Spend just a few minutes with a travel agent, and you will hear at least one anecdote of a client who quoted a non-qualified hotel rate during a consultation.
This typically causes the agent to have to research the rate’s details and convey the differences between that rate and the rates the agent has quoted. It’s all too common that an internet rate carries restrictions the client wouldn’t want or that don’t fit their profile.
“Agents are worried that their clients are going to find something better on a B2C site,” said Traci Mercer, Sabre senior vice president, lodging, ground and sea, briefing Travel Market Report at the recently completed Sabre STX annual customer conference. “They tell us, I don’t want to lose face that I cannot validate and confirm the rate they say they found.
“Resoundingly, agents say their preferred method for booking hotel and car is GDS. Eighty-one percent of those agents say, 'I would book more hotel and car if I had it all available in front of me, but with all of the content across hotel chains, specific rates for one channel, B2C, direct connect, there are all of these different price and value points.'”
As a result, Sabre is rolling out its Lodging Content Services tool, later this year and into early 2019. The product presents hotel booking options side-by-side for approximately 350,000 properties worldwide and offers more than 650,000 exclusive deals on accommodations, including content from Bedsonline, TravelBound and the Expedia® Affiliate Network (EAN).
“This way, if someone says to an agent, ‘I found this rate that’s five dollars cheaper,’ the agent can call it up on their screen, too, and easily see that’s because the rate is pre-pay and the client doesn’t get loyalty points,” Mercer said.
Multiple data sources on one screen
More typical lodging data — like room and bed type, cancellation policy, whether breakfast is included — will also be clearly displayed. Special offers from that agent’s consortia, or host agency, can also be easily added for direct comparisons, said Jayme Porkolab, Sabre senior director, product management.
The flexibility to feed in the variety of rates and service offerings from multiple sources is due to the open API platform that Sabre is building into its current technology architecture. There is no way to format these tools into native Sabre, so this product will not be available there, Mercer said.
If an agency uses their own agent interface, the APIs will allow them to incorporate Lodging Content Services into their own booking tool, as well. “Any graphical interface can see this,” Mercer said, adding that Virtuoso executives were attending the Sabre STX conference, “and they are really excited about” Lodging Content Services.
Sabre’s new tools also allow an agency to track how it is doing in meeting sales goals that trigger revenue back to the agency. “We are putting in a lot of control in the agency manager’s hands, so they can preference properties. This way, they know if they are reaching their consortia’s override target,” Porkolab said.
Helping agents sell “soft” hotel brands
At the same time, new tools like Sabre’s Lodging Content Services readily present visual images and allow for more detailed branding. Company executives believe this could also help agents articulate the benefits of proliferating lodging brands, said Clinton Anderson, Sabre president of hospitality solutions.
This is especially crucial for boutique properties that do not have extensive advertising budgets, but also the large hotel chains, like Marriott, that own groups of “soft brand” collections.
“These collections have been an attempt to create offerings for consumer personas. But brand proliferation also has made it challenging for consumers and agents,” Anderson said.
“What we hear across the board, is that agencies want to sell these hotels, but they don’t feel like they are the expert. It’s hard to compare them if you aren’t constantly booking them,” Mercer said.
Anderson described how driving to the conference hotel from northern Dallas, “I must have seen 15-20 hotels along [Highway] 114. I thought to myself, ‘if I was a consumer, how would I begin to decide what brand meets my specific needs?‘”
With tools like Lodging Content Services, Mercer said, “the onus is now on those hotels to develop that branding in a format that agents can use.”
Not only will more point-of-sale visual booking tools help describe the value propositions of these soft brands, but also, over time, the collection of data about consumer shopping and purchase behaviors will provide deeper insights into what each consumer wants.
Combined with better profile information and machine learning to understand the context of a customer’s trip, “we’ll be able to use that data and analytics to allow the travel agent to get through the masses of data, and make it easier for her to make the right recommendation for that customer,” Anderson said.
Mercer calls data “the next big frontier” for travel agencies and suppliers. “We don’t want data for data’s sake. We’re trying to understand what are the use cases that data can be used for so agents and suppliers can take action and become more efficient.”