Tech Industry

Sabre brings travel agents online

Promising to keep travel agents ahead of the most Net-savvy customer, Sabre Group will ship software to let agents abandon proprietary networks and book reservations through the Internet.

The online travel business is taking off with a vengeance; established player the Sabre Group--controlled by American Airlines' parent AMR--will offer software to allow travel agents to book hotel and car reservations with help from the Internet.

At a cost of $95 per workstation, Sabre Group's software brings travel agents in on a trend that is threatening to undercut their business: booking travel arrangements over the Net rather than on proprietary computer networks.

But with "Planet Sabre," Sabre has found a way to keep agents in the process and use its own proprietary network for the bookings. "The booking capabilities are all still powered by Sabre whether the agent is using their desktop or their client is sending a booking via an online vehicle," said Tom Klein, a managing director for Sabre.

In recent years, businesses have sprung up to let customers book airline flights on their own. Even the airlines themselves offer low-cost fares through the Net. Big companies are jumping into the market as well, including Microsoft and American Express.

Buying tickets online can save passengers as much as $200 per ticket, according to travel experts. Total online travel sales will reach $1 billion by the end of 1997, and will make up nearly 50 percent of the $2.3 billion that will be spent online in 1997, according to a recent report by Jupiter Communications.

Sabre promised travel agents that its software would keep them ahead of "their most Internet-savvy clients." This summer, the company will go a step further, offering software that lets agents book flights with the help of the Net. No price has been set.

Online travel competition is getting intense, though. One pioneer, Preview Travel, announced today that it sold its 100,000th airline ticket since its launch last May. The company's sales are growing at a pace of more than 20 percent per month, it said.

"We've grown into a sizable travel agency by operating fast, dependable, and easy-to-use reservation services for our customers on America Online and the Web," explained Ken Orton, president of Preview Travel.

The Sabre software also will let agents look up travel information such as weather reports and destination information on the Net.