Two sets of entrepreneurs almost simultaneously launched systems this month that provide free customer relationship management tools for travel agencies in tandem with systems to assist suppliers in reaching those agencies' clients in e-mailed marketing campaigns.
The programs have particular appeal to home-based travel agents, although they are designed to be used by any interested travel agency.
Independent Travel Agency Management System of Ashland, Ohio, and Passport Online teamed up to roll out MarketEaseOnline, a Web-based CRM and e-mail marketing system for agents.
ITAMS is the creator of ClientEase, a Web-based CRM database manager originally designed for independent contractors.
Passport Online provides the VacationPort and NexCite programs, which deliver products to travel agency Web sites.
Suppliers that have distribution agreements with Passport Online automatically have access to MarketEaseOnline and can opt in to e-mail campaigns at any time.
Darla Graber, ITAMS president, said the company signed on about 400 agencies in the first two weeks of solicitations.
She said participating agents would store their client lists in the ITAMS server, and a message filled with suppliers' promotions would be distributed to the entire database monthly. This campaign is called Where to Next?
Another message type, called the Trav-Alert, is designed to deliver last-minute travel offers.
These offers may go to the entire database or to only those consumers within selected ZIP codes, Graber said.
She added that while travel agents don't have to do anything to make these promotions happen, the call to action refers each recipient to the agency that supplied the name.
Graber said Passport Online "works with the majority of suppliers -- tour operators, cruise lines, hotels," which means there is a wide range of products promoted in the e-mailed missives to clients.
In addition, she said, subscribing agents can use the e-mail marketing program to create their own messages and deliver them to the targeted audiences of their choice.
Graber said she believed that any agency could benefit by signing on for the free CRM and e-mail marketing system even if it already is using another database management program.
Travel Sciences and Gestation
Travel Sciences created the Travel Offer Network, another approach for helping suppliers get their product offers in front of agencies' clients.
Whereas Passport Online has suppliers under contract and ITAMS is seeking
travel agency participation, Travel Sciences starts with a stable of 3,000 mostly home-based agencies and is now signing up suppliers.
Fort Lauderdale-based Gestation, a travel business consulting firm, is the marketing and promotion agent for Travel Offer Network.
During the ASTA TradeShow last fall, the Hartford, Conn.-based Travel Sciences launched Open Travel CRM, a free customer relationship marketing program for agents that also includes e-marketing, commission tracking and trip planning among its features.
Program is scalable
Michael Stone, Gestation's president, said Open Travel is scalable to the needs of any agency, but most takers are home-based.
However, he said, a richer version of Open Travel is available for sale to travel agencies on a license basis.
Meanwhile, the Travel Offer Network setup envisions participating suppliers creating and publishing offers that they want travel agents and their clients to see.
These offers would be dropped into the agents' Open Travel desktop, where they could be linked to customer profiles and preferences to facilitate the retailers' search for appropriate product matches for clients.
Also, travel agents can prepare e-mail marketing campaigns that incorporate the supplier offers.
Gestation's Stone was Travel Sciences' founding CEO. However, he said, "My career path never meant for me to run a technology company."
He continues as a principal partner and a consultant to Travel Sciences.
To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].