Vacation packager trade group embraces technology; schedules conference

The vacation packaging industry holds the greatest opportunity for profit in the travel industry with its ability to bundle together multiple components under a single price.
Packagers can build in their own margins and are willing to pay travel agencies higher commissions to sell those packages. They deliver sizable and reliable amounts of business to suppliers, depending on the destination. Yet, it is one of the least automated sectors of the industry; much of what is done today is a highly manual process that relies more on fax and telephone than on sophisticated technology platforms.
A fledgling tour operator distribution and technology trade group, TOWARD (Tour Operators and Wholesalers Achieving Real-time Distribution), has brought together the myriad entities who work together in creating vacation packages—the packagers themselves, suppliers (who can range from airlines to hot air balloon companies), technology companies and travel agencies—in an effort to create a set of standards and conventions to move the industry “toward” more electronic bookings.
The group will hold its first conference, the TOWARD Premier Member Conference, Thursday, July 19th, in Atlanta.
The group’s goal is to help the vacation packaging industry move from what is a highly manual process to a more automated one—one in which both suppliers and packagers can draw on real-time inventory. Among its mandates is to improve the share of electronic bookings of vacations and tours. Currently, tour operator technology is mostly proprietary and idiosyncratic. There is no one industry standard. And, vacation packages are among the most complex travel products there are. They can easily be made up of dozens of components—air, hotel, airport transfers, theater tickets, restaurant vouchers, hot air balloon rides, city tours, etc.
Right now, for example, when vacation packagers and hoteliers work together, the process of establishing the number of hotel rooms available, cut-off dates for delivering bookings and so on, is a process often done by fax or over the telephone. It is time-consuming, cumbersome and inefficient. Complicating the picture is the fact that suppliers are dealing with not one but several vacation packagers, and packagers are dealing with several suppliers.
Vic Macchio, president of the Windward Marketing Group and executive director of TOWARD, stressed that the meeting is not for techies only.
“Sometimes there is a misperception that TOWARD is tech-oriented,” he said. “The membership does have a substantial representation of people in the IT area, but the main focus is distribution.”
That brings in sales and marketing functions and many of TOWARD’s members come out of sales, marketing and general management.
The premier meeting is for members only and TOWARD is open to all players in the industry: vacation packagers, technology providers, media companies, suppliers, travel agencies, agency consortia, car rental companies and the GDS.