillaries, upsells, fare families and other merchandizing options are made available, and to mimic the look and feel of their consumer websites.

"They load that into the database and that comes in through our Universal API and into Smartpoint," Ekert explained. "It can take 20 minutes to a couple of hours [for airlines to load the information] depending on the level of sophistication they want. If you don't solve for this new content within traditional workflow, it's very difficult for people to consume new content."

"Whether the airline wants to file ATPCo ancillaries or wants to do an API connection, we facilitate either," said Scott Hemphill, Travelport regional product manager in the Americas. "If paying for [Delta's] Economy Comfort, the agent hits 'apply' and it brings up the payment screen. No phone call to Delta, no going to delta.com. It can all be done [in Smartpoint]. Complete payment, send transaction to Delta, and Delta sends back the confirmation number—effectively a ticket number for that seat. We then document the PNR with information on that purchase, all within the workflow."

Hemphill added that Smartpoint can handle fare families for those airlines that choose to sell in that way, requoting prices as selections are modified. For example, he said American Airlines will present its Choice fare bundles. "American is looking at personalization on the ancillary side," Hemphill said. "In this platform, from the shopping, they can know it's you and tailor things if they want to. They are going to utilize this API connection and move away from the connection they have had."

Ekert said that by providing airlines better merchandizing capabilities, "the value proposition moves us much more from being a distribution provider to a marketing partner. It has dramatically changed the nature of our conversation with our airline customers."

The same idea of co-mingling content is at play on the lodging side. Travelport's Rooms and More metasearch hotel booking tool, for example, can be opened within the same agent desktop frame through a quick command. As agents make bookings through that system, segments automatically are built into passenger name records.

Travelport also plans to deploy the Smartpoint desktop API to enable travel agencies to layer on their own applications. "If you are an agency that wants to do something we don't do, you can customize," Hemphill explained. "You can get fancy. When an agent is working in the PNR, maybe something pops up and says to do this, or tells them to go down a workflow path—for example, when the agent forgot a piece of information, or reminders about low-fare savings, or a reason code, or 'Hey, you didn't book a hotel.' "

To improve the user experience, the updated desktop system shows 16 lines of availability (up from eight), allowing display of all classes of service. Search functionality allows for reviewing and booking from the same screen both the outbound and return segments.

Other built-in tools include a queue manager with notifications and a calendar-based shopping interface. Airfare options can be color-coded to, for example, indicate when an airline is using Travelport's Rich Content and Branding module.

Though the newest Smartpoint version uses graphical displays, it retains the old-school cryptic format for those agents who prefer it. It also "can translate commands used by other GDS-based desktops into Apollo, Galileo or Worldspan," Hemphill said, making it easier for agents to switch environments.

The new version of Smartpoint will be a download for Apollo and Galileo users (version 4.0). For Worldspan, which is browser-based, all users can get the new system once Travelport completes the new browser version (version 5.3.1).

Though there are some updated features related to hotel shopping, the subsequent release due early next year "will be almost all focused on hotel and car functionality," Ekert said.

Travelport CEO Gordon Wilson told The Beat that 82 percent of subscribers are using either the current version of Smartpoint or the company's Universal Desktop. "Customers expect continuous upgrades, two a year or whatever," he said. "It's much more rapid-fire. As a downloadable app, it's an easy way to get the latest and greatest."

Posted by: David Jonas | More by David Jonas

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