Changing the Way Travel Agencies Do Business

At the end of July the Sabre Travel Network announced it was abandoning an age-old hodgepodge of computing systems and building a new Web-based service offering that employs cutting-edge extensible markup language (XML) and simple object access protocol (SOAP) technologies. This is a big deal for small businesses that connect with Sabre’s global distribution system (GDS) because nearly 35 percent of the world’s travel is booked through Sabre.

More than 12,600 U.S.-based agencies rely on Sabre’s GDS, which virtually links agents with information from more than 400 airlines, 60,000 hotels, 53 car rental companies, nine cruise lines, 36 railroads and 232 tour operators. The new Sabre Web Services offering is designed to provide travel agents with easier, faster and more flexible access to the Sabre GDS.

The technology shift enables travel agencies to reduce development time for new and enhanced offerings, subsequently cutting costs and speeding time to market for new sources of revenue. For small travel agencies, this adds up to improving customer services and assuring competitive advantages.

At the time of the announcement, John Stow, Sabre Travel Network president, said it was about time the travel industry joined the 21st century.

“When machines talk to each other using Internet technology and full-featured Web services capabilities, agencies can drastically cut time to market for new Web-based booking and search tools,” Stow said.

New System Means New Hardware
The change in the system also means that U.S.-based travel agencies will need change the way they do business — at least when it comes to the hardware they’ll need to connect with Sabre’s new Web-based services. This is where Gateway comes into the picture — the Poway, Calif.-based computer maker just inked a deal with the Sabre Travel Network to provide an easy way for Sabre Connected travel agents to purchase the necessary new hardware and software.

The new joint solution includes Sabre Travel Network software and connection to its GDS network, installation conducted by DecisionOne — an IT services company specializing in Sabre GDS implementations — and Gateway’s E-Series desktop computers.

“This relationship with Sabre provides real value for travel agents by combining Sabre’s market-leading software and services with Gateway’s award-winning E-Series desktops,” said Steve McAllister, Gateway’s vice president and GM of alternate channels. “Ultimately, the relationship between Gateway and Sabre will help agents save time and money when booking travel by streamlining their technology needs into a single solution.”

Gateway’s E-2100 and E-4100 desktops are part of a total hardware/software solution. The E-2100 is priced just under $999 and the E-4100 runs around $1,050. Ticket printer pricing varies — prices range from $500 to $3,000. Gateway is the single point of contact for hardware service and support of Sabre’s new system. Scott O’Donnell, Gateway director of alternate channels, said the company wanted to make it as easy as possible for travel agencies to setup their new computer systems.

“There are more than 12,000 travel agencies and 96,000 travel agents,” O’Donnell said. “We’re providing one point of contact for these small businesses so they can go about their business. They can rely on us to provide them with the support they need to make the switch to new booking systems.”

Sabre will be marketing the Gateway solution to its network of travel agencies and Gateway is building a one-stop portal to simplify the hardware buying process for travel agencies.

Technology Dictates Industry Change
What’s particularly interesting here is that Sabre is driving the travel industry to change — outdated legacy systems are being replaced with more flexible and efficient Web-based systems. Sabre forged a pact with Gateway to help travel agencies make a quantum leap in their computing capabilities.

The result is that a travel agency planning to build a website with travel booking capabilities can readily tap into Sabre’s Web Services portfolio to deliver specific online services to meet their individual business needs. For example, one agency may use geographic displays of available hotels, while another may opt for a more streamlined text view of available hotels. By using Sabre Web Services, rather than off-the-shelf booking tools, agencies gain maximum control over the creation of their online booking tools.

“Other companies talk about Web services,” Sabre’s Stow said, “but we are the first to offer a comprehensive, fully developed suite of tools ready to begin generating a return on investment for agents today.”

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