I wrote this week about the shortcomings of the Apple Vacations websitedespite this major tour operator's adoption of Worldspan's e-Pricing, Rapid Reprice and XML Pro technologies.
Now, it turns out, Apple Vacations has ended a two-decades-old relationship with Sabre and implemented Worldspan, but so far the installation has touched the wholesaler's back-end systems only.
However, in December, Apple Vacations plans to begin a phased-in half-year project to update all of its front-end systems, beginning with its proprietary Resapi for its internal agents, then moving on to its Myappleonline for travel agents, and finally to the consumer website.
After my initial story Oct. 12 about the air-search inadequacies of AppleVacations.com, a couple of people commented that my critique of the website from a consumer perspective was misplaced because tour operators and wholesalers like Apple Vacations generally are only tangentially interested in selling direct to consumers.
But although Apple Vacations does perhaps 80 percent of its business through travel agents, the tour operator's strategy is evolving.
Implementing Worldspan and reconfiguring AppleVacations com is part of a strategy to grow the tour operator's consumer business, says Patricia Brooks, vice president of reservations and administration.
"We're coming out with technology that's more suited for consumers," Brooks says. "It is time for them to have the benefit of that."
In 2009, AppleVacations.com's monthly unique visitors have ranged from nearly 688,000 in January to around 354,000 in May, according to Compete.
But, a lot of those visitors, Brooks says, research destinations and packages on the website and then book elsewhere, whether it be with a traditional travel agent, an Expedia or another supplier.
Apple Vacations wants to build that website traffic and sell directly to a segment of consumers who may be unfamiliar with Apple Vacations or may prefer to book outside of the travel agency channel, she says, adding that a marketing campaign is in the works, too.
Specifically, the website, which already displays published air and risk inventory [when Apple Vacations owns the seats], and contracted air without pricing as part of packages, will get beefed up with Worldspan air-search capabilities and will display more blended comparisons of flight and vacation-package options than it currently does, Brooks says.
AppleVacations.com would become more like what you might expect from a consumer website and would appear "more contemporary," Brooks says.
So why did Apple Vacations transition from Sabre to Worldspan?
Brooks says Worldspan is a better fit at the moment with Apple Vacations' existing technology and goals.
Specifically, one important aspect of that compatibility is that Worldspan's XML Pro connects more efficiently with Apple Vacations' proprietary SAP database and requires fewer resources, Brooks says.
The Apple Vacations vice president says all the right things about valuing the former Sabre relationship, adding that there was no falling out between the two companies.
My reading of a Travelport press release had led me to believe that there was some kind of dispute between the two companies.
In the evolution of their agreements, Apple Vacations and Sabre used a variety of connectivity options to the tour operator's SAP enterprise system, Brooks says. "It's just that right now, this [Worldspan's XML Pro] works better for us," Brooks adds.
Apple Vacations also is happy with the benefits it is getting from Worldspan's e-Pricing search engine and Rapid Reprice, Brooks says, adding that the new search capabilities enable the tour operator to "weed out" impractical air choices better than it could previously.
So, it appears that Apple Vacations is setting out on a path to take the next step in its technology evolution as it relates to its back and front-end systems, including its agent- and consumer-facing offerings.
However, it isn't difficult to find skeptics.
Speaking in general terms about the tour operator industry, one tech guru whispers to me that most wholesalers' core reservations and inventory-management systems are "relics."
The techie concludes: If Apple Vacations' plans don't include an overhaul of these systems, too, then all of the other changes "are window dressing."
Actually, SAP is Apple Vacations' core inventory management system and it was upgraded before the transition to Worldspan.
Here's how it works now: The system checks for pricing and availability, passenger name records are created in Worldspan and brought into SAP, where the PNR number and SAP booking number are cross-referenced.
"Right there at the connection level we improved error rates, reduced scan and saw more inventory with the Worldspan connection," Brooks explains.
Brooks says "the big bang" will come with a new booking engine which is in the works. "That is where the front ends will offer more of the search features and other functionality offered by Worldspan," she says.