Sunday, April 22, 2001

Gwen Isherwood searches the Web in the Kapiolani
Boulevard offices of Get2Hawaii. The company has
developed software that links travel agents with hotels,
airlines and other travel suppliers. It faces competition
from a similar Honolulu company, Viata Online.
Behind Isherwood are fellow employees (L to R)
Erland Odd, Keuntae Gil and Kawika Kreis.

Tourism software
races to market

Local competitors
Get2Hawaii and Viata Online
hit the streets together

By Russ Lynch

THE COMPANY behind new software designed to connect travel industry suppliers with sellers, Get2Hawaii, says it has signed two big partners right out of the gate -- Hawaiian Airlines and Get2Hawaii's own parent, Panda Group -- and expects to add more soon.

The Panda affiliate announced its plans Friday at a media luncheon at the Halekulani Hotel and introduced an advisory board made up of bigwigs in the Hawaii travel industry, such as Bob Fishman, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority; Tony Vericella, CEO of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau; airline chiefs Paul Casey of Hawaiian and Glenn Zander of Aloha; and Chuck Gee, dean emeritus of the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawaii.

But, wait a minute, says another local software developer, Viata Online Inc. Viata says it is doing the same thing and, in fact, is ahead of Get2Hawaii. Former Aston Hotels & Resorts President JW Ellsworth, now chief executive of Viata Online, said his firm's software is up and running and has been in use in a testing form since February. It's available now and the company is almost ready to announce its first clients.

Both companies are hitting the market at nearly the same time, and each points to itself as the first to market.

Get2Hawaii CEO Susan Scott, who moved to Hawaii after 17 years of high-technology work in Silicon Valley, says her company's software is in the testing stage and will be commercially available in June. But Get2Hawaii was the first to announce the signing of two travel provider clients, Hawaiian and Panda, and maybe that makes them first in the field, as some of their publicity materials say they are.

They both appear to have done their research and development as well as a great deal of communicating with the travel industry. Who was first may not be important at all.

What is important, they both agree, is that there is room for both of them and maybe more like them. Hawaii's tourist business, and therefore the island economy, will benefit from what they do, they say.

Exactly what that is takes a bit of explaining, as most of today's technological developments do.

In simple terms, the companies developed software that sellers of travel, such as wholesale tour packagers or retail travel agents, can use to connect directly to travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, rental car companies, tour operators and vacation activities providers.

"We're not a travel portal site," such as Web travel sellers Travelocity or Expedia, Scott said. In other words, nobody can go to a Get2Hawaii site on the Internet and book their own travel.

However, a travel agent or tour wholesaler can check a series of needs for a client all at the same time, such as booking a flight, a rental car and a hotel room, which usually requires the seller to look up several Internet sites or make phone calls to different suppliers.

Most important, says Scott, is that the software maintains real-time inventory and only displays services that are available for sale at that price at that moment. "It is not going to show up unless it is available," she told the media meeting.

There is instant confirmation of the booking and the software allows the transaction to take place seamlessly. Get2Hawaii is not visible anywhere in the transaction, but it is there behind the scenes putting it all together.

That's just what Viata Online does too, it says.

In both cases, the software will cater to the individual needs of all parties. A hotel might prefer to work with a particular car rental company and that will be the company that shows as first choice when bookings are made at that hotel, for example.

But the companies say their software is neutral overall, for example, not favoring one airline over another.

"It's specific to what the client -- the consumer or the travel agent -- specifies," said Ellsworth.

A client could demand always the cheapest rate, or the most luxurious room, or the smallest car, and so on.

"Wholesalers can package it directly," matching air travel, cars, hotels and other services precisely to customers' needs all at one time through their office computers, Ellsworth said.

"The most important thing we've accomplished is allowing separate systems to connect so that all players can access the same information over the Internet," he said. "For example, we can integrate hotel reservation systems with partnered travel agencies, so that everyone can view availability and modify products in real time. By integrating systems directly with inventory suppliers, every change made to a reservation is automatically updated."

For suppliers, the system is a great edge, allowing them to post real-time inventory and move it fast, Get2Hawaii's Scott said.

Get2Hawaii was founded last year as an affiliate of Panda Group, which has sold Hawaii travel for more than 20 years. Jack Tsui, who founded Panda in 1978, is its chairman. CEO Susan Scott was raised in Hawaii and most recently was executive director and CEO of TRUSTe, a non-profit privacy certification organization.

Before that she was publisher of Upside magazine, which covered the digital technology industry. Get2Hawaii's group also includes CJ Villa, chief technology officer, who has 20 years of programming and applications development. Its offices are at 1600 Kapiolani Blvd.

Viata Online, in the 1100 Alakea building, was also founded a year ago. Its chairman is Karl Chang, a cofounder of Verifone Corp.

Get2Hawaii and Viata both can show wide experience in both the technology side and in travel.

And both say their unseen presence will bring more business for a wide range of Hawaii travel businesses at a low cost to service providers and resellers through the efficiency of their systems.

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