Travelport executives have been saying for some time that the GDS model is evolving: Agency incentives will still be a part of it, but the technology that Travelport provides will become more important to agencies’ success.
Travelport made a move toward that model with a new package of solutions called Agility, available on Jan. 1.
The bundle, called Travelport Agility, combines existing stand-alone solutions and services, some of which have been free and some that have incurred fees, with new solutions.
Travelport subscribers are looking askance at the Agility package, which comes with a price tag.
Agencies will be charged $35 per month per active addressable device, or log-in, that accesses one or more products or services within Travelport Agility.
The total would come to $420 a year for a one-person operation. For large agencies, that fee can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in a single month.
One company said it has about 1,800 individual log-ins. Its total will be $63,000 a month, or $756,000 a year.
Services that are bundled into Agility will no longer be offered on a stand-alone basis. Some of those services are considered “basic” for agency operations, one agent said.
A key element of the package is Smartpoint, an application that allows users to transact in the GDS language of their choice. World-span agents will use Translator, a “functional equivalent” of Smartpoint.
When Smartpoint was announced in August, Travelport said it blends graphical, point-and-click technology with the Focalpoint cryptic environment, creating a “hybrid” of cryptic-command and point-and-click navigation.
In addition, it would speed up the reservations process and reduce call handling time.
Travelport said Smartpoint “substantially” reduces overall keystrokes by 15%, and by up to 72% when searching for the best fare.
Kurt Ekert, chief commercial officer for Travelport, said an agent who had tested Smartpoint described it as “the best GDS product he has ever seen.”
The Smartpoint application “can be downloaded in minutes,” he said., whereas the Universal Desktop is more complex.
“It’s not just a replacement of the front end. It’s a workflow automation tool,” Ekert said. Agents will “have to look at the entire way they run their business.”
Travelport wants to have everybody on Smartpoint or Worldspan Go Translator as a transitional step.
Agents who use the Universal Desktop will have the ability to toggle back and forth between the graphical environment and the green screen cryptic mode; they will be toggling back to Smartpoint for that feature, Ekert said.
Although it is not the first time Travelport agents will pay for access to certain products — they must pay for access to Southwest Airlines content, for example — the Agility package will be the first real test of Travelport’s vision of the evolution of the model.
Agility amounts to “a material change in our financial relationship” with Travelport, one agent said. The fees for Agility are likely to offset the incentives his company receives from Travelport, he said.
The owner of a small agency in Minnesota said she was “not thrilled. If I’ve got 20 people, that fee adds up.”
However, she is suspending judgment until further information is provided. If the promise of increased productivity is fulfilled, with three or four additional bookings a day from each agent, she would be satisfied.
Ekert said he is “very confident that the efficiency gains will more than offset the fees.”
He said Travelport had considered charging the same fee for Smartpoint alone as it is now charging for the full Agility package.
An executive at a California travel management company said he was as disturbed by the way Agility was introduced as he is about the fee, along with the lack of response to his questions.
His company signed a renewal agreement just a few weeks ago, and the Travelport representatives never mentioned that changes were just around the corner.
“They had to have known,” he said.
His new contract specifically waives fees for several of the solutions on the Agility list, and he has been unable to get clarification on whether Travelport intends to honor those waivers.
Ekert said he would not discuss any specific arrangements, but he added that “obviously, we’re not going to do anything that violates our agreements.”
He said he believes agents will understand the value of the Agility package when they see Smartpoint in action.