When Robert Kost started his company, Portaga, a little over two years ago, he says, his goal was to make a better travel-booking tool, one that integrated the various aspects of a business trip.
In particular, he saw an opportunity in the small-business industry, which is largely neglected when it comes to travel.
"Business travel is often complex," says Kost, CEO of Portaga. With the hope of simplifying the process, Portaga went to work on developing a Web-based travel reservation application, incorporating
In April, the company launched
TripSync, an online booking tool that Kost expects "will change the game in online travel distribution."
TripSync can be launched from anywhere -- from browser toolbars, inside Microsoft Outlook or within any Web page.
"It uses the Web browser to interact with the user, but it behaves like software," he explains. "Once launched, the user picks the person whose travel he or she is managing, and can begin to build a trip, to change preferences or to review future and past trips." After the trip is booked, it's automatically placed in the calendar, available for cancellation or modification at any time.
Kost says TripSync's target audience is small businesses in the services, manufacturing and professional sectors, which spend less than $3 million a year on travel.
"Typically, there will be between 10 and 300 employees in the business," he says. "Also, the business traveler him or herself is a consumer, and can sign up and use the tool without the need for their business to adopt it."
There are several features of the application that make it especially viable for these types of businesses. "For this market, it's got to be cheap, easy and powerful," Kost says. "We believe we've accomplished this."
Travel Plans Made Simple
First, not only is the application inexpensive, but people can sign up for TripSync for absolutely no cost. For now, Portaga has also waived service fees, so unlike booking at Travelocity, Orbitz or
, TripSync doesn't charge anything to make a booking.
Also, the tool's drag-and-drop interface, which allows users to construct a trip without ever losing sight of their itinerary, makes the process of booking even very complex trips with multiple stopovers very easy, Kost points out.
Suppose a traveler is going from New York City to Chicago to Dallas and then back. "If you try to construct this trip at Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity it's very, very easy for you to get lost because you don't know if you've allotted enough time in each instance," he explains.
"What we're allowing you to do is track these complex itineraries graphically. So you can just add your series of flights to your trip and once those are laid out nicely in front of
you, you can begin to add a series of hotel bookings, car booking and down the road, dinner reservations and the like."
So far customer response has been overwhelmingly positive, Kost says. "We've gotten a number of praises from our early customers and the rate of uptake is fairly rapid."
It's no wonder as everything TripSync does, "from active calendaring and book and hold, to cross-organization management and mobile booking, was built with the small business and its
road warrior in mind," he says.
The book and hold feature, he says, allows travelers to hold their reservation for a day and be assured of having a seat on the airplane, but not pay for it until plans are firmed up. This is the kind of tool businesspeople need, as opposed to vacationers, who know exactly when and where they'll be going away.
On the Road
Recently, Portaga introduced the only tool that allows travelers to book a trip directly from their mobile phone. In addition, the company plans on allowing users to modify and change existing reservations by mobile phone, all of which will be available for free.
"We think that mobile booking and mobile access is very, very important to business travelers because they might or might not be near a
Wi-Fi hot spot," Kost says. "But this essentially will allow you, on the taxi ride downtown, to change your hotel reservation or add a new air flight."
Soon, through a partnership with
ExpenseWire, Portaga also plans on allowing TripSync users to automatically generate an expense report upon their return home.
This should prove to be a boon for the business traveler because everybody knows what a struggle it can be to get expense reports together, Kost says.
Next week, the company will provide integration with
Calendar and its own Outlook connector to get "more robust in capability," says Kost.