Some Sabre agencies, upset that clients using Sabre Virtually There receive solicitations for supplier-direct bookings, are executing electronic detours around the online itinerary service.
These agencies either avoid Virtually There altogether and e-mail clients itineraries themselves or they e-mail clients links to their Virtually There itineraries without furnishing their clients` e-mail addresses to Sabre.
Ordinarily, the agent enters client e-mail addresses during the booking process and the CRS e-mails the client a link to a Virtually There Web page, co-branded with the agency, where the client can view and download an itinerary and related destination information.
Sabre claims there`s no need for agents to maneuver around Virtually There. That`s because the CRS does nothing with client e-mail addresses unless the clients opt in at www.virtuallythere.com to receive promotions from travel advertisers on the site.
But agents said their clients shouldn`t be solicited on that page in the first place.
“The concern I have is that the opt-in solicitation is on a co-branded Web page,” said Scott Ahlsmith, chief executive officer of the Trava agency in Glen Ellyn, Ill.
“This co-branding sends a message to my client that it`s OK to sign-up for travel newsletters and special offers that will save money because my travel agency supports this.
“Unfortunately, the co-branding stops as soon as Virtually There has my client`s e-mail address,” Ahlsmith added. “Essentially, Virtually There uses my agency`s name and logo as bait to convince the traveler to give it their e-mail address, and from that point forward Virtually There and its advertisers solicit my client without any reference or notice to my agency.”
Ahlsmith stopped using Virtually There altogether. His agency now captures an image of clients` Sabre itineraries and pastes them into e-mails, which the agency sends to clients.
E-mailing itineraries in this manner doesn`t have the graphic appeal of Virtually There itineraries, he said, but it is ad-free, and Trava doesn`t feed clients` e-mail addresses into Sabre`s database.
Trava is exploring “embellishing” these e-mailed itineraries, Ahlsmith said, with links to weather reports and other services.
Other agents are sending clients to Virtuallythere.com, but in a way that doesn`t require them to give the e-mail address to Sabre.
Susanne Flynn, president of Youpriceit.com in Hendersonville, Tenn., said agents can create a form in their e-mail software and e-mail clients their record locators and a link to Virtuallythere.com.
Clients can then access their itineraries on Virtually There by inputting the record locator and name.
Another method, detailed in the sidebar below, eliminates a step, Flynn said. Agents using this approach retain their clients` e-mail addresses—even though Sabre insists it doesn`t use them until clients sign up for promotions.
A Sabre spokeswoman said, “Sabre Virtually There is designed to be a productivity tool for agents by saving them the time and cost [of] faxing and/or mailing an itinerary and other Virtually There features, such as the e-ticket receipt.”
Although Sabre may not encourage Virtually There end-arounds, a recent look at Virtually There showed why agents are miffed.
Flashy promotions from American Airlines Vacations, Aegean Airlines and AirTran Airways advised consumers to book with an agent or to call the supplier direct—and supplier phone numbers were provided.
And a United promotion featuring a 15% discount coupon brought consumers directly to the United home page.
Although some—and certainly not all—Sabre agencies are angry about Virtually There, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus also provide agency clients electronic links to their itineraries, but apparently don`t trigger the same sentiments.
Galileo ViewTrip and Check My Trip Amadeus don`t have advertisements. Worldspan`s My Trip and More has supplier ads, but they direct consumers to book with agents.