Keith Webber Speaks Out to Internet Travel News

Following results of a poll released earlier this year, conducted by NTL Business,
Keith Webber, Head Sales & Marketing, Telewest Travel, speaks out to Internet Travel News to disclose his sceptical views on the findings.

The Travelvision straw poll revealed

conclusive results that although the industry expects the internet to become the dominant reservations channel within five years, 66% of agents prefer to make their bookings through viewdata citing speed, trust, familiarity and ease of access as the main reasons for using the travel industry’s dominant reservation channel.
Keith Webber

found the statistics revealed in the survey findings to be confusing, commenting: “I consider the percentage derived to be unrepresentative of the market and certainly unrepresentative of our experience of the market. I am cautious about the survey base and the conclusions that were reached”. Citing his own experience since delivering endeavour online to the travel agency market, irrespective of size, Keith adds: “The response we have had without fully launching endeavour has been remarkable and from that perspective I am really surprised that 82% of the UK market operate a website and that that 41% of these are selling online web with 44% offering real-time bookings”.
Keith tells Internet Travel News that the vast majority of agents do not have a fully bookable website. “Most independent companies wouldn’t have the financial capability to start from scratch and build their own websites and there are very few - if any products that comprehensively provide that for them”.
“Although it is clearly true that the vast majority of agencies have access to the web, in our experience, only tiny proportion of agencies are operating bookable websites, or indeed doing ‘business’ across the web, which is the description used in the research”.
ITN: Why do travel agents still rely heavily on viewdata?

KW: It is a chicken and egg scenario - increasingly agents are moving into the use of applications and systems that, whilst powered by viewdata, mask the old black screen data in terms of presentation, integrating other components.

Although agents rely on viewdata for the ‘power behind the system’, increasingly they are not relying on viewdata as the presentation mechanic. The travel agent can’t influence how quickly the tour operators move from viewdata to new systems - for example an XML base messaging system - which would then require the use of content selling solutions.



ITN: Why is the travel industry is behind others in embracing new technologies?

KW: In some ways it is and in others it isn’t. The implementation of viewdata twenty five years ago was ahead of its time and the proportion of business that is conducted electronically in the travel industry is currently way over 90% and has been for a number of years, leading the way for a number of industries.

The technology the industry uses and old-fashioned networks historically used, all need to be migrated and replaced, but it is very difficult to buy a holiday any other way than electronically. Tour Operators don’t have electronic departments of any relevant degree any more.
Broadband is the other aspect that indicates whether the travel industry has moved ahead and it is incredibly important in terms of the capability that we can deliver in future. Our figures show that the travel industry has embraced broadband much more quickly and extensively than the market place as a whole.


ITN: Will broadband play a role in encouraging agents to go online?

KW: Having to sit through a long process is an unattractive prospect today.
Broadband is always on allowing the user to go straight to application that needed. It is very quick and compelling in terms of price. This is clearly going to help driving that forward at an affordable rate.
ITN: What percentage of UK agents would you estimate as being online?

KW: I would agree that 80% of agents questioned use the internet. Internet adaptation has grown hugely in the last 18 months and it is now impossible to meet customer needs unless agents have access to same level of information. Working with a phone and manual is no longer going to work.


ITN: What are your predictions in terms of the industry embracing new technologies?

KW: Consumer drivers mean that the travel agents have to mirror the consumers in three ways:

* Broadband connections for business much more efficient and control costs

* Selling systems need to meet customer expectations for holiday requirements much more specifically.

* Online bookable services - the biggest leak to travel agencies potential revenue is through online bookable services. If the travel agency doesn’t provide an equivalent service to their customer than even loyal customer will look elsewhere.