GDS interfaces drag advisors out of the dark, green ages

Travelport's Smartpoint graphical user interface was developed to replace the "green screen" interface.
Travelport's Smartpoint graphical user interface was developed to replace the "green screen" interface.

GDSs today must operate in a hybrid world. They still support traditional "green screen" interfaces for old-school travel advisors who prefer working in a cryptic, command-line environment. But they have also worked for almost a decade developing and improving graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that present content in a more user-friendly way for a new generation of advisors.

After years of honing their command-line skills, many older, seasoned advisors prefer to continue working in a cryptic environment. But increasingly, GDSs and many agencies are encouraging these veterans to switch to the GUIs, which have more features and promise to offer additional content as IATA's New Distribution Capability grows to permeate the industry. 

It is also easier to train new agents on GUIs, eliminating the need to learn an outdated cryptic environment. Eventually, most expect green-screen GDS interfaces to fade into nonexistence.

Simon Ferguson, Travelport's president and managing director of the Americas, said the shorter learning curve is among the product's greatest advantages.

"We're very passionate about our travel agencies investing in Smartpoint, he said of Travelport's GUI, "so that they can bring through a new generation of travel agent who doesn't need to spend months learning cryptic GDS commands but can just use the graphical environment and therefore focus on what they do best, which is service customers and represent their travel agency in the best possible way."

Travelport, Ferguson said, was the first GDS to introduce a GUI, making Smartpoint available in 2010. It was introduced because consumer and business experiences in the digital world were moving toward more graphical content, and Travelport wanted to bring that experience to travel agents. 

Additionally, as suppliers introduced products, the cryptic GDS language wasn't adequate to describe them. Displaying content such as new airline classes in a GUI ensured that content was represented properly on the GDS.

Ferguson acknowledged that there remain a number of "cryptic warriors": agents who still prefer using a traditional GDS environment. Travelport, like other GDSs, has built cryptic functionality into Smartpoint so users can toggle from a traditional interface to a GUI and back again at any point.

Sabre's and Amadeus' agent platforms have similar capabilities, enabling users to jump easily from a cryptic interface to a GUI. 

Sabre Red 360 has been in development for several years. Product marketing manager Sierra Dunaway said Red 360 is being rolled out to agencies now, and she expects the majority of customers to be using it by the end of the year.

Amadeus' Selling Platform Connect has also been under development for several years, according to Ilia Kostov, head of business travel for the Americas and global key accounts. Three-quarters of Amadeus' global agency customers are using Selling Platform Connect, and he said he expects the majority of the rest to be onboard by the end of the year.

"As the old adage goes, a picture's worth a thousand words," Kostov said. "It's a lot better for a travel counselor to understand and to articulate what a product is when they can actually see it, as opposed to when they can see something in cryptic commands on a green screen."

Training gains

Dunaway said one of Sabre's customers who is training its advisors on the GUI had agents with two to four months of experience booking at the same level as those with one to two years of experience. Agents with four to six months of experience who had been trained on the GUI were booking at the same level as agents with two to four years of experience. 

Another agency said it used to take four weeks to train new agents in a cryptic environment. Sabre's GUI has cut that down to four to five hours using Sabre's Personal Trainer computerized tool.

Based on feedback from users, Dunaway said experienced agents appear to be sticking with the cryptic environment, but many are using some tools offered in the GUI to speed up their workflow. Most new agents, in contrast, use the GUI.

Emily Drees, a corporate travel advisor with Christopherson Business Travel in Salt Lake City, is an exception. At 30, she has been working in travel for about seven years. Before joining Christopherson, she worked at a New York agency that put her through a boot camp where she learned to use a command-line GDS interface. While Christopherson encourages agents to use Smartpoint, Drees prefers using the traditional interface because, she said, she is faster at inputting information using typed commands.

"I feel that I have more control over what I'm doing and what I'm typing using the old-school way," she said. "It's just easier for me."

Jeanine Eissler, manager of operations for Christopherson, said many of the agency's tenured agents prefer the green screen, but Christopherson is training all its new advisors on Smartpoint.

"It's going to be the way of the future," she said, "and I believe that's the direction we're going in."

Christopherson corporate trainer Connie Denmark said that while tenured agents do prefer the green screen, she is increasingly seeing them using the GUI and its features for things like booking cars. She called Smartpoint "very hybrid" with its GUI and traditional interface offerings.

Chip Juedes, CEO of Fox World Travel in Oshkosh, Wis., said the agency trains new agents to use only Smartpoint's GUI.

Juedes wants to operate an agency in a world where he can recruit advisors from any service-based business, such as a bank or a restaurant. If he experiences great customer service, he wants to hand that person a card and encourage him or her to work at Fox. GUIs make that possible, he said, by making it much easier to bring agents onboard faster.

In the past, he said, recruiters used the opposite approach: "You looked for someone who has great traditional GDS skills and hope they're good at customer service. So we really set out to turn the industry on its head, which is hiring for customer service and teaching them travel."

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