Chapter 3 Getting onto the Internet.
Internet Service Providers
The World Wide Web
A Level Playing Field
Intranets and Extranets
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
* Define the term Internet service provider
* Describe the functions of browsers
* Understand the operation of Web portals
* Identify uses for intranets and extranets
Most personal computers in travel agencies use a modem that is hooked up to a dedicated telephone line, which provides a continuous connection to a CRS's mainframe computer. Although connected to an outside information provider, these computers or terminals are not connected to the Internet. To enable an Internet connection, most airline-installed computers require a separate modem.
Think of the Internet as a phone company switchboard. To make a phone call, you need a telephone connected by a wire to a phone company switchboard. To get online with a single computer, you need a modem-equipped computer or Internet-ready television connected to the server of an Internet service provider (ISP), portal, or gateway by telephone wires or cable television service wires. (Very few connections are actually direct to the Internet.) A stand-alone computer or group of computers can accomplish astonishing feats (database management, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, and word processing), but magic happens when the equipment is connected to the Internet with the help of a modem. (1) Although a majority of American households now have computers, not all of them have Internet connections. In terms of buying power, those who are online make cash registers ring in a big way. Needless to say, almost all businesses in the United States use computers, and most of them are connected to the Internet.
Once your computer is connected to an ISP's server, the browser software installed on your computer lets you use the Internet. The browser is your entry point into the Internet: It lets you see and use information stored in millions of computers throughout the world. Information accessed on the Internet is generally more abundant and more current than what a travel agent formerly had available. But be forewarned! The Internet supplies overwhelming amounts of indiscriminate information that the user has to sort out, interpret, and evaluate for accuracy and veracity.
The browser also lets you send and receive messages, chat, participate in discussion groups, and more. Add-on hardware and software allow you to make telephone calls, send faxes, and conduct videoconferences. Internet messaging (e-mail) is cheaper than faxing, and a Web site can be an effective tool for staying in touch with clients and promoting your services to a worldwide audience.
Internet Service Providers
Typically, an Internet service provider (ISP) delivers access to this magic kingdom, and a browser makes it come alive on your computer screen. The computer's modem uses a local telephone number established by the ISP (or by a company designated to provide such numbers for the ISP) to establish a connection to the ISP's computer--the server. Well-known ISPs in the United States are giant America Online, Earthlink, and MSN (the Microsoft Network); however, there are thousands of smaller ISPs, both national and local, to choose from. Cable modems connect a computer to the Internet via television cable (CATV). It is important to know that the Internet is accessible in a meaningful way only with a modem and the service of an ISP.
The World Wide Web
The World Wide Web (WWW, or W3, or the Web) is just one aspect of the Internet, but because of its capabilities, it has become the Net's major component, replacing many older text-only interfaces. Once you're online, you'll likely be cruising the Web. It appears on your screen complete with graphics, text, interactivity, audio, and video, depending on your computer's capabilities and your preferences.
A computer must not only be connected to an ISP, but must also be equipped with a browser to process the information received from and sent to the Internet. The beauty of browsers is that they can access information originating from just about any online computer, regardless of its location and regardless of the format in which the information is stored. The most popular browsers in the United States for business are Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer: Both products are excellent and they are in many respects quite similar. Chances are that your computer has one or the other product built in, and most people stick to what their machines come with. However, a few variations may make a difference to sophisticated users.
For example, Microsoft's Internet Explorer provides videoconferencing, within its NetMeeting module; Netscape's Communicator 4.02 and higher Pro editions manage group scheduling, which may be important for people participating in countrywide or worldwide project groups. The biggest difference between the two products may be how the public perceives them, and particularly how it perceives the companies that produce them.
Many companies have attempted to provide a more versatile Internet starting point, complete with the latest news, weather, browsing, and searching. CATV companies, ISPs, and search-engine operators wanted to retain user interest beyond simple searches, and for this reason they created complete personalized services that supply e-mail, personalized news, access to chat and newsgroups, and often a personalized home page. This combination of services makes accessing and selecting information easier. This hot idea of 1998 was called a Web portal, which was supposed to be your rent-free home on the Internet. It appeared as soon as you logged on, and it stayed with you--in the background--throughout the day to make checking your mail, conducting searches, getting the latest news, taking the pulse of the stock market, and so on a matter of just a few keystrokes. Web portals gave lots of service, and in exchange, exposed users to their advertisers' and sponsors' messages.
The Web portal concept was created by AOL, the leading Internet service provider for consumers, and the format was adopted by many others, including search-engine sites. A CRS service might offer a Web portal especially to its travel agents. Although you may not want to use such a service, you ought to be familiar with the concept, as each of them prominently features travel services.
A Level Playing Field
The browser gives you the power to contact almost anybody in the world who has access to an online computer, and lets you receive messages from anybody in the world with online computer access. This universal access is one of the outstanding characteristics of the Internet, making it a reasonably level playing field for all users. Online computing encourages the collection and distribution of information. Because travel agencies are both seekers and providers of information, the more level playing field allows even small players to participate on somewhat equal terms with the "heavies." Diligent research skills and good Web site deployment empower agents to communicate inexpensively with a rapidly growing segment of the general public.
Intranets and Extranets
An intranet connects a company's computers to each other internally, making information stored on each one available to authorized users (see Figure 3-1). Employees can share software, and they can send and receive text, graphics, video, and sound within the intranet. Areas of an intranet that can be accessed by outsiders, such as vendors and clients, are called extranets. With the proper authorization, intranets can be accessed from desktops and laptops in the workplace, at home, and on the road. Intranets have become a very popular Internet application. According to a manager of Netscape Communications Corporation's enterprise markets, in 1997 "no one had heard of the intranet. Now, it has totally taken off." Netscape, the fast-growing developer of Internet browser technology, estimated that 80 percent of its business came from sales to intranets. (2) It is likely that much of the communication between travel agents and their computer reservation services will move from the CRSs' private networks to intranet or extranet technology.
[FIGURE 3-1 OMITTED]
For some corporations, an intranet offered a last frontier of cost reductions in the travel budget--reductions that went beyond obtaining the discounts that had already reduced travel expenses. A good corporate travel application would enforce company travel rules, regulations, and restrictions, and its automation would allow staff reductions at the corporate travel department as well as at the corporate travel agency. According to Hal Rosenbluth, chief executive officer of Rosenbluth International Travel headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, intranets promised cost reductions of up to 30 percent. These applications allowed individual business travelers to connect to up-to-date travel information sources using their own desktop or laptop computers. Orders could be electronically transmitted via the Internet to the authorized travel agency, and from there (via the CRS or the Internet) to airlines, hotels, car rental agencies, and the like. The software that enabled this process also automated the issuance of travel documents, billing, and the production of reports for the agency and the corporation. This system reduced the need for human involvement in the transaction, other than that of the traveler. (3)
A good example of a company benefiting from travel services provided over an intranet was Charles Schwab & Co., a leading discount stock broker. According to a director of corporate travel at the San Francisco-based financial services company, "Schwab's travel division ... reduced its internal staff from 17 to 11 employees. It reduced telephone inquiries from 350 five-minute calls per day to 224 calls, each averaging three minutes or less. And the $1.6 million that Schwab saved from these measures last year went straight to the company's bottom line." (4) At Schwab's, an administrative assistant who booked travel for her boss, no longer had to call the travel office every time she had to make a choice or change. "[The intranet cut] down on the back-and-forth nature of the process, which ultimately can be aggravating, especially when you're not making the arrangements for yourself," she said. (5) Unlike consumer-oriented Internet booking engines, such as Expedia or Travelocity, corporate online systems permit companies to enforce their travel policies, including using preferred airlines or hotels with which the company has negotiated rates. Online corporate offerings included American Express Company's Interactive (AXI), Internet Travel Network's Global Manager, and a package from SABRE.
Schwab automated its entire travel management process using SABRE's Business Travel Solutions suite. Employees made reservations and ordered tickets online. They charged expenses using credit cards; the credit-card companies sent receipts via e-mail so that employees could download expense information automatically into an electronic expense form. Employees typed in only items for which they paid cash. Managers approved expense reports electronically, and the company electronically reimbursed both the credit-card company and the employees. Summary reports helped managers analyze both department and company-wide travel activity.
A corporate travel auditor hired by Schwab determined that companies in the San Francisco area pay, on average, 32 cents to 34 cents per mile for travel. Before implementing a full electronic management strategy, Schwab paid almost 40 cents per mile, Grant said. The company now pays 20 cents to 21 cents per mile. (6)
Intranet technology may help airlines and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to streamline reporting and rule enforcement. Imagine the efficiencies and cost reductions for airlines and the government that would result from giving up paper forms and upgrading to Internet/intranet technology. For these same reasons, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) opened its extranet doors to allow taxpayers to download IRS forms and publications, and to file returns electronically.
As we have seen, the corporate intranet's great advantages are increased efficiency and cost reduction. Because an intranet is a vehicle that selectively facilitates and streamlines communications among organizations and individuals, the traditional intermediary's role may become increasingly difficult. Steve Lohr wrote that "playing the middleman role on the Internet is going to be a tricky way to make a living. The essence of the Internet, after all, is that it enables people and business to connect directly--sidestepping intermediaries like distributors and retailers." (7)
Travel agencies heavily dependent on traditional airline ticket sales may draw a cautionary lesson from the price war that broke out among stock brokers on the Internet. In 1996, a Los Angeles Times article said that
it sounds as if legions of America's hyper-caffeinated baby boomers are about to hang up on their fathers' cronies at the Merrill Lynch trust department and begin trading stocks at their PCs. Unlike the way it is with a lot of conventional wisdom on our wired future, this actually could happen. The increase in competition has already punctured the high price of trades so dramatically that the transaction cost need no longer be a consideration. At a full-service broker, the purchase of 500 shares of computer networking giant Cisco Systems could cost more than $300 (commission), a big deal. At the least expensive Internet brokerage today, the cost is a flat $12. (8)
When a company's intranet, typically containing information in database form, is opened to suppliers, clients, and other selected outside parties via the Internet, these outside links form an extranet. Detroit's automakers tested the Automotive Network Exchange (ANX), an extranet that securely interconnected automotive industry trading partners. The goals of ANX were to increase productivity and quality control, and to reduce cost by faster and more direct communications. Similar applications are likely to surface in the travel and tourism industry, particularly in the fields of large-scale meeting and convention management and tour operation. A vice president of product marketing at SABRE Travel Information Network stated that "the threat of technology supplanting the relationships between travel agents and their loyal customers is a concern only if agents refuse to change with the technology. To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, 'the only thing to fear is fear itself.' Never fear because you are the experts in travel, and you can leverage technology to your advantage."
Corporations also use extranet technology to give employees access to specialized databases that are not available to casual Internet users. Such services often provide highly specialized, continually updated information from proprietary databases of business topics. The SABRE Group's SABRExplorer was a proprietary database in this vein. Its purpose was fast delivery of real-time travel information. It consisted of data collected by the SABRE Group and it was available only to SABRE agents who participated in the company's extranet.
The Internet and its intranet and extranet extensions, together with the World Wide Web, were the technologies that caused the traditional travel buyer-seller model to evolve in ways not previously imagined. Forward-thinking agents used these tools to offer value-added services that would grow both their own and their clients' businesses. Imaginatively used, the Internet enabled travel agencies to negotiate better rates, to access valuable information more quickly, to find travel options that met specific client needs better, and to put their focus where it should be: on the customer.
An Internet service provider is usually needed to gain access to the Internet. The World Wide Web is the most popular area of the Internet. Browsers are programs that handle information coming from and going to the Internet, including the World Wide Web. Web portals give complete Internet services as soon as you are connected. Intranets and extranets underlie many corporate travel programs offered by CRS services.
(1) An excellent discussion of basic Internet architecture can be found at http://navigators.com/internet_architecture.html.
(2) Orange County Register, 21 May 1997.
(3) Corporate intranets capable of handling travel services attracted the attention of some big players: American Express and Microsoft planned to introduce intranet software that would allow users easy access to American Express travel services while giving management the ability to capture all data necessary to control expenses. This intranet service was to be called SABRE Business Travel Solutions (BTI).
(4) Carol Sliwa, "Schwab Saves with 'Net Travel Planning," Computer-world 32 (no. 15, April 13, 1998): 41.
(5) Sliwa, 41.
(6) Sliwa, 41.
(7) Steve Lohr, "Profiting as a Business-to-Business Middleman on the Internet Is Tricky," New York Times, 19 May 1997.
(8) Jon D. Markman, "Newest Trick of the Trade," Los Angeles Times, 29 October 1996, D1.
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|Publication:||Internet for the Retail Travel Industry|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Chapter 2 Travel reservations and the Internet.|
|Next Article:||Chapter 4 Time management for the online agent.|