from ABC to i-pad- Part 4 From TC to the Rise of Phenix

During my time at Cooks we went from a manual system, to installing laser printers and a DOS based system called Platform. This was during the late 90’s and this served as a database as well as a booking system. It had an index so we could access the database , viewdata to book holidays or Worldspan to book flights

Quite early on the practice of hand writing tickets was phased out and we had a ticket machine installed. This fed through a perforated concertina stack of self carbonised tickets on a dot matrix printer. We had to make absolutely sure these were in sequence and completely straight. Many times the perforations or the holes tore, the tickets printed in the wrong place and ended up halfway down the next ticket, so they had to be voided. We had to keep a box of credit card sized plates, one for each airline and swipe the airline ticket through so the correct plate and our IATA (International Air Travel Association) licence number was embossed on the ticket. We also had to keep an eye on stocks to make sure they were always used in sequence and that we didn’t run out

Our shop was very close to Chelsea Football Ground so we arranged a lot of supporters flights to Europe. I used to design a few window posters using MS Publisher and Word Art extensively, things like “Get a Pizza the action in Milan from £169” and a terrible cartoon picture of a slice of pizza. I cringe when I think about it now but it was cool in the 90’s

Platform was fairly quickly superseded by RIO (Retail in One) which was an access based system that could be used both in travel and foreign exchange. Both Platform and RIO only gave us access to databases within our own shop.  RIO also included the capability to book flights using Worldspan within the system in a window at the bottom and it could capture flight or holiday details straight into the system. It also meant that for the first time we could recall previous clients’ details by name, address, or last date of travel to put in a new enquiry and then upgrade to a confirmed booking. This was a nice, easy system to use and also quite stable. It wasn’t perfect but I don’t remember having too many problems with it but if we did, we would have to call head office as we still didn’t have any other means of communication

The telephones were always a big problem. We sat at the desk most days frustratingly on hold to tour operators and our own departments for hours, sometimes even days which meant that it was almost impossible to get through to us as all our extensions were either ringing in or ringing out. Even in the early 2000’s we still only had telephone or fax as a means of communication

In around 2000, they introduced a window card template to use in Comic Sans. It did look a little better than the old handwritten ones though, providing of course, that the spelling was correct. Writing window cards was a very time consuming exercise and had to be updated daily. They had to be accurate, enticing and relevant. This wasted hours every single day and few people took much notice of them except the regional manager who always seemed to find the out of date one in the corner that none of us had spotted

Another thing that drove me absolutely insane for many months, perhaps even years, was a poster sent by head office to every shop in the country inviting customers to “Get your Euro’s here, the rate today is __ “. I point blank refused to put it in the window and designed my own at home in a more interesting font than Times New Roman, inviting customers instead to buy their Euros here.

There were many reasons that I went into the uncertain world of self employment with Travel Counsellors, but ironically one of them was that it would give me the freedom to use technology to service my clients. At last in 2006, for the first time I was able to access websites and web based systems but the system that we used as a database was a DOS based system called TravelCat. I had used this before when I briefly worked in a First Choice shop in Hounslow. It was a simple system but the paperwork it produced left a lot to be desired.

Head Office were aware of this and developed an integrated system called Phenix which is constantly being developed and upgraded. Gradually all of us stopped using TravelCat and now we all use Phenix.

The first function of Phenix was as a booking system. There were flights and a few hotels loaded into it, but most of us used bedbanks to book hotels. As the system developed further nearly all the bedbanks are now integrated into our own system making it much quicker to access many thousands of hotels all over the world at the most competitive prices.

Since then they have loaded in airport transfers, car hire and attractions so we literally have all the tools at our fingertips to book a complete tailor made holiday within our own system.

The other function of Phenix is the integration of our individual contact centre databases. We cannot access the databases of other Travel Counsellors unless we are covering for them while they are on holiday so it is very secure. If we book a new flight, we can capture the names, addresses and passport details into the system from the contact centre, then we can add in hotels, transfers, car hire and attractions in a shopping basket or we can also add in a retail item booked externally.

A system that serves as an integrated reservation system, database and payment system could not be finished overnight so Phenix has taken many years to develop and it is now accessible to all our Travel Counsellors worldwide

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