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    Tools for Agents by Douglas Quinby, Travel Weekly

    man at desk Trip addicts

    One new service aimed exclusively at the trade is TripAddiction.com, an online FIT palnning tool that lets agents assemble complex FITs. The service, founded by two experienced marketers in the cruise industry Virginia Saunders and Molly Ottersen, is aimed squarely at simplifying the FIT planning process for travel agents -- and making it more profitable.

    "When I wanted to travel independently on my vacation, I couldn't find an agent for whom it made sense to spend hours and hours planning my trip. [The agent] couldn't get compensated for it," said Saunders, adding that FIT planning could be a big hit with the boomer market, if there were an economically viable model for travel agents. "So we wanted to enable agents to plan FITs in two hours rather than two weeks."

    The Service, which is licensed to agencies at $995 a year for up to 10 agents, lets users plan FITs in Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain and the U.K., including recommended itineraries and primary and secondary research on 600 hotels, 750 restaurants and plenty of activities, including golf, hiking and others.

    The partners plan to add a new itinerary each month and new destinations throughout the year.

    TripAddiction also provides marketing tools, including itineraries and ticket stuffers for each destination that can be downloaded, customized on the agency's letterhead and printed and distributed to clients. There is no booking engine; rather there are live Web links to 95% of the products highlighted on the Web site, typically with an e-mail or contact booking form, according to Saunders.

    Why the nearly $1,000 yearly price tag? Simple. TripAddiction receives no marketing commissions from suppliers. Saunders and Ottersen have assembled all of the content themselves, based on their extensive travels and tons of secondary research, so the service is dependent entirely on agent memberships for revenues.

    "We really felt that travel agents have been beaten up, and with airlines selling on Orbitz, there's no assurance that cruises and tours won't go the way of the airlines," said Saunders. "The only sustainable thing travel agents can sell is expertise -- That's the only thing you can't get on online."

    Brenda Bader, an agent at Travel One Inc. in Bloomington, Minn., is one of the fewer than 50 agents to have signed up so far with Tripaddiction.com. Although she's just begun using the service and reserves it for higher-end itineraries, Bader already credits it with enhancing her productivity.

    "I am now doing a trip for clients who are going to Milan, taking a train to Florence, driving to Siena and then train to Rome... Just typing out the itinerary -- let alone doing the research -- would take over an hour," she said. "[TripAddiction] makes it much faster and saves us a lot of time."