The 1981 potential for computers in the travel industry
Innovation could cut time spent on the phone by travel agents
Using a computer to reserve a seat on an airplane — much less to pay for it — wasn't a reality in 1981.
But thanks to a computer company that developed the technology to unite "all the sub-systems in the travel business," it seemed possible.
"No cash, no paper, no mailing of bills," said reporter Kathy Farrell. "This is what the electronic age promises for the future."
A company called Archer Computer Management had developed a means of drawing together information from disparate sources and making it available via computer.
Wooing the travel industry
"Many other computer firms are trying to woo business from the lucrative travel market, but this system claims to offer the most advanced technology," said Farrell.
For example, it aimed to integrate all the sub-systems used in the business.
"The travel agent will be able to tap into just one and make bookings with the push of a button," she added.
At the time, a travel agent had to make "dozens" of phone calls to airlines, tour operators, hotels, car rental agencies and others.
A black monitor with green letters showed the system Archer had devised. The user could choose Toronto, Montreal or Halifax as a departure city, and a list of sunny vacation spots as destinations, ranging from Antigua to St. Lucia.
"It immediately tells you the flight you want to go out on,the one before, and the one after," said Ajit Zacharias. "In case there's no space available on the one you want to go on."
"We will naturally meet with some resistance from airlines that have developed their own reservation systems," added Zacharias.
The system also hinted at two innovations that would become routine in the future: electronic fund transfer and ratings for vacation properties based on consumer feedback.
"The ratings assigned by customers ... will be a summation of what other travellers have actually experienced rather than looking at the advertisements," said Zacharias, showing the system.
Farrell, who was a consumer-affairs reporter, seemed skeptical, pointing out that customers would have to fill out paper evaluation forms and submit them to travel agencies.
"The idea of rating travel facilities sounds great," said Farrell. "But that would only work if travellers send in assessment forms."
The same went for the airlines, which had to "hook into the computer" before travel agents were going to be able to book flights directly.
"It seems to me that the number of human 'if factors' are so great, I wonder if the system will ever get off the ground."