It's a common problem for agents. They book a trip and their client takes it. They are owed a commission from the suppliers with which they worked, but for a number of reasons -- most of which are simple errors, not the result of a delinquent supplier -- they aren't paid or they aren't paid the full commission they are due.

Irving Betesh, president of travel and membership services at IBC Private in New York, encountered the problem when he started his own travel agency seven years ago. 

"I just assumed that the commissions that travel agents earned, we did our job, so it should be easy for us to collect [suppliers'] money," Betesh said. "For a variety of reasons, that's not the case, and it's probably one of the most taxing and time-consuming and anxiety-filled processes that an individual agent goes through. I wasn't aware of that in the beginning. I thought it was just my ignorance, but the more research I did, I found that this is a problem that a lot of people shared."

The reasons why a commission payment is missed or is incorrect vary. For example, Betesh said, an independent contractor (IC) has to submit invoices to his or her host agency. Sometimes the transaction detail on the invoice is accidentally stripped from the invoice that goes to the supplier, so while the host agency gets paid, they might not realize the payment should have been earmarked for the IC.

As a result, a number of agents keep track by entering transactions and their details on their own spreadsheets; if commissions don't come through, they often waste time tracking them down that could have been better spent.

Over the years, Betesh had mentioned the issue to his best friend, Alfons Musry, who was managing the housewares division for a wholesaler and wasn't involved in the travel industry. He was intrigued.

He did some research to make sure the travel agency channel was a viable one and discovered the recent resurgence advisors have enjoyed. Musry was particularly struck by the issue Betesh brought up and spoke with dozens of agents about it. They all shared similar sentiments.

"If they're expecting $100 and they only receive $50, they're saying it's the cost of doing business to them. And that wasn't just one travel agent, that was the common response from dozens," Musry said. "My response to them is, 'How is that the cost of doing business?'"

He felt they should get paid for the work they did and saw an opportunity. He put together a one-page business plan for a commission management solution and, unasked, presented it to Betesh.

Sion, named after Betesh's son and father (and pronounced SEE-on), was born. The software, accessible online, enables travel advisors to input transactions including the client, supplier, trip dates and more. Sion tracks when a commission payment is due, and it alerts advisors when it's overdue.

Currently, agents have to manually input each transaction. Betesh estimated one transaction can take as little as 10 seconds to log in Sion. And he said that future integrations will eliminate the manual process.

"Our system really focuses on simplicity," said Betesh, Sion's CEO. "On a high level, Sion wants to have a record and keep track of all of your receivables and make sure you get paid on it."

Advisors are essentially looking at a real-time report when they log in to Sion, and they can search for and filter results by a number of factors, Betesh said, such as IATA number, dates, suppliers, clients and more. There are also versions of Sion available for host agencies and their ICs.

Sion is in beta-testing, but it's already attracted the attention of several notable industry programs and is enrolled in Virtuoso Incubator and Amadeus for Startups. It will officially launch later this summer, when Betesh said he and Musry hope to offer the software on a "freemium" basis, where the base version is free and users pay for more advanced features.

Sion will eventually be integrated with GDSs, so agents who are GDS users will have transactions automatically import into Sion. Betesh said similar integrations with back-office systems are expected, too.

"It's really a commission-management system that's made for the 21st century," Betesh said. "It's for the modern agent who is used to things being easy."

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