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Travel agencies nowadays struggle in surviving as new competitors have undermined their traditional business model: an increased number of simple transaction such as booking a flight, car or hotel has moved to the Internet. Transport providers do not protect their traditional distribution channels any more forcing travel agencies to charge their customers for their booking services. Even large travel companies skip travel agencies and offer their packages directly online (such as TUI one of the leading German travel operators). The information quality of their web information is typically at least as high as that of their catalogues. Public tourist organizations (such as myswitzerland.com) increasingly see it as their task to actively promote their offerings with excellent web-based information. Although, the Internet provides customers with a huge variety of information and easy-to-access transaction opportunities, there are chances for the bricks-and-mortar travel agencies as well that originate in the nature of the Internet: information is fragmented, trustworthiness is difficult to judge, information seeking finally is time-consuming.
In our research we aim to address these socio-technical systems by both introducing advisory processes and providing supportive technical systems. Thereby our initial perspective is strictly customer-oriented: we attempt to understand their interests and needs. Our proposed solutions, however, also consider other important stakeholders, first of all the advisor. We aim to bring together advisor and customer in an equalized, collaborative advisory process.
Increasing trust and integrating different useful information sources seem to serve as a base to start a research how to develop a socio-technical system that combines the strengths of the Internet and a atrategy of availing themselves of the weaknesses of the Internet. Therefore, an integrative visually enhanced system needs to be elaborated, suitable to enable the utilitarian need of effectiveness for the agent (and travel agency) and the hedonic need of the "first touch" of the travel for the customer. According to this, appropriate carrier technologies need to be find to support both instrumental and emotional requirements - e.g., large displays, touch-sensitive input devices with a special appeal to the user. In order to stay in touch with the requirements from the two user categories we adapt the user centred design process, enhanced by the methodology of scenario based design and user research. Beyond system development, we see the need for a special advisory method intended to be used by agents.
Following the notion of value co-creation we build process patterns and suitable artefacts empowering the two main actors by providing shared information spaces that are collaboratively explored. We believe that such an approach is valuable to both the customer (enabling active engagement in the process) and the advisor (providing sophisticated patterns and technical support for advisory). Additionally, we can identify benefits for other stakeholders: while more effective and efficient processes appeal to managers, the integrative architecture of our proposed software systems also considers the requirements of today's IT managers.
In order to support travel advisory, the main value lays in an equalized, traceable, collaborative process of advice whereby both the agent and the customer are able to benefit from. The win-win situation reveals when we could help the both coversation partners to bridge the gap between the local customer knowledge (needs, problem space) and the local agent knowledge (products & destinations, solution space) that result in a booking activity which satisfies both parties. We therefore actively center our users in development and application of the system and intend to develop both the socio- and the technical side of our solution to a new way of giving advice in bricks-and-mortar travel agencies.
In our current research on such advisory processes (and how to support them), we focus on the following aspects: