REDMOND, WASH. – Travel agents need all the help they can get fending off the competitive threat of online travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity, and next month start-up company Portaga Inc. will add a key weapon to its arsenal. Portaga Travel Manager will let agencies offer travelers a desktop application that lets them book all the elements of a trip from Microsoft Outlook.
A year in development, Portaga is a Web-services platform that uses the Open Travel Alliance's industry-standard XML messaging schema to pull inventory from Sabre Holdings Corp.'s global distribution system. It will later add connections into other distributors, as well as the reservations systems of airlines, hotels, car-rental companies, limousine providers and restaurants, CEO Rob Kost says. The company, founded in 2000 as Realtime Enterprises, spent its first few years building applications on a contract basis before deciding to attack a wider business need in the travel industry.
Last year Portaga built what could be considered a mini-version of its new service for Cendant Corp.'s Avis Rent A Car System Inc. The Book Avis tool is downloaded into Outlook, adding a button to the main toolbar that travelers can click to initiate an Avis booking via an Open Travel Alliance XML link into its reservations system. Like that product, Portaga Travel Manager will automatically integrate travel-booking information into the traveler's calendar, as well as those of any colleagues who need to be alerted. It also will automatically create expense reports related to trips when needed.
John Turato, vice president of technology for Cendant Car Rental Group, said the trend toward building travel-booking interfaces that rely on direct connections into reservation systems is going to accelerate, giving travelers more options in a single interface. Removing the need for travelers to come to the Avis site can only mean more business. "From the supplier point of view, more roads are better," Turato said. "It'll be interesting to see how the suppliers adapt to this new world and develop new distribution strategies."
Portaga's software targets travel agencies that are working with small companies – professional-services firms, for instance – that have a lot of business travelers but don't have formal travel policies. The company will provide the software free of charge to agencies, which will then make it available for download by their customers. Portaga gets paid a piece of the fees associated with each booking. The product will soon integrate with other desktop information tools, such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Word, and will also support additional platforms such as PDAs and cell phones, Kost said. Once a user clicks on the Portaga button, a blank itinerary opens with icons representing airfares, hotels and car rentals. Users simply drag one of those icons and drop it into the blank area, triggering a window asking for desired times and dates, and the application then retrieves options based on those parameters.