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Travel Technology - Don’t Get Fooled Again – Focus on What’s Really Important

Computers have enabled travel distribution for decades, and most of the industry believes that agencies large and small ought to compete on technology. The latest and greatest computer-based devices (this reasoning goes) demonstrate who can be relied upon to deliver consistently lower prices, efficient booking tools, quality service, and the fringe benefits valued by the most demanding customers.

If this view is correct, why doesn't that translate into far more business for those that are "ahead" in the technology wars? If technology is irrelevant to competition, how can any agency justify the ongoing (and ever-increasing) investments that striving for technological advantage (or even parity) requires?

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Excellence comes at a cost, particularly as travel distribution becomes a more challenging and financially complex business. The number of vendor and customer variables that agents must manage is truly breathtaking when compared to slim margins and significant risks of failure.

Top-performing travel organizations are working smarter rather than harder, relying upon the right technology partner, with the resources and expertise to consistently deliver products that benefit all aspects of their businesses. Technology enhances competition where there is sufficient management skill and resolve, and sufficiently skillful partners, to address basic customer benefits.


Five Technology Competitiveness Fundamentals

  1. Much of what passes for "leading edge" development in the travel industry isn't that good.

Travel technology has more than its share of products built upon slick presentations. Striving for competitive advantage with such tools is a little like trying to drive a car without a motor in it.

Make sure your technology partner delivers solutions that address your real customer needs, performs at consistently high levels, and that the vendor has adequate implementation, consulting, and support expertise to help you get at the benefits quickly and efficiently.

  1. Your customers don't value technology tools the same way you do.

Most travel customers are interested in trouble-free trips—not in tools. Successful competitors strive for simple, consistent customer services, and bring the tools out only when benefits are clear and they can be tightly integrated into service delivery.

This doesn’t diminish the value of technology, but indicates efficiency is often invisible to customers. The best technology partner works with you across your organization, including behind the scenes, to deliver the required result.

  1. Frequently the "latest" products don't address real problems travelers or travel buyers want to solve.

A few travel technology developers spend time solving their own problems or inventing problems to be solved because they need a reason to be in business. It's all right to solve your own problems as long as you're clear this is what you're doing and you can relate the process to something corporate travel buyers and travelers value.

This can be quality, extended service benefits or financial incentives, but remember: these must be the focus, not technology itself.

A good example is travel reporting. Without sound "actionable" analysis, reporting is but a pile of papers or an unopened computer file—no matter how superior the tool that produces the paper. Adding visually appealing graphics makes a prettier pile of papers, but lacking effective analysis the pile remains competitively ineffective.

The popular term “Business Intelligence” means producing an information-based understanding of process or data that can be translated into actions consistent with real customer needs. The key to competitive advantage is how effectively an agency can relate to customer priorities.

Finding an effective technology partner can be invaluable, as their experience base is broad enough to help you separate what is important from what is not.

Leading-edge products and services are continually improved from user experiences and requests for improvement. Developers must not only encourage and accept customer input but actively create ways to appropriately influence product direction.

  1. Practical, analytical customer reporting is a component sorely lacking in most travel management companies, despite the multitude of technology products available.

Competitive advantage, therefore, requires not just finding tools but adapting operations and management to become the most effective user of those tools.

  1. Process control and improvement tools materially benefit agency operations and deliver superior, sustainable customer service.

No service standard is useful if it only happens once in a while. Consistency is a major customer priority—the online booking tool used or the person who answers the phone less so.

Travel agency mid-office automation has repeatedly proven essential to delivering consistent customer service. Operations that build services around those tools not only deliver what their customers want to buy but also enhance their profitability by avoiding errors and reworks, while allowing best use of human resources.

When technology appreciably lowers costs, this financial advantage finds its way into greater competitiveness. The real competitive message is found in customer benefits.


Summary

It would be unfortunate, as much of the travel industry faces difficult financial times, to overlook technology as a competitive asset. Here is a significant opportunity that has remained largely unexploited for years.

Cornerstone maintains the industry’s most effective and efficient suite of agency technology tools, support and implementation services, and customer-facing development. Please let us support enhanced competitiveness for your business.


About the Author

David Wardell is a senior consultant for all phases of travel operations and technology, with 34 years experience for many major industry vendors, corporate buyers, and large and small travel agencies worldwide. He has authored over 450 articles for trade, technical, and general interest publications.
Email: dwardell@ciswired.com
Phone: +1 (202) 558-7762


About Cornerstone Information Systems

What if you could do double the work in half the time? This is what Cornerstone Information Systems accomplishes for their customers by handling the technology side of business so their customers can focus all their attention on their core competencies with the passion and drive that leads to success. As a leading professional services company, Cornerstone helps travel management companies, corporate travel departments, airline and global distribution systems work to their fullest and most profitable potential. Founded in 1992, Cornerstone Information Systems is a privately-held company based in Bloomington, Indiana with offices in eight locations worldwide.

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