2000 Business Travel Survey - Business Travel News May-29-2000

2000 Business Travel Survey - Business Travel News May 29, 2000

Veteran franchisor Travel Network went public in September 1999, adopting the parent company name Etravnet.com for its franchise brands, which include Travel Network in the United States and Global Travel Network abroad.

Company executive vice president Stephanie Abrams said the company went public "to essentially position ourselves to be able to continue our growth and development in e-commerce, to expand technology and to acquire technology being developed by others." She also noted that being a public company makes it much easier to acquire through cash and stock acquisitions what previously would be acquired by cash alone.

Etravnet is about to release two new Internet-based products, Abrams said. ReZconnect and HaggleWithUs both work on the same patent-pending technology owned by Etravnet.

"It's net-to-phone-to-net technology," Abrams said. "It's wonderful, exciting technology that is radical in making reservations."

ReZconnect allows web users - whether agencies or members of the public - to make reservations in real time with restaurants and hotels on a global basis that don't have the reservations capabilities of branded properties. The product works this way: The consumer or agent goes to Etravnet's website, decides on the city of choice, then decides on the hotel or restaurant. When the online information form is filled out, the individual clicks to submit the information, which is sent to Etravnet's server.

The server then converts the Internet message into a phone call message that is transmitted along phone wires to the requested facility. When the hotel or restaurant answers, the staff member hears a computerized voice giving the booking information. Through telephone keypad responses, the hotel or restaurant confirms the booking by entering a confirmation number on the phone keypad. Within seconds the user sees the message from the hotel or restaurant on the computer screen. The program encourages the user to print out the confirmation screen. Etravnet also sends a fax or e-mail confirming the transaction to all parties.

"We will initially see U.S. travelers accessing foreign destinations on this," Abrams predicted. "We expect we will see less represented independent hotels participating in the program, making it easier for agents to go to the Web site and use it on behalf of a client."

ReZconnect is priced at $150 per year for the hotel or restaurant to subscribe to the program, plus $25 per month maintenance cost. To encourage business to subscribe to the program, Etravnet is waiving the signup fee for one year and the maintenance fee for the first six months.

Hagglewithus is a bidding service for car rental, hotel, cruises and airline ticket sales that also operates on the net-to-phone-to-net technology. "We are convinced this process will get the vendor more (revenue) than then would have if they ran a sale or had a special promotion," Abrams said.

Also this year, Etravnet plans to roll out an online call center that Abrams describes as "a cyberspace boiler room of agents who are not in one place." Etravnet agents will be invited to register as specialists in particular areas of travel that will be publicized on the company's website. Internet users will be matched up with a travel specialist for an online chat, or if the agent is not available at that moment, for an e-mail response. "At any moment, we expect to have thousands of agent's online" who are participating in the call center, Abrams said.

With emphasis on e-commerce, Etravnet plans to continue its expansion drive abroad to share the benefits of technology, Abrams said. The company has added master franchisees in Malaysia, Mexico and Spain and recently has experienced interested from agencies in Ireland, Thailand and Africa, Abrams added.

Etravnet remains heavily focused on leisure travel sales, with 70 percent to 80 percent of volume coming in from that area. Some agencies do handle small to medium-sized corporate accounts and seek leisure sales as a sideline from that business as well, Abrams said.

Etravnet's success with its more than 50 stores in Wal-Mart locations has led the company to evaluate other types of retail stores that would be good venues for travel agencies. The agency must be locate in prime space in terms of visibility within the store, Abrams said and the store must be the type "that attracts a large number of people is located in an easily accessible area with good parking and gives the consumer a reason to come back week after week."

Abrams commented that the future of the travel agent "lies in a strong association with a branded website and a branded agency. The agency office, in our view will ultimately become a customer service center for the agency's Web business.