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Know thy users

Stephanie Taylor explores how Sabre’s new offering embodies this important design mantra.

After two years in development, Sabre has unveiled its Sabre Red Workspace, a smart travel agency platform with a consumer-grade graphical interface designed with input from both agents and suppliers.

LARA was offered a sneak peek of the software solution at the company’s Envision event (which took place as part of London Tech Week) before it was officially unveiled at Sabre’s Travel Technology Exchange (TTX) conference in Miami, Florida.

The defining feature of the Sabre Red Workspace is the decision support bar. Eric Hallerberg, Sabre’s managing director for the UK & Ireland, explained, “The bar is made up of data widgets and when I click on each one I get more information. It will really allow agents to become expert in travel very easily and efficiently.

“When an agent enters a destination and dates, the solution interacts with the Sabre Dev Studio APIs – it goes out and sees what we have available right now for a particular routing,” continued Hallerberg. “We get 200 fares brought back to us ordered in terms of pricing from low-to-high. As well as the price I can see the aircraft type and the journey time.”

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The Sabre Red Workspace features a decision support bar above the traditional fare information.

So far, so standard. Then there’s the decision support bar, which pulls together data to show how fare prices have changed over the past few weeks. “This allows you to say to the passenger, ‘Fares are going up, don’t wait, you need to book now,’ because I can see that two weeks ago the average fare was £154 but that yesterday it was £236,” said Hallerberg. “We also have access to a year of historic data, which gives us the ability to show how the seasons affect the volume between two destinations.” This helps passengers decide when it’s best to take their trip.

In response to a query about how this benefits Sabre’s airline customers, which presumably always want agents to tell potential passengers to book ASAP, Hallerberg responded that consumers are savvy; that they’ve usually done their research and they know what fare they’re willing to pay down to the last five pence; that the information is already in the public domain. But here’s where the decision support bar gives agents the upper hand, avers Hallerberg:

“They can choose the level of service provided by the agency based on a particular customer, so it could be there’s an appetite for making more money and marking a flight up, but it may be a case of actually discounting the fare a little bit to keep the customer. It’s as simple as a click.”

This is done using the little circle underneath the fare price on the right-hand side, which shows the agent’s commission, or whether there’s a service-fee built in, and so on.

Furthermore, the heart icon in the same location indicates whether a customer has loyalty to a specific airline. “If I’m an agent and I click that heart [which is emboldened in red to show if a passenger is a frequent flyer] I can see what level of loyalty to the airline a customer has,” Hallerberg stated. “We can also see that, for example, BA is part of the same group as Iberia, so we have that reference as well.

“I think one of the two most important widgets we have in the bar are the alternative departure dates and the alternative airports decisions. Business travellers sometimes do have room for flexibility. It’s good to give them options. In a couple of clicks I can go and shop elsewhere if I want to.

“We’ve also built in some drop-down panels, with information pertaining to a particular flight. As well as seeing seat maps, I can see that the cheapest fare is non-refundable, that if changes need to be made it will cost £60,” added Hallerberg.

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The Sabre Red Workspace also includes rich content such as photos and videos

For consumers, the system might seem intuitive – Hallerberg commented that agents trialling the system were overjoyed that now they could actually flip their screens round and show their passenger what they’re doing – but it’s a big step up from the classic view of the Sabre GDS, which operates based on coding.

“The new Sabre Red Workspace has the ability to personalise the experience from an agent perspective, too. It could be that there’s an agent who’s a cryptic warrior, loves the classic format and has been working with it for years. But the new kids have a preference to a graphical style and are more efficient that way. We’ve seamlessly combined the two so that they can interact very well together. You can look at the graphic data points from the classic style. It works for both input and output.”

Hallerberg thinks the simplicity of the new system will mean new recruits will become a source of revenue for travel agents far more quickly than if they were learning the more complex coding method required by the classic Sabre GDS system.

So what happens now the Sabre Red Workspace has been revealed? “We’ve now started globally beta-testing and we will roll it out globally in 2017,” Hallerberg confirmed. “We’re finishing beta-testing at the end of the summer and we’ll have a smart pilot in the fall. The standard upgrade comes free of charge, but as we look at premium functionality we’ll evaluate whether there’ll be a cost for that.”

Hallerberg predicted that the system will be able to cater to ‘aspirational travel’, where “you just put in a certain number of keywords. It’s not availability-led or destination-led, you just say, ‘I want to go to the beach and I have £500.’”

For now, the Sabre Red Workspace can already accommodate a fair bit of innovation, as Hallerberg highlighted. “It allows other parties to come in and develop on top of the core functionality. The proverbial ‘two guys in a garage’ can plug in and really enhance our system,” he remarked.

LARA looks forward to seeing how this works, and how third party vendor content comes to life through the system, from 2017.

Stephanie Taylor, assistant editor, LARA

London, UK

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