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
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
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."