With their revenues dwindling amidst a commission-squeeze by airlines, travel agents might have found a saviour in i-TOP (Indian travel agents own portal). Launched by their representative body, IATA Agents Association of India (IAAI), the advance booking portal promises to bring them the much needed money.
At present, airlines sell their products through different consolidators and portals such as MakeMyTrip and Cleartrip at an agreed special rate. On the other hand, i-Top will bring all consolidators or portals under one screen.
This helps in many ways. For instance, if an agent is using XYZ portal, he will get the pricing fixed by that portal management only. I-Top allows different OTAs (Online Travel Agents) to display and sell their product in one screen. If three OTA’s selling Emirates tickets are integrated to I-Top; the user will get all the three companies’ prices on one screen.
i-Top will facilitate consolidators, OTAs or even an agent sell their products through i-Top to the network users. The user agents will have the flexibility to display all such related services, compare quality, services, trustworthiness, pricing and remunerative benefits that will help him to promote products without any compromise.
“We are going to integrate all the services available in the air travel/tourism/hotel service/apartments, cruise package tours, and there will be flexibility for agents to find out viable products,” IAAI national president Biji Eapen said. I-Top will have wide range of products from different portals and other service providers. I-Top is the first portal in the world that works simultaneously on two platforms — airline and tourism products — through global distribution systems (GDS)-based Galileo and NDC (new distribution capability) via internet.
At a time when zero commission and stoppage of service fee for airline ticketing have impacted IATA agents, i-TOP provides them an opportunity to earn more either through airline ticket sales or any other transactions on ancillary services or other aviation/tourism related products, says Eapen. The industry, he said, is passing through a difficult phase, leading to a 30-40 per cent revenue drop. Many travel agents are surviving with tour packages alone and not with ticketing services.
“Our philosophy is simple. I-Top’s NDC platform is ready to promote zero-commission airlines, provided agents are adequately remunerated for selling products,” he added.
There will be a user fee of ₹25,000 as one-time payment and an yearly maintenance fee of ₹5,000. The product was launched at the recently concluded IAAI national convention, ICON 2017, in Kochi.
The IAAI also constituted a committee to negotiate with airlines and other suppliers. “Airlines’ response is encouraging and we are negotiating for a win-win solution,” Eapen added.
The response from agents also has been positive. “It acts as a single window for smaller agents offering travel-related services from airline companies at competitive rates at par with consolidators (leading travel agents),” says Manu TG Nair, of the Thiruvananthapuram-based V Holidays and Travels Pvt Ltd.
Through the portal, a user will have direct access to other services like cancellation, refund, re-routing and date changes. It also facilitates excess baggage sales, visas, chauffeur service and remittance through the prevailing weekly payment system.
As many as 32 agents have enrolled into the portal and the association is aiming 1,000 members in the first year, Eapen added.