Travel agent tries online booking

Travel agent House of Travel is set to throw another factor into the debate over agents' and passenger's relative skills in finding the cheapest flights online when it releases its Searchflight tool to the internet, a step planned for next month.

Travel agent House of Travel is set to throw another factor into the debate over agents’ and passenger’s relative skills in finding the cheapest flights online when it releases its Searchflight tool to the internet, a step planned for next month.

This will offer passengers access on one website to the same range of airline options for travel as the agents themselves have had. Searchflight has previously been available as a service operated by House of Travel staff on customers’ behalf.

The software for Searchflight was written in-house. This was seen as the best option, says marketing manager John Moffatt “as it allowed us to integrate Searchflight with the other three or four exclusive technology products we have developed”.

The Travel Agents’ Association was reported last year as being disquieted about the development of online booking systems, and particularly Air New Zealand’s practice of offering cheaper fares for bookings made on the internet, since the airline saved travel agents’ commission.

Chairman Peter Lowry insisted that reduction in commission was the main issue, not the internet; but if people booked online with Air New Zealand they would lose the choice of airline an agent could give them (Air NZ problem, not net, say travel agents).

At about the same time, House of Travel conducted a survey establishing that on average booking a trip online took the consumer 26 minutes. While 73% of people believed they had found the best fare, only 9.3% actually had, says Moffatt.

House of Travel will put a margin on fares booked through the agent or through Searchflight, even when the customer is operating it. This will make the fares more expensive than Air New Zealand’s Express fares online, “but this is insignificant compared to the money we usually save our customers by identifying the cheapest airfares from all airlines”, Moffatt says.

He does not anticipate Searchflight online making any House of Travel consultants redundant. “[Use of] the web as a booking channel is still very small and given the complexities of booking even domestic travel, we believe the consumer will continue to want and need personal service.”

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