Services with Style

What do the Sabre Travel Network, Apple Vacations and Travel Impressions have in common? Well, they’re all very popular with travel agents, for starters. In fact, each has taken home a Readers’ Choice Award this year. But that’s not all. Executives at each company told us that the secret to their success is continued innovation and expansion—and, of course, devotion to the travel agents they serve.

sabre travel network “It is really important to listen to customers and to truly understand their needs, so we can help them save money, make money and provide excellent customer service,” says Rajiv Rajian, v.p. of product marketing for Sabre, which won its eighth consecutive Best Reservation/GDS System award this year. “By listening to our customers, we can identify their needs and provide innovative, industry-leading solutions.”

One of the company’s most recent innovations was the Sabre Red Workspace, which debuted in July. At press time, over 65,000 agents in 95 countries had upgraded to the service. And no wonder. The Workspace puts all the tools agents need to book travel in one expertly designed window, incorporating travel applications that, for example, alert them to lower prices as they’re booking. “Agents are already seeing the benefits,” Rajian says. “In a word, the Workspace is all about efficiency—it is incredibly stable, fast, flexible, and gives agents access to more content and a better user experience.”

And because it’s based on a customizable technology platform, that’s just the beginning. “By mid-2011, we’ll expand our current graphical capabilities. We believe our new graphical view will make even seasoned agents change their thinking on graphical interfaces,” Rajian explains. Agents can also look forward to new Red apps, as well as the next phase of Total Air Pricing, letting agents shop and book air ancillaries.

apple vacations Celebrating his second straight win in the Best Travel Agent Incentive Program category, Apple’s John Tarkowski, v.p. of planning and sales development, knows a thing or two about serving the needs of travel agents. “We have a combination of great merchandise and travel incentives,” he explains. “And we’re flexible, which is great for them.”

That flexibility comes from the earnings agents receive when they book through Apple. In addition to monetary commissions, agents also earn points that can be put to use in a variety of different ways, including “…vacation getaways, charter air seats, and nights at preferred hotel partners,” Tarkowski lists. Alternately, agents can invest those points right back into their business. “Our Treasures for Travelers program allows agents to gift value-added things to their clients. So agents looking for ways to set themselves apart from the competition use the points for nonstop airport transfers for clients, or excursions, or spa gift certificates for their VIP clients. Our flexibility allows them to do that, and it keeps clients coming back.”

Innovation is great for any business, he continues, but “there’s something to be said for consistency,” too. Apple’s travel agent program didn’t undergo any drastic changes in 2010, Tarkowski continues, and that’s just how agents like it. “We’re not taking anything away; we’re sort of enhancing it with more product, more hotels to choose from.” And that strategy will continue in 2011. “Our biggest change going forward will be adding additional hotels in Hawaii,” Tarkowski says.

travel impressions Devotion to travel agent customers is the foundation of Travel Impressions’ success, says Steve Gorga, president and CEO. “Travel agents made this company what it is for 37 years, and we’re sticking by them.” And when it comes to the company’s online offerings, the feeling is mutual: agents awarded Travel Impressions its first Readers’ Choice Award for Best Supplier/Destination Website this year.

Gorga points to products like TI Connect, which integrates a Travel Impressions booking engine into an agent or agency’s website, as one of its most successful products. “An agency can have customers go to their website and make bookings 24/7 through our technology,” he explains. “Customers have access to the entire product line; they can actually make a booking at 2 a.m. And the travel agent gets full commission at no cost to the travel agent.”

Travel Impressions’ agent resource center is another cornerstone of success, Gorga says, pointing to its promotional materials and training programs. But in 2010, he continues, much of the company’s success in the online marketplace stems from a new social media strategy. “We’re trying to help our travel agent partners be successful in utilizing social media,” he explains. “We’ve integrated many social media aspects: Twitter and Facebook, promoting articles, blogs, podcasts and viral videos. We try to stay on the leading edge of what’s going on.”