VAX pursuing packages and agents

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MILWAUKEE -- If Trisept Solutions' chief executive John Ische is right, his company's VAX VacationAccess agent booking Web site could free many agents from the need to maintain costly accounts with GDSs, especially in September when the system incorporates a new feature: dynamic packaging.

US Airways recently introduced TriSept Solutions' dynamic-packaging technology on the US Airways Web site at www.usairways.com.

But the same system, which provides real-time access to air, hotel and rental-car inventory, and enables users to create their own packages, will also be available to agents in mid-September on www.vaxvacationaccess.com.

TriSept Solutions, the technology company owned by Mark Travel's parent company, La Macchia Enterprises, developed the packaging technology. TriSept operates the VAX VacationAccess site.

Before the addition of dynamic packaging, the extent of VAX's capabilities was to enable agents to book standardized packages that use blocked inventory.

The site provides a booking channel for 20 suppliers, including the vacation packaging brands of Mark Travel and Certified Vacations, as well as Carnival Cruise Lines and Club Med.

In October 2000, TriSept tried to expand the platform to include escorted tours by bringing Mayflower Tours into the system. But in early 2003, Mayflower pulled out, leaving VAX without an escorted tour operator.

"The volume wasn't there," said Mayflower chief operating officer Nish Patel. "It was hard for people to book us and not call us. With the escorted tour business, there is so much to know, so many questions, such as what to wear on day three at dinner. Is it formal? People would book on the site and still call us."

An additional problem was that Mayflower's air-inclusive bookings were still done in the traditional tour operator manner using seat blocks, which required the air component to be added manually in an extra operation.

But even without escorted tours, and before dynamic packaging, Trisept CEO Ische said the VAX product is growing in popularity as a free alternative to the GDSs.

"The booking volume of VAX is five times greater than a year ago," said Ische. "The number of agents using the site has grown to 21,000 agencies, 50,000 agents. Many agents who used to use the call center now use VAX. It's the perfect tool for home-based agents, or agents who are not ARC appointed. Agents who use the GDS are finding VAX to be a better product. It's quicker and more user-friendly."

According to Meier the site is a better communication medium than the GDSs. "We are able to market programs through it, send information on specials and do it instantaneously. Agents appreciate it. All they need is a PC to access it. It's free to agents."

The system also enables agents to track payments, details of transactions and customer-service interactions.

For some agents, VAX already takes the place of the GDS. "I don't use the GDS; I don't like the system," said Azad Hovsepyan, owner of Sabo Travel, in Glendale, Calif. "You have to know all the formats, codes. It's easy for me on the Internet. The GDS isn't friendly. VAX is very friendly, easy to use."

Of course, all of the GDSs, which have the infrastructure to aggregate far more suppliers than VAX, have Web-based platforms.

For home-based Bill Borders, owner of Sea Borders Dream Cruises, the use of a GDS isn't even a question. "I never had a GDS contract," he said. "The only reason I would have to use GDS is to book plane tickets, but we're getting away from that. I can book packages on VAX and get the commission on the flight."

But it's not for everyone, or for every need. "Only once did I use it," said Nancy Pugh, owner of Tortuga Travel of Flowertown, Pa., referring to the VAX site. "We do use US Airways Vacations, but we do it over the phone. I like the back-and-forth of the phone. I didn't find the site that agent friendly. It's hard to jump around on it. I haven't had time to give it the attention it probably deserves."

Gene Clock, vice president of sales and marketing of Iobst Travel Service of Emmaus, Pa., said, "It's something we would look at, except it doesn't include our [Giants] preferred suppliers."

"I have tried it," said Lauren St. Helaire, office manager of Adventure Tours and Travel in Lyndhurst, N.J. "We've registered but haven't made any bookings on it. It's not the easiest to use. It's probably just familiarity. But we have our preferred suppliers we go to first."

The VAX dynamic packaging system went into beta testing with a select group of agents this week.

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