Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Using technology to maximise turnover

David O’Grady, founder of e-Travel: “We are a travel agency that has developed the technology.”

Ruth O'Connor, Irish Times 

Established in 1997 by chief executive David O’Grady, e-Travel is Irish-owned and bonded and comprises three different core elements: travel for the leisure or holiday market, cruises and the corporate travel market – the last an area which has seen particular innovation under O’Grady’s watch over the past number of years.
In 1997, O’Grady had sold his 40 per cent holding in an IT company and came up with the idea of e-Travel having read of a similar business model. He formed the company in March 1997.
“To be honest, we were way before our time,” he says. “When we first started, people were talking about internet travel certainly but they weren’t quite with it. We quickly decided that we would become a conventional travel agency because we had full support staff – people liked the idea at the time but they didn’t really book online.”
O’Grady says that airlines such as Aer Lingus and Ryanair actually helped his business because they familiarised the public with the notion of online bookings.
“The Irish people are probably some of the most active online bookers because of the likes of Ryanair and Aer Lingus,” says O’Grady.
Based in Walkinstown, Dublin, O’Grady and three others work on the technology side of the business while there are 24 in-house staff working in administration and travel agent roles. O’Grady recently purchased a neighbouring unit, creating a workspace for up to 50 staff.
O’Grady describes the period between December 2008 and March 2009 as one of the most difficult times in business, as he was forced to let go staff who had been working on the development of tailor-made tours to Africa.
“We had companies which were doing €100,000 or €150,000 worth of business with us a month and all of a sudden they were doing €5,000.
“The hardest thing was that we had to restructure and let go seven staff members. We have now built up the staff levels to more than they were in 2008 but that was the hardest time in my business . . .”
The business has always been based on the call centre model and has never had walk-in premises. The company has contracts with large companies in the pharmaceutical, financial, manufacturing and technology sectors.

In-house system

In 2003 and 2004, O’Grady went into the cruise travel sector and is now one of the top three Royal Caribbean agents in the country.
In 2008 and 2009, O’Grady developed his own in-house system for the leisure industry, allowing customers to book online at websites e-Flights and e-Travel.
The company is also connected to the Skyscanner and Kayak search engines, meaning he gets business directly from those websites as well as from his own.
“Most systems are created by IT people rather than travel agents whereas we are a travel agency that has developed the technology,” says O’Grady.
“We look and see if there are direct flights, what is the quickest time, who are the preferred carriers, who has the best sales and so on. We are constantly changing the criteria to make it better for the client.”
In terms of the leisure side of the business, most of the bookings are automated.
While the leisure side of the business is mostly “hands-off, no-touch”, the corporate service is more “hands-on.”
“Corporate clients often have to change flights or may have more complicated itineraries whereby they want to make six or seven stop-offs in the US. If someone is travelling New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami – that’s where you need a travel agent’s expertise to help with the internal transfers.”
The company’s corporate travel management side of the business represents about 55 per cent of e-Travel’s business, the cruise business about 15 per cent and online leisure bookings account for the rest.
Introducing the new interface to customers has been a positive experience with a sixfold increase in airline bookings and an overall increase in turnover of 150 per cent.
O’Grady says corporate clients want to have more control over their travel expenses in order to maximise savings and that the development of his new system makes things simpler and more transparent.
“Our businesstravel.ie website now allows people to log into the system which exhibits all their preferences – airlines, frequent fliers . . . ”
Along with developing his travel business here, O’Grady also has tenuous plans to sell his technology to other companies across Europe, a move which will depend on targeting or partnering with specialised travel companies.

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