Travel agency owners have been struggling for years to solve their staffing issues, as tenured employees who are proficient on legacy booking systems retire.
Throughout North America, the staffing shortage has heightened as agencies compete for talent in a high-employment marketplace, and the heavily-formatted traditional Sabre GDS impedes the ramp up of proficient, new agents.
Over the last two years, as new booking tools have been introduced based on user friendly interface formats, some industry leaders have become optimistic that new-to-travel employees can be more readily trained and contribute relatively quickly to travel agency workflows.
Speaking on stage at the Sabre STC conference this week in Dallas, Wade Jones, president of the Sabre Travel Network, discussed how test cases with travel agencies deploying the company’s Sabre Red Workspace agent booking tool have seen dramatic productivity gains.
Jones said that agents with 2-4 months of experience are as productive as agents with 1-2 years of experience, and that agents with 6-8 months of experience are as productive as agents in the industry for 2-4 years.
Sabre announced at the conference the formal roll-out of the product, after several years of testing. Currently, about 11 percent of its agency workstations have been converted to the latest version of the product, which will ultimately replace Sabre’s longstanding native “Green Screen” GDS product.
While a date hasn’t been set for native Sabre’s expiration, Chris Henz, global director of product marketing for point of sale solutions, said agents will receive 12 months notice.
Rich content combined with ease of use
“The initial feedback from our early customers is fantastic, and we are eager to release the new Sabre Red Workspace globally with regional language versions,” said Jones in a statement. “This groundbreaking solution will change the way travel agents work by combining rich content with flexibility, simplicity and ease of use.”
Sabre Red negates the need for new agents to learn the complex and arcane computer code to search and book for clients, while also incorporating sales tools like rich visual graphics. Other tools, like integrated maps and points of interest, can help a travel agent pinpoint hotel and car rental locations without leaving the workspace.
In its press release, Sabre quoted Christos and George Kyvernitis, managing directors of Kyvernitis Travel S.A., in Greece, stating that they have been using Sabre Red Workspace since October. They described themselves as “greatly impressed with how intuitive it is. The user-friendly technology makes it simple and quick to shop and book complex fares, and the attractive consumer-grade interface is popular with all our agents as it makes it effortless for them to deliver efficient and personalized service to our customers. It has definitely reduced our training times."
Sabre also predicts that the new booking platform will facilitate better data collection, especially as software developers leverage the open API system to bring new applications and widgets that can be attached to the workspace.
Agents using Sabre Red “can continue to use the familiar ‘classic’ style with GDS commands or seamlessly switch to an intuitive ‘graphical’ style that requires little training. With advanced filtering, consultants can narrow shopping results to find options that specifically meet their customer’s travel requirements,” Sabre said in the release.
Henz has helped implement Sabre Red Workspace at a number of travel agencies in his role, and said that tenured agents resistant to moving off the traditional GDS, start to convert to advocates when they experience the ease of use of the platform.
For example, Red Workspace allows agents to toggle onto a panel that pulls up a seven-day calendar that demonstrates airfares around a client’s desired departure dates. “Being able to instantly let a customer know what their fare options are, since they have that themselves through a metasearch engine or OTA, is a very popular feature,” said Henz.
Other services are likely to be added, Henz said. Stubhub has come to Sabre looking to add an events widget to sell event tickets. He also believes there is opportunity for companies like OpenTable to have prominent space on the platform. “Much like the iPhone, Steve Jobs couldn’t have anticipated all of the apps once he opened it up to developers, we see this tool opening up agents to a variety of added services they can provide to their clients,” he said.