The travel agency industry is extremely large in North America, says John Haville, managing director of Unisys Travel Alliance Services (TAS). The $150 billion industry is used for more than 80 percent of all the airline’s bookings, as a channeled distributor. Historically the back office accounting of travel agencies has been supported by the airlines’ computer reservation systems, which include among others: Worldspan, Amadeus, Galileo and Saber. But the industry is starting to reduce its inefficiencies by doing its own transitioning and transformation with advanced technology.
“They are changing the way they do business and more and more are looking at outsourcing to help them get there,” Haville says.
The agencies want the opportunity to do a business process reengineering and as they begin doing their own transformation they need to shed themselves of areas that are not their core competencies, he says. “That is why we are here,” Haville says. “They want to refresh their technology and we want them to have efficient, effective ways to get to the marketplace.”
Besides the ability to focus on their core business, corporate travel agencies can also reduce costs, achieve growth and profitability, and improve customer service by transferring these non-strategic functions to this outsourcing model, he says. “These are things that the travel industry needs to accomplish. They need to find more resourceful ways to do business because their revenues are being pulled back by the airlines, car rental companies and hotels. And we feel that we have a good financial model to help them get back on their feet.”
To help corporations with this transition to new technology, Unisys offers the industry a suite of sophisticated services to help streamline inefficiencies, says Gordon T. Wilson, travel services center director at Unisys “We saw the opportunity to help bring the travel industry into the ’90s,” Wilson says. “And these services will help them get there.”
Addressing the Need for Change
Unisys’ Travel Alliance Services (TAS) offers a comprehensive set of related solutions that address high costs, inconvenient and cumbersome systems, and inaccurate data. The services falls into four categories:
- Unitracs provides travel accounting services that consolidate and centralize data collection; furnish integrated accounting and financial reporting; and have customized reporting capabilities.
- Uniview is a reporting tool that provides customized reports to the travel industry. The software packages enable travel management to access, view and distribute a large number of standard reports.
- Unires is an automated, web-based solution that simplifies and shortens the travel reservations process.
- Unitrex is an on-line/off-line travel expense processing, reporting and payment service.
Advanced Report-Making at Work
One of the products, Uniview has worked exceptionally well for Unisys’ clients, says Haville. The data warehousing tool allows agencies to offer travel information to their corporate clients. “A real need in today’s environment because, obviously, information is very powerful,” he says.
Wilson says that the reports that Unisys provides its clients through Uniview are not industry standard, but well ahead of the curve. Because of the accuracy and depth of these reports alone, Wilson says that First Travelcorp, a Unisys client, won over Equifax, a $1.5 billion corporation.
Last fall, a competing organization provided technology and travel agency services to Equifax. The vendor was not providing the information that Equifax needed. As a result, Equifax lost a contract with Delta Airlines because the company did not meet its commitments, Wilson says.
“The people at Equifax felt that the reports they were getting did not reflect the information that they thought was really there,” Wilson says. “So Equifax gave us the data to take a look at. For a nominal fee we spent a couple days generating reports using Uniview. The information that we generated was brought to Delta’s attention and Equifax won the contract back immediately.”
Wilson found out over time that Equifax made the decision to cancel the contract with its provider and switch to First Travelcorp, partly because they knew that Unisys was First Travelcorp’s vendor. “They made this decision fully conscious that their conversion to a new provider would cause them three months of pain,” he says. “Well, they embraced that pain because they are now getting a timely and detailed analysis of information. And the executives at Equifax are ecstatic because they have never seen reports with this level of accuracy and insight.”
Corporate America is demanding analyzed information — information they can do something with, Haville says. Corporations look up their supply chain and try to control their costs and they look to their service providers to get them there. And in this case, it is the travel agencies that give them this timely information. “That is where Unisys comes in – we can get them there,” Haville says. “It is one of our biggest selling points.”
Prior to Unisys, First Travelcorp used legacy client reporting tools. Thousands of reports were printed at First Travelcorp headquarters, manually sorted and mailed to their clients. Now, using the TAS services, an automatic scheduler processes all the reports on a weekly, biweekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. The reports are distributed electronically to First Travelcorp’s branches and they come out of the printers sorted. First Travelcorp and its key clients have ad hoc terminal access through the Uniview product line to generate the reports electronically themselves, make modifications, and create ad hoc reports.
This service along with the other suite of outsourcing services that caters to travel agencies has changed the way that travel agencies will do business in the future, Wilson says. Agencies will either keep up with the likes of First Travelcorp and other forward-thinking agencies, that are leading the way with increased efficiency, or continue to disappear in North America at a rate of 75 agencies a month, as reported in The London Free Press.
“Unisys recognizes that the travel industry market needs to, and is willing to make major changes,” Haville says, “and we want to be a quality player that offers a repeatable solution to our clients.”
Lessons From the Outsourcing Primer:
- The travel agency business is a $150 billion industry that has had few vendors that cater to it.
- As margins become thinner in the travel agency industry, agencies are using technology to increase efficiency.
- Unisys offers the industry a suite of services to help streamline inefficiencies.
- The reports that the Unisys’ suite of travel services offers its clients allows companies to track costs and negotiate better deals with vendors.