REScon

REScon, which stands for ‘Reservation Confirmation’, is a recommended format for travel agent’s systems to capture booking information direct from the tour operator. It is endorsed by theTTI, the travel industry’s standards body, and is available to everyone in the travel business.

These days, most holiday bookings are made using familiar and easy to use videotex systems. But, no matter how good the system is at finding and selling holidays, it doesn’t help with the on-going administration of issuing receipts and recording booking details at the travel agency.

Bookings made easy

When the first videotex systems were launched, the PC hadn’t been invented. Nowadays, high performance PCs sell for less than a videotex terminal did ten years ago, and you can do a lot more with a PC than with videotex. Many travel agents have already invested in point-of-sale systems, often using PCs to automate much of the administration. After all, it makes life a lot easier if names and addresses can be entered just the once and booking details downloaded from the videotex screen. Computers are great at processing information and can save time, releasing sales staff to do what they do best – selling to customers. Unfortunately, PCs and videotex systems are of a different technological age and do not easily share data. The best that can be achieved is for the PC to pretend to be a videotex terminal and to store screen ‘maps’ of different videotex systems. Using this compromise, the PC can fill-in information fields and ‘grab’ booking data from the screen, but the agent’s system has to maintain up-to-date screen maps for each operator. Not the most efficient arrangement, especially when operators change their screen layouts, as often happens. So, how can the PC be used more effectively to process and administer videotex bookings? The answer is simple – REScon!

What is REScon?

REScon, which stands for ‘Reservation Confirmation’, is a recommended format for travel agent’s systems to capture booking information direct from the tour operator. Travel agents no longer need to create and maintain complex screen maps for each tour operator and the transfer of data is immediate, transparent and secure. The REScon format was developed jointly by the major tour operators and travel agents for use on any computer system. It has been successfully installed by Cosmos and Co-op Travelcare, where it has made life much easier for both sales and support staff. REScon is an industry wide technical standard for transferring full booking details between computer systems. It is endorsed by the travel industry’s standards body, the Travel Technology Initiative, and is available to everyone in the travel business. What’s more, it provides a sound base for other important developments, such as printing invoices, ATOL receipts and travel tickets.

How does it work?

REScon is an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) message in which full booking data, such as lead name, reference, flight times, accommodation details etc., is identified and labelled. This enables different computer systems to recognise and process the contents of the message. A good analogy is an IATA air ticket, which has specific boxes which contain standard information, making it easily recognisable throughout the world. Using the agreed message format, a ‘message handler’ is added to both the tour operator’s and the travel agent’s systems. This is a straight-forward development and, surprisingly, requires little effort. A number of PC based communications systems suppliers already offer REScon supported products and implementation advice services. Once installed, videotex bookings are processed as normal. The only difference is that travel agents can choose to have the booking details downloaded to their own system when confirming a booking. This takes only a couple of seconds, leaving the travel agent’s system to do what it wants with the information, typically storing the booking data within its customer record. From here it can be retrieved at any time and fed through to the payment system to the tour operator. It can also be used to print ATOL receipts, now a legal requirement for package holidays and seat only bookings. A major advantage of REScon is that once it has been implemented it will work for all tour operators and travel agents that support it. For example, Cosmos booking details can be passed to Travelcare and any other agent whose system asks for the message. Conversely, Travelcare can ask for the booking details from any operator with REScon, knowing that its system can handle the information in the same way, even though the tour operator systems have different screen layouts and displays. REScon works with any system and is transparent to the user. There are no new routines to develop or learn and agents can safeguard their existing systems investment.

Implementing REScon

The first companies to implement REScon were Cosmos and Co-op Travelcare, who started using it in April 1995. For Cosmos, implementation took 15 days, including full system testing. The implementation went smoothly and no problems were encountered. Travelcare has 242 retail branches and REScon is used in 140. Travelcare undertook some programming on its selling system, which took 7 days. This was followed by 3 days of testing with Cosmos and Imminus, and REScon has been fully tested on the AT&T network. Once the testing with Cosmos was completed, Travelcare ‘downloaded’ the software changes to the selected branches and followed this with a training brief for retail staff. The first booking was made on 19 April 1995 in the Telesales branch. Travelcare’s system is also able to download bookings from any other tour operator that uses REScon and the total development was equivalent to £28 per branch!

REScon in use

It is true to say that using REScon is transparent to the travel agent. The system takes care of everything, seamlessly transferring booking data from the Cosmos reservation system to Travelcare. The biggest difference has been noticed by Travelcare’s sales staff who have found it quicker and more reliable than using screen maps. REScon instils confidence as the booking information in the Travelcare system comes direct from Cosmos. This has had an indirect and beneficial impact on the number of payment queries, since Travelcare’s payment details are based on Cosmos’ information, straight from its computer. When asked if she would be prepared to have REScon removed, Lisa Blanchard, Travelcare’s System’s Implementor replied: “No way! I used to maintain the screen maps, and would not wish that job on anyone. REScon is automatic and so simple, I can’t understand why no one thought of it sooner. Knowing how it works, I can think of lots more uses for REScon.” Another interesting comment was made by Mike Austin, Cosmos Finance Director: “I really don’t understand computers, just money. What I like about REScon is that it cost virtually nothing to implement and it works. I expect, as balances become due, my accounts people will spend less time reconciling Travelcare’s payments. What more can a Finance Director ask for?”

What can it offer you?

REScon is a low cost, high benefit opportunity that is available to everyone in the travel industry. It is the result of unprecedented technical co-operation and works perfectly. Implementation is straightforward and free from financial and technical risk. REScon is more secure and reliable than “capturing” screen data and can deliver much more booking information than can be displayed on the videotex screen. The agency system does not have to maintain screen maps for each operator and there are no delays waiting for new maps when screen layouts change. And for those agents that still transfer booking details by hand, REScon is the most cost effective method of automating this process. The benefits are quickly realised. Vital booking data can be transferred to the agent’s PC direct from the tour operator’s system as part of the normal videotex reservation. Once this information is available to the retailer system, it can be stored in the customer record and retrieved for further use. Bookings are quicker to administer and are accurate. This in turn improves the payment process, leading to fewer accounting queries. Although REScon was developed jointly by the major tour operators and agents, the message specification has now been lodged with the Travel Technology Initiative. This has ensured that REScon is an ‘open’ travel industry standard, accessible to everyone, both to implement and develop further. The most recent user is European Passenger Services, which is using it to pass Eurostar booking information to Galileo UK. In this case, there is no videotex system, which demonstrates REScon’s flexibility and wide range of application.

And finally…..

REScon was developed in just nine months, for a shared investment of just £20k, or 0.0003% of the annual revenue generated from package holiday sales. The development was undertaken by the TTI and 12 leading travel companies – Airtours, AT Mays, Best, Co-op Travelcare, Cosmos, First Choice, Going Places, Sunworld, Lunn-Poly, Stena, Thomas Cook and Thomson. REScon represents a major technology breakthrough for leisure travel, probably the first since the first videotex systems back in 1979. One of those who was directly involved in the development of REScon, David Collins, Director of Group IT at Airtours has this to say: “Whilst there is much debate about the demise of videotex, there can be no denying that it is an effective selling system. What REScon achieves is the marriage of videotex and the PC, delivering accurate booking information to those systems that can make use of it. The tour operator’s system retains its brand image and agents without PCs are unaffected. REScon is an added value service, which beavers away in the background, getting on with the job. I have always been a keen supporter and Airtours is now seeking to make this a priority development. This is an investment opportunity that will still be with us long after videotex has been replaced. And, what is more, REScon is freely available for those who want to use it.” REScon has no licence fees or maintenance charges and was developed by leading travel companies for use throughout the industry as an ‘open’ standard. Come to think of it, that’s just how the Internet got going – implementing freely available standards that were easy to use on a PC!

Further information

Rescon may be downloaded from the Release Files section of our FILE DOWNLOADS area.

REScon works with any system and is transparent to the user. There are no new routines to develop or learn and agents can safeguard their existing systems investment.

Bookings which make use of REScon are quicker to administer and are accurate. This in turn improves the payment process, leading to fewer accounting queries.