For businesses in the travel and tourism industries, life has been divided into two segments: everything before Sept. 11, and everything after. The terrorist attacks have likely taken a heavier toll on the travel industry than on any other. As a result, companies in the sector have been using the Web as an alternate communications channel with their customers, and as a way to provide new enticements to those who have become more reluctant to travel.
A few hours after the attacks, rental car giant The Hertz Corp. posted a note on its Web site informing users that they could turn in their cars in any city without facing drop-off charges. “A lot of customers couldnt reach us by phone, but they could get to us via the Web,” says Claude Burgess, Hertzs vice president of technology and e-business.
Southwest Airlines and Orbitz, the online ticket service owned by the major airlines, used the Web in a similar way. Both companies immediately began posting updated flight and airport security information as a way to let customers stay abreast of the latest news. At Orbitz, on a page it calls Travel Watch, the company began providing around-the-clock updates. “We tried to make it a one-stop place for everything travelers need to know,” says Carol Jouzaitis, an Orbitz representative. The company is trying to “give passengers easy access to information that will help them cope with the changes.”
There is some indication that the industry is bouncing back sooner than expected. According to Henry Harteveldt, a Forrester Research senior travel analyst, traffic at tourism Web sites is back to 93 percent of pre-attack levels. And while the tourism industry will increasingly rely on the Web as a sales and informational channel, it faces “huge challenges in back-office integration, and huge challenges in customer relationship management,” Harteveldt says. The travel industry has just begun tailoring its offerings to individual customers, and customer targeting will have to improve if it is to stay current, he says.
Back-office integration and customization issues are also in the forefront of transportation companies concerns. Trucking and railroad companies are rapidly upgrading their Web sites to provide greater functionality and back-office integration to customers. Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway and trucking firm Yellow Freight System are introducing programs that allow customers to order service, fill out bills of lading, check their bills and even arrange payment of their bills — all on the Web.
The reason for the push, says Roy Blanchard, principal of railroad consultancy firm The Blanchard Co., is “streamlining the entire transportation acquisition process and minimizing data entry.” Transportation companies need to automate order processing functions so that customers can rely on them to deliver the goods they need, when they need them. “The more you can get to a situation where theres a seamless connection in the supply chain, then the faster the whole thing will move. It boils down to the supply chain,” he says.