The capability for consumers to book hotels through Virtuoso.com will launch on April 3, following a test period that began in late February.

All consumer bookings will belong to a Virtuoso adviser -- one with whom the consumer has worked previously or one who has signed up for a paid lead-generation program.

In addition to enabling consumers to book about 900 hotels on Virtuoso's website, advisers are also given the same ability, said Matt Elliott, director of Virtuoso.com.

Virtuoso agencies who do not use the Sabre GDS will not be able to book using the tool, and their clients will not be able to to book directly with them through Virtuoso.com, Elliott said. Instead, their clients can send their adviser an email inquiry -- including the property, dates of stay, room type and rate -- about hotels they are interested in via Virtuoso.com.

That email is not tied to Sabre or the GDS. The site determines which advisers can and cannot book through the GDS, which in turn determines whether the consumer can book online or send an email inquiry to their adviser.

However, Elliott estimated that 85-90% of Virtuoso agencies in North America utilize Sabre.

Virtuoso decided to create its booking technology in-house after reviewing more than 20 vendors and finding no solution meeting the consortium's needs, said Elliott. The research process began about 18 months ago.

"We spent about nine months in user experience and design, specification writing, development and actual co-development with an incredible team that was a cross-section of every department in Virtuoso," he said.

"And most importantly, we did it in consult with our members," Elliott continued. "We had about 18 agency owners and managers who were kind of like our consulting board who we would bounce ideas off of, and really built this hand-in-hand with them, and kept them in the loop and got a lot of excellent feedback that helped guide the designs and made sure it worked for our member agencies."

The tool offers agents the ability to book hotels 24/7 at Virtuoso rates. The tool is free for advisers. Agents have been able to use the tool since July. Consumer bookings, however, have only been enabled since Feb. 23, and that was a soft launch with no marketing.

If consumers without an adviser make a booking, it will go to one of a pool of Virtuoso agents who are signed up to receive the bookings. Elliott said they are being charged for the service on a per-client basis, but they are essentially being handed actual bookings and a new client.

In addition to the convenience afforded to consumers, Elliott said they will also get a full slate of Virtuoso amenities with each hotel booked, as well as the guidance of an adviser for all trip aspects. 

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