Panel: Online Systems Can Be Worth the Legwork

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Corporations looking to adopt an Internet-based booking system must first come to grips with a bewildering array of questions that will challenge even the most sophisticated and diligent manager.

But the end result, according to a group of panelists speaking at Travel Weekly's Conference '98 here, can form the basis of a strong program that saves money, streamlines the travel management process and improves the service that travelers receive.

Among the many things that should be considered when looking at the corporate on-line systems now on the market, according to Paul Craft, vice president of information technologies for Chicago's McCord Travel Management, are:

  • Booking through the system must be faster than booking through a human reservationist.
  • Frequent travelers and those who work in field offices generally adapt more easily to electronic self-booking systems than do other types of travelers.
  • It is generally much easier to book domestic point-to-point travel on such systems than complex or international tickets.
  • Companies that have a solid and uniform technological infrastructure -- and a well-defined set of travel policies and preferred suppliers -- are more likely to successfully employ a self-booking system.
  • And, as with any travel program, the support of senior management and the information systems department is crucial.
  • In addition, added panelist Bill Diffenderffer of Xtra On-Line, a Dallas-based Internet software company, any system must be versatile enough to adapt to the evolving needs of the corporations, its travelers and its travel agency.

    Audience members at the session also got a brief taste of how one corporation handles these and other issues.

    Charles Schwab Travel operates as a fully accredited agency serving the travel needs of the brokerage firm; air volume was about $12 million last year. Twenty-two percent of the agency's transactions are now made on line, and manager Bob Grant said he expects that figure to hit 40% by the end of the year.

    This has meant fewer and shorter phone calls, lower cost per transaction and "better travel management -- the bottom line, in my view," Grant said.

    Grant added that he has developed a strong preferred-vendor program for air, hotel and car rentals and that its simplicity and wide acceptance by travelers has helped to make implementation of an on-line booking system easier.

    Asked what he would do differently if he was given a chance to start his program anew, he said he would make the same decisions but would spread their implementation over a longer period of time.

    The panel was moderated by Jeff Hoffman, vice president of distribution and planning for Worldspan.

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