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Tech firm FlightStats is developing a mobile messaging
system for agents to send itinerary-relevant messages to travelers' mobile
devices from the travel management company, as well as airlines and airports.
The Portland, Ore., company said it plans to package the offering as part of
what it is dubbing Agent Advantage, a suite of tools will include the TripTalk
offering along with such previously available offerings as Trip Assist, which
alerts agents to traveler itineraries that face cancellations, missed
connections or other travel interruptions, and Itinerary Monitoring
capabilities, which offer cancellation and delay trip alerts to travelers.
FlightStats calls TripTalk a "conversation engine"
that ultimately would enable bidirectional, itinerary-specific communications
between a traveler and corporate travel agent, through the traveler's mobile
device. Through the offering, an agent can reach out "to tell the traveler
that I saw you have this connection problem, we've taken care of that for you,
and here's what we've done to help you out," said FlightStats owner Mark
Tilden. Conversely, a traveler—perhaps one sitting in a business meeting
running long—"can open his mobile itinerary viewer, click on a segment to
say this is the one in trouble, fill out a couple of check boxes and send it
off to the agent," he said. The first capability is already available,
Tilden said, while the second—traveler-initiated messages and two-way
communications—would be enabled by year-end through a mobile app it is
developing with Mobiata.
However, the company is building the system to go beyond
agent-to-traveler communications, enabling an agency to broadcast
itinerary-relevant information to travelers from other sources, which
FlightStats said would include airports and airlines.
"Airports have got information that basically nobody
else has—last-minute gate changes, security problems, construction that's
affecting access or parking. Using the same infrastructure, we can give the
airport the ability to publish information," Tilden said, noting that
agents could push such messages to travelers passing through the airport in an
Tilden said he expects to launch the airport messaging
system by the end of September, free of charge to airports. "We have about
30 airports in the U.S. and abroad that plan to use the system," added
FlightStats vice president of business development Meara McLaughlin, noting
about 100 worldwide airports use the company for flight delay data. The company
also plans to enable airlines to use the system to send similarly relevant
advisories to travelers, broadcasting to passengers that a certain flight is in
an oversold situation, for example.
Still, all those messages from all those sources could be a
source of frustration for travelers, who could experience alert overload, FlightStats
acknowledged. However, TMCs will be able to police and prioritize information
sent to travelers, and travelers will be able to opt out of certain message
"Certain things are nice to know, but you don't want to
get a message about them. Others, you'll want to know ASAP. The infrastructure
that we designed follows the idea of graded message classes," McLaughlin
said. "Even if a TMC wants to do a broadcast, they don't have to worry
about being in their travelers' faces or being annoying with too much
information. But, in all cases, whether it's their information they're
broadcasting, something from an airport, an irregular operations notice from an
airline or a security company that wants to push out information, the TMC
always has the control."
As initially developed, agents would have to log in to
FlightStats.com to manage the TripTalk experience, though the company said it
is working with third parties to incorporate the system into other user
interfaces. For example, Amadeus said it is considering extending FlightStats
services in its upcoming Amadeus One agent desktop.
McLaughlin said FlightStats already works with 70 agencies
on Itinerary Monitoring and plans to extend the TripTalk capability to them.
FlightStats would not disclose specific pricing, but expects to charge agencies
a one-time fee to load PNRs into the system in addition to a fixed monthly fee
for the agency based on air transaction volume, not on use of the system. TMCs,
meanwhile, would determine their own charges for corporate clients.
This story originally
appeared in the August 9, 2010, edition of Business Travel News.