Travel Weekly's Technology E-letter: March 6, 2008

METASEARCH may be entering into a comfort zone with the introduction in beta of InsideTrip, a new lead-generation site that taps into multiple databases to score the trip quality of flights based on 12 elements of airline itineraries, including leg room, security wait time, aircraft age and on-time performance and lost luggage track record. The Seattle start-up was founded by TWA veteran Dave Pelter, most previously with metasearch fare-prediction site Farecast, and is privately held. A visual itinerary bar displays the duration of layovers and total travel times. InsideTrip flags itineraries with a QualityPick icon when the flights are within 5 percent of the lowest fares and score a TripQuality rating of more than 85. Although InsideTrip uses a metasearch business model, where bookings can be handed off to numerous third-party websites, currently all flight searches and bookings are processed through Orbitz.

PRICELINE'S BOOKING.COM is expanding into the U.S., opening offices in San Francisco and New York. Headquartered in Amsterdam, the online and offline hotel aggregator believes U.S. hoteliers will take advantage of Booking.com's ability to attract international travelers seeking hotel accommodations through Web offerings in 17 languages. "This is an exciting time for Booking.com as the strong euro and longer vacation days of European travelers as well as growth in the European online market provide a lucrative business opportunity for hotels in the USA, Canada and Mexico," stated Michaela Baier, the company's hotels manager for the U.S. With relationships with more than 1,400 properties in North America, Booking.com's two new offices will provide account management support for hotels in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

ALASKA AIRLINES introduced "Jenn," an automated virtual assistant at AlaskaAir.com, to answer questions when users click on a link and initiate a live chat. Jenn answers written questions in a human-sounding voice in contrast to some approaches where users merely receive automated e-mail responses to inquiries. Jenn works through Next IT's ActiveAgent software, which accesses answers across multiple databases and drills down on consumers questions by asking follow-up questions. The technology helps seemingly impersonal sites humanize customer service without actually employing people for this automated service.

VIATOR, the trip-activities aggregator, began posting traveler-submitted photos of destination activities. These consumer-taken pics supplement Viator's professionally taken collection of destination images. Viator said that it plans to introduce new features emphasizing user-generated content throughout 2008.

GALILEO integrated inventory from European low-cost carrier EasyJet into the Galileo GDS last month, providing real-time availability and pricing data and connecting the data with travel agencies' mid-office and back-office systems. The new means of booking EasyJet means Galileo agents outside North America don't have to use third-party tools to book the airline and can book more efficiently within the standard workflow. Galileo said that booking EasyJet within the GDS is "twice as quick as screen-scraping solutions and four times as quick as the airline's Web site."

Technology Editor: Dennis Schaal
[email protected] 
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