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Support Services Industry

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An industry as large and as complex as travel and tourism gives rise to a whole host of support services that indirectly makes their activities possible. The list is endless but includes technology, research, marketing, advertising, graphic arts, law, and finance.

Though many of these services may actually be outside the industry, people who work for support services become integrated into the industry as they work with the same people, react to the same issues, develop the same product, and work toward the same goal of promoting travel and tourism. While many of these jobs also provide ample opportunity to travel, there is an added advantage of working on the periphery of the industry. The pay levels reflect the industry that you are actually in rather than the one that you are on the edge of and thus may be higher. Frequently, too, working in a support service can be a way into the travel industry from a non-travel work background since you learn the industry as well as any insider, go to many of the same conferences and meetings, and make the same contacts.

For so many who come into the travel industry, working in travel fulfills a dream of traveling. Many other kinds of interests and activities, however, are equally compelling such as journalism or photography, for example. For people who have been frustrated to find conventional career paths in these fields closed, support service companies provide a suitable alternative for realizing a professional dream.

Countless activities provide the opportunity to practice a craft and yet enjoy the dynamism, vitality, and excitement of the travel industry and its people. This chapter deals with only a few support services, including:
  • Travel technology
  • Research and marketing
  • Advertising
  • Public relations
  • Travel writing
  • Travel photography
  • Education and training
  • Association work
  • Travel industry law
  • Off-tariff retailers, consolidators, and travel clubs
  • Non-travel services
Travel Technology

The travel industry is evolving into an information business. Those who have access to and can deliver the best, most complete and accurate information the fastest will be the most successful.

Travel is a completely perishable product-after all, airline seats or hotel rooms cannot be stored on the shelf for a markdown sale at some later date. Profitability often hinges on forecasting demand precisely and stimulating sales where necessary with prices. Pricing has become extremely complex, sensitive to seasons, months, days, and even the time of day. Pricing is so complex that the only way to keep track of inventory is via computer and the only way to communicate to travel agents and others who sell the product is by computer-based communications systems.

Being computer-literate has become almost a prerequisite for many positions, particularly for travel agents. Virtually every company of any size, whether it is a travel agency, a hotel company, or an airline or a tour operation, now has a management information systems (MIS) department. But, apart from the legions of computer and technical people at individual companies, an increasing number of technology companies are emerging to cater to travel. Indeed, travel technology is emerging as a separate, multibillion dollar industry.

It is only natural that technology should continue to shape the travel industry since the industry has always been technology driven: The ocean steamer, the railroad, the airplane, the jet, the elevator, and air conditioning all revolutionized travel. The latest wave of technology, however, has impacted most directly the marketing and delivery of services rather than the product.

Technology is a tool of competitiveness, a way of managing product and price (yield management) and boosting productivity. Because new systems can cost millions of dollars to develop, technology has been a factor in changing the economics of the travel industry, pressuring small-scale companies to consolidate into bottom-line-driven big businesses.

The ability to forecast demand, modify prices for specific departures, and relay this information to retailers and consumers is especially critical to cruise lines, for example. Cruise lines only break even after 90 to 95 percent of the berths are sold. Being able to sell off the extra 5 to 10 percent of seats is the difference between profit and loss.

Computer-based information systems have become a mult billion dollar industry within the travel industry, and this is only the beginning. Scores of systems and software are being developed for the trade-computerized listings of tours, cruises, and destination information; accounting systems; reservations systems; and ticket delivery; to name just a few.

Different Facets

There are many different facets of travel technology. Computer reservations systems (CRS) that serve the airlines are probably the largest and most encompassing area. These entities originated with American, United, Delta, TWA, and Eastern Airlines but are increasingly being spun off as independent companies (such as AMR's Sabre Travel Information Network, a $655-million company; World span; Covia Corporation; and System One). Now, even IBM and EDS are getting into the act, hoping to acquire one of the systems.

The increasing sophistication of the travel business has spawned a sub-industry of back-office computer systems that link up with the front-end airline reservations systems. Estimates put this industry at $50 million a year. Perhaps 20 or 30 companies are producing software. The leaders in the field are the subsidiary companies of American (ADS) and Covia (ABS), but there are many smaller, independent companies.

Satellite ticket printers (STPs) represent the fastest-growing segment of retail travel. A more sophisticated concept of satellite ticket delivery networks is evolving from the concept of STPs- electronic ticket delivery networks (ETDNs). Moreover, self-ticketing devices, operating much like bank automated teller machines (ATMs), are paving the way for new entrants into retail travel, including banks.

There is an explosion in videotext services, which yield "information on demand" and are being used by destinations to facilitate travel through their areas using computerized "welcome centers" at highways, resorts, and parks. There is also a whole new field of slick video travel brochures, which combine advertising, commercial television production, and marketing.

Videotext and various forms of information on demand technologies are being devised to integrate the computerized reservations systems with video images (such as PARS' IRIS, Sab revision, and Jagua). These systems are intended as tools for travel agents. Consumer-oriented equivalents (video kiosks) are being developed by some entrepreneurial companies and will enable consumers to learn about travel products and book trips through a device at the place of purchase, such as a supermarket or department store.

Computer-based shop-at-home systems have sprung up that enable travel suppliers to reach consumers instantly and give them an ability to sell off unsold products at discounts as departure dates near. Examples are CompuServe, The Source, and Prodigy. Most of the airline reservations systems have introduced consumer versions accessible on personal computers using these networks.

Technology-based travel companies are also emerging. One such company, Fax net, based in New Jersey, intends to link consumers in hundreds of retail outlets nationwide into one central agency via fax.
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