The meetings industry, historically fragmented, unmanaged and almost entirely a manual process, is one of the last frontiers of travel automation.
The GDS have taken notice—and are taking action. As they are doing more and more frequently, they are allying themselves with relatively new companies that are native to the Internet, and whose applications will work in GDS systems, which themselves are moving toward a more browser-based structure.
Three GDS are partnering with a single company, Passkey.com
, which provides Web-based group housing and travel solutions for meetings and conventions. The three GDS are not only integrating its group management systems with their own, but taking an equity position in the company. Sabre has invested in the company twice, once in July of 1999, and again when Passkey recently secured $14.4 million in Series D funding from several sources. Galileo and Worldspan have also taken equity positions within the company and all three are integrating Passkey.com’s technology into their own systems.
Agents can use Passkey today but the company is tightening the system’s ability to integrate hotels booked from a block of hotels managed through Passkey and air into the same PNR (the hotel is a passive segment) and most of the three GDS say Passkey will be available to their subscribers at various stages throughout the spring.
Amadeus has made no such announcements but is clearly moving in a similar direction, as indicated by its partnership with a company called Stellar Access, which provides event travel management and e-services to professionals and to trade associations. Amadeus and Stellar Access launched their jointly developed product, the Event Traveler online booking engine and event travel management system in December. It provides associations and their members with customized booking engines and management of their event-specific travel needs, including preferred supplier arrangements with airlines, hotels and car rental companies.
The meetings industry is one that has long been looking for a automation solution.
Tim Durant, Passkey’s executive vice president and general manager for North America, says that there are probably 120 million leisure hotel reservations a year, 115 million business hotel reservations a year and just under 100 million convention and meeting hotel reservations annually. “The first two are automated, the third is 100% fragmented,” he said. “Every event is done over the phone or on paper and we’ve built a system to connect all the critical parties and are automating that portion of the business.”
It uses Internet-based software and a shared, centralized database to solve many of the problems that have plagued the tasks of managing hotel inventories for groups and processing reservations. It also integrates event registration and travel services with convention housing into a single database. Passkey first targeted convention and visitors bureaus with its product, along with meeting planners and third-party vendors. But now it intends to capitalize on the GDS’s relationships with 55,000 agencies around the world to increase the speed of its growth.
It brings travel agents new opportunities. It offers them a manageable a way to get into a new line of business and generate new revenue streams. Durant expects the first users to be event planners, corporate agencies and entrepreneurial agents looking for new business opportunities.
At its simplest, the Passkey relationship will give GDS subscribers automated group booking capabilities, rather than having to make such bookings over the phone. For example, Worldspan agents will book by using Worldspan Go! (the GDS’s Web-based platform) or through Worldspan’s Trip Manager, the GDS’s corporate online self-booking tool.
Galileo agents will be able to access Passkey’s live group reservation system, through Galileo’s Viewpoint desktop via the Galileo e-Agent portal.
Chicago-based McCord Travel, which is a Sabre agency and also is Passkey’s call center, already is using Passkey, but Sabre plans on releasing a more robust form of Passkey in Sabre by spring. In addition, it is also partnering with Passkey in tackling another problem faced by the meetings industry. And that is the keying in of rooming lists in hotels` property management systems, currently a manual process done about 30 days before a meeting.
Until that point, hotels generally have only anecdotal information about how well their rooms are selling, according to Durant. And, for that final 30 days, hotels handle what reservations are coming in directly. Sabre and Passkey plan a group reservation distribution system (GRDS). This will automate this transfer of the rooming list from the Passkey database right into the hotel’s PMS (property management system). This will give hotels access to live information about how sales are progressing and also mean that hotels don’t have to handle reservations directly in that last 30 days.