MANILA, December 18, 2003 (STAR) EVERYBODY KNOWS By Annabelle K. Yap - We’ve always had the impression that online travel sites are more advantageous than brick-and-mortar a-gencies. Undoubtedly, the convenience of having 24/7 access to information and booking facilities anytime, anywhere, is a plus. Yet, we see the trend just starting to take root, with support now coming in from the main aspects of the industry.

Infrastructure. Due to the parameters and components involved in accessing real-time availability status, a broader bandwidth is required for immediate access. The original dial-up access resulted in frustrated consumers wasting countless hours for information to be displayed on their screens. It was faster to call the travel agent than access information through the Web. Although cable access was available, the high cost of subscription deterred consumers from going through this route. Only recently did we see the use of cable access for faster download. Better access will mean more qualitative information available.

User-friendliness. The travel reservation system was one of the first industries to automate. Yes, this was back when we’d never even heard of Bill Gates. Just imagine the jargon and numerous codes embedded in the reservation systems, and the process required in learning the language. Due to the wealth of information and the need to acquire it immediately, gaps are being bridged and sites are more focused on the needs of the consumers. Codes and jargon have been translated into layman’s language, with substantial ease of site navigation – definitely stepping toward customer-centricity.

Fulfillment. We have been quite slow in adopting the use of e-tickets. Yes, service providers see the advantage in this, but due to the existing security measures already embedded in their processes, switching to a different mode of fulfillment would require time. A few have started to pave the way for the adoption of e-ticketing. This is a start and we will definitely continue to see this trend pushing forward. This will eventually eliminate the need to deliver paper tickets and vouchers, thus allowing for true online fulfillment.

Human component. While most of the travel information we need is available online, most travelers still have questions about specific details. Some just feel more confident having a ‘live’ conversation. Therefore, human interaction is still required. We now see the convergence of both media online – static pages of information with the option to speak to a live representative if needed. Hand-holding new users increases the consumers’ comfort level and, coupled with positive word-of-mouth experience, we shall continue to see more and more converts entering the market.

Consumers see the added value in the process. Various sites came and went with the Internet boom and bust, yet online travel sites continue to grow and get stronger. Those that fared best were those which combined brick-and-mortar with electronic. Thus, the result is the best of both worlds – click-and-mortar.

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Annabelle K. Yap is the CEO of Yapster e-Travel Inc., a member of the Yapster e-Conglomerate Inc. You may contact her at annabelle.yap@2travelworld.com.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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