Technology will deliver decisive edge to our cruise agents, claims Jetset Travelworld Group

Issues & Trends – July 2010

Technology will deliver decisive edge to our cruise agents, claims Jetset Travelworld Group

EARLIER this month Jetset Travel-world Group (JTG) began installing beta sites for the Odysseus cruise platform within its National Cruise Centre and at 80 “Cruise Select” agencies around Australia.

JTG announced the formation of its National Cruise Centre at its annual retail conference in Cairns last year, foreshadowing a sophisticated real time booking engine that would be operational by April this year.
Odysseus is running three months late but JTG executives assure that it will be worth the wait.
They claim it will deliver a decisive marketing edge to the chain’s agents.

“We are the first retail group to do what we have done,” says JTG’s retail manager of cruise, strategy and marketing Chris Phillips who has helmed the project. “Others can search and look but the ability to book live is unique to us,” claims consultant Peter Forsyth who has worked with Phillips on acquiring the technology.

They journeyed to New York, Washington and Miami in search of the optimum cruise booking engine for JTG’s purposes before ultimately giving the nod to Miami-based Odysseus.

Phillips says the company began with “a blank sheet of paper” in drawing up the specifications for adapting the US technology. The major input came from face-to-face interviews with 300 JTG agents. “It’s been developed by agents for agents,” says Phillips.

Armed with this agent feedback, JTG has spent the first half of this year working with Odysseus to customise its functionality to meet Australian needs.

“With beta sites now established, we are working on the final stages of tweaking the design, look and feel,” says Phillips. The system should be fully operational in early August.

On the supplier side, Royal Caribbean (also covering Celebrity and Azamara Cruise lines) has been “first off the mark” to link with the system, says Phillips adding that several other ocean and river cruising lines have also signed on ahead of the system’s start-up. The notable absentees, at this stage, are the various Carnival lines.

JTG executives are putting a brave face on this, pointing out that the system has “search and look” functionality for Complete Cruise Solution (CCC) with a log-in to CCC’s POLAR system. However, while none will publicly criticise the Carnival attitude, it is clear that they are disappointed and puzzled by its reluctance to offer direct connectivity.

“On the bright side, we believe they will change their decision once they become aware of the bookings that the system delivers to other lines,” says one JTG executive.

The 80 agents who will initially comprise the “Cruise Select” group within JTG emerged from the 300 agents canvassed on their cruise marketing needs. Their numbers are more than double the 30-35 agents that JTG general manager Warwick Blacker originally anticipated when he announced the formation of the JTG National Cruise Centre last year.

Blacker says JTG has made no attempt to lure Cruiseco members to Cruise Select. The company is not divulging the criteria it used to qualify Cruise Select agents but it is clear that cruise sales volumes, levels of expertise and training and quality of databases were among the factors taken into account.

Phillips says the Cruise Select agents are already enthusiastically discussing how the group will develop, using Sabre’s “Chatterbox”.

However, while the initial focus will be on the Cruise Select agents, Odysseus inventory will be bookable by any agent in the group. Using the new technology, Phillips says JTG’s National Cruise Centre will be able to introduce “significant efficiencies” into the booking process and “it will enable us to aggregate and monitor the business our agents deliver”.

He added that JTG agents will also be able to adopt a white label B2C version of Odysseus to interface with their clients. Against the background of Cruise 1st setting up in Australia, touting the ability to dynamically package cruise, land and air components using cutting edge UK technology, Forsyth asserts JTG’s technology will empower its agents to compete on at least equal terms.

And he adds: “Cruise 1st has one site. We potentially have 80.”

Phillips stresses that JTG itself will not be establishing a B2C presence. “We’re not a wholesaler. We have developed this product to support, not compete with, our stores,” he says.

JTG chief executive Peter Collins is fulsome in his praise of Blacker, Phillips and Forsyth. “They have given us something we’ve never had before,” he said.