GTA, part of Kuoni Group™

Creating an irresistible travel booking experience

Giving travel agents the digital tools they need, to create a delightful travel booking experience.

The travel industry – and technology – is changing. Everyone still wants the ‘perfect escape’ – comfortable accommodation, seamless transfers, friendly tour guides, unique experiences and all at a bargain price. But today, customers are much more likely to use online tools to research, plan and organise their own trips, rather than rely on a travel agent.

With its comprehensive global portfolio of hotels and travel services, GTA, part of Kuoni Group™, wanted to help reimagine the way travel agents find their place in this new digital world of travel content. And they asked us to help.

Our brief was simple: redesign GTA’s travel booking portal into something so powerful that travel agents can easily create irresistible travel experiences using GTA’s online booking tool – from booking right through to the holiday itself. The kinds of holidays that can help keep their customers coming back for more.

GTA selected Fjord because of a previous experience with us and our field-tested collaborative approach, can help move this type of ambitious project from concept to realisation at a desired pace – while maintaining quality.

…[the new portal is the] biggest evolution in travel websites I've seen so far…
Travel Agent via Sharon Doyle VP Product Manager, GTA

Discovery - from understanding to innovation

Over the course of several weeks, we shadowed and ran in-depth interviews with a selected group of representative travel agent users in defined locations. From this, we built a rich understanding of the changing travel market, and the role travel agents play within it.

During the Discovery phase we worked closely with the client to help validate our findings. Leveraging the GTA steering group and a global panel of Subject Matter Advisors, we verified that the insights had global relevance whilst helping reduce the requirement for a time-consuming and costly global research programme.

The next step of the project was to explore and extend that in-depth understanding by combining it with some creative conceptualizing and rapid testing. To do this, we ran two “Rumble” workshops.

A Rumble is a well-prepared and facilitated event. For this project, we ran an initial Rumble to explore the concept and help generate new ideas, and a second to test out our prototype. A wide range of GTA stakeholders were engaged – from senior management and product teams to IT, sales and support – and we produced some fantastic materials that inspired the final product.

Rumbles are effective because they help people think creatively about problems and solutions. For example, when you’re stuck using an old system – like GTA’s original online booking tool – it can be hard to imagine what using a new one might be like. As well as understanding a user’s specific requirements, our job can involve taking a client or user beyond what they might be capable of imagining.

…you couldn't have implemented anything better on the search and maps…
Travel Agent via Sharon Doyle VP Product Manager, GTA

Making it real - towards a fast, efficient and confident delivery

The purpose of this phase was to build the User Interface (UI) – the UI of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) – for GTA. To do this, we delivered a UI that combined old and new, making a more suitable use of any features that already worked, and designing new ones to help fix any remaining challenges or fulfil any unrealised potential.

This phase started with a two-week “Sprint zero” to help create a detailed backlog and sprint plan for the UI MVP. The actual design and development consisted of eight sprints in two-week cycles. Each of these sprints involved visual and interaction design, modular HTML development, backlog grooming, sprint reviews, and user testing.

At Fjord, we know that this kind of agile approach is efficient, but has its risks. Important ideas can get lost along the way, and it can be tempting to compromise between functionality and design. For example, on a project like this it’s possible for the design and development teams to end up working at cross-purposes: they have different priorities and skillsets, and don’t always have time to give proper feedback or double check information. To overcome this, we help ensure the different teams are working well together – for example, by appointing a single project manager for the entire project.

The final delivery went smoothly, because of the collaborative working process between GTA and Fjord. It’s actually hard to overemphasize how crucial this collaborative approach was to the success of the project. It meant we could quickly explore and test features and prototypes during phase one, as well as share timelines about exactly what we’d be delivering and when throughout phase two. This was a huge confidence booster – for both client and project teams on a challenging, fast-paced project.

The redesign of GTA’s online travel booking experience has been a fast-paced and successful project, and helped to show just how efficient and effective a close client relationship can be.

Together, we created a powerful, intuitive experience that lives up to the quality of information it contains, and helps travel agents’ shine. What’s more, it respects an agent’s current way of working; makes it easier for them to work with GTA; integrates smoothly with their existing landscape of services and offers a number of key differentiators that tip the new system from being merely useful to something that can deliver extra value for Travel Agents and their travellers.

…I can really now see how the Itinerary Share feature fits in and I want to use it. I'm not sure how any TA [Travel Agent] couldn't find this useful…
Travel Agent via Sharon Doyle VP Product Manager, GTA

Three transformative differentiators

SEARCH: Travel booking is a large, complicated system. Travel agents navigate this complexity through a combination of established search patterns – such as entering hotel codes or complex keyword variables. By investigating these patterns, we were able to offer a more useful, intuitive and well-curated search functionality – that still works alongside existing behaviours.

ITINERARY BUILDER: This is a simple, powerful tool that allows agents to quickly and responsively search for multiple products and alternatives, and compile them into a single itinerary. This rich content can then be used to populate a quote or booking, and instantly shared with the potential traveller.

ITINERARY SHARE: Being able to share this inspirational itinerary with a traveller is a potent sales-clincher, as well as a natural, non-pushy way to upsell and cross-sell more effectively. The itineraries can be put into templates that work across every common medium and device, allowing the traveller to take it with them on their trip – a huge value-add and loyalty builder.

One happy client, lots of excited travel agents

Having built the core UI of the travel booking service, the final stage of development is now with our client to apply this great interface on top of their online search and booking-trading platform. GTA launched a pilot in late 2015 and are working towards a global rollout in 2016.   In the meantime – we are delighted to hear how well the pilot is being received by GTA’s customers.   Our client, Sharon Doyle, VP Product Manager at GTA, shared the following quotes from travel agents:,

’…[the new portal is the] biggest evolution in travel websites I’ve seen so far…’

‘…you couldn’t have implemented anything better on the search and maps…’

‘…I can really now see how the Itinerary Share feature fits in and I want to use it’ I’m not sure how any TA [Travel Agent] couldn’t find this useful…’

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