ORLANDO -- In a candid moment at the Travel Weekly Internet Conference here, executives of some of the largest agency groups described how they were helping their agency members the most -- and the areas where they needed to improve.

During a panel discussion called "Bricks-and-Clicks Groups," Philip Wolf, president and chief executive of PhoCusWright, asked representatives from the Uniglobe Group, Vacation.com, Travelbyus and WorldKey to relate some of the compliments and complaints they hear at their member meetings.

Michelle Desreux, senior vice president, global operations, for the Uniglobe Group, said Uniglobe's strengths were in its good marketing and its template-driven Web site for agents.

The weakness? "We're trying to help [agents] filter through technologies," she said.

Uniglobe is on the lookout for technologies that agents can use to improve their business, she added. "I'm here, not only to speak, but to listen."

"In marketing, we do a splendid job," agreed Dick Knodt, president of Vacation.com. What the consortium is working on, he said, is generating new, quality customer leads for their agency members.

Peter Rooney, senior vice president of distribution at Travelbyus said Travelbyus recently rolled out its new Web site, and between February and April had built 450 sites for its members. "They're thanking us for delivering on that promise," Rooney said.

But where Travelbyus "failed miserably" was in focusing on the product side and not on the retail travel network. "I'm happy to say that distribution again is tops," he added.

According to Jim Tyner, chief executive of WorldKey/TravelInStore, their agencies have a high degree of contact with their clients and with WorldKey. Some agencies feel like WorldKey is doing a great job maintaining that close touch with them -- but others feel WorldKey isn't doing enough, he said.

During the discussion, the panelists talked about how agency groups have changed by improving their economies of scale and marketing, helping agents build Web sites, acting as a referral service for new clients and adding to their intranet and extranet services.

"Not only are consumers starved [for information], so too are agents," said Desreux. With the agency groups like Uniglobe, she said, "You can get an intranet where product is available... [destination] specialists within the organization."

Two out of the four groups -- Travelbyus and TravelInStore -- have dropped the "dot-com" from their names. "The market doesn't recognize dot-com" said Rooney. But the panelists agreed bricks-and-clicks is a necessary business strategy: Agencies should have some sort of Web integration.

Desreux said that consumers automatically assume that every travel service has Internet capabilities. "It's kind of like saying 'bricks-and-fax'," she said.

"Customers want bricks, they want clicks, they want everything," added Knodt.


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