Fourteen leading travel agencies have switched to the Sabre global distribution system (GDS) over the past two months in the largest single group of business wins the company has ever seen in the UK. Another 38 from France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and The Netherlands have also converted to the system. Uniglobe Preferred and a London travel management company it is acquiring have switched from Galileo, while Phileas Fogg Travel and Uniglobe Island come from Worldspan.
Details of two conversions are confidential and Sabre Travel Network says information about the other eight will be announced within weeks, once the agencies have had a chance to inform their current GDS providers.
“This is a good mix of business and leisure travel”, said David Brown, Sabre Travel Network’s director for the UK, Ireland and the Nordic region. “Our European leisure product is stronger now than it ever has been and our acquisition of Hamburg-based Dillon Communication Systems (DCS) late last year is an important part of our future plans for tour content.”
Phileas Fogg and Uniglobe Preferred will be the UK launch customers for Sabre Travel Network’s newest booking tool, Sabre for Windows Point and Click. This simplifies the booking process by combining traditional Sabre system screens and codes with drop down menus, graphical icons and the ability to use a mouse to enter data instead of a keyboard.
These agencies will also be using a new booking platform called MySabre, which will provide single-screen access to published, private and web fares, including fares from major no-frill airlines in Europe and elsewhere. More details of this product will be revealed when it is launched in the UK later this month (June).
All the agencies will use Sabre Travel Network’s Hardware VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect to the GDS. This will shave hundreds of pounds a month off communication costs. It also allows these agencies to negotiate with a range of telecommunication providers for the most cost-effective package.
Uniglobe Preferred’s managing director, John Burroughes, said: “One of the key drivers behind our move, apart from customer service, was concern for the future. We wanted a GDS partner who would give us the tools and content we need to diversify our revenue streams and enhance our customer service.”
“Sabre Holdings has made some shrewd moves in the past four or five years and has successfully developed a strong presence in every channel of travel distribution,” said Aidan Whelan, chairman of Phileas Fogg. “We believe it will prove a strong negotiating partner with travel suppliers in the turbulent years to come. Recent initiatives such as the launch of the DCA Three-Year Option to secure airline commitment and web-fares, as well as the introduction of Sabre Travel Network’s new revenue model for hotel distribution, show it is adapting rapidly to industry developments.”
All the agencies were attracted by Sabre Travel Network’s commitment not to pass on the GDS surcharge introduced by British Airways at the start of the year. Content and long-term business strategy were more important considerations, however.
“While absorbing the BA charge demonstrates empathy with agencies, we were also attracted by the fact that we can book FlyBE on the Sabre system,” said Mandy Eulenkamp, director of Uniglobe Island.
“We felt that Sabre Holdings is following a coherent long-term business strategy, building a commanding presence in the direct consumer and corporate booking channels with Travelocity and GetThere. We know this will ultimately benefit us as Sabre Travel Network uses this presence to negotiate favourable rates and content with suppliers. This will be important as GDS deregulation moves beyond the US into Europe.”
Figures released last year by the British Guild of Business Travel Agents (GBTA) show that Sabre Travel Network is growing its share of Guild member bookings more quickly than any other GDS operator. At the time Adam White, chairman of the GBTA’s technology working party, said: “Five years ago Galileo probably had about 90 percent of GBTA members using its GDS as a primary system, but Sabre Travel Network is now taking a greater market share. It also appears to have been more effective in developing front, mid and back office solutions which hook into its own GDS.”
Uniglobe’s John Burroughes said the conversion process was not difficult. “While it was tempting just to put up with what we had, we couldn’t be complacent. It was a leap of faith to change a system at the heart of our business but we found it wasn’t a complicated process when you work to specific objectives as a team.”