Companies specialising in software systems for the passenger shipping sector are taking full advantage of computer technology advances to extend the capability and functionality of their products
One of the market leaders in this niche sector, Hogia Ferry Systems, continues to achieve considerable success with its Bookit ticketing and reservation system, using its application programme interface (API). This system is built on the latest version of Microsoft.net 4.6.1, continuing the company’s long association with the global technology giant. Indeed, when Hogia’s founder Bert-Inge Hogsved bought the first Microsoft product there were only 12 employees at Microsoft.
Niclas Blomström, managing director, Hogia Ferry Systems, said: “We are constantly improving not only the functionality of Bookit, but also the user experience of the product. We make sure we keep the API up-to-date, so that anything a customer can do on their in-house system can also be achieved through the Bookit API.”
The design of the system makes it easy to implement new services and functionality, both now and in the future. “The scope for integration is unlimited,” suggests Mr Blomström. “Ferry operators are free to find systems and technologies that best meet their business needs without the requirement for direct integration limiting their ability to choose the best available systems and hardware.”
Hogia has signed up four new customers over the past year. Rottnest Fast Ferries, Australia, which offers tourism packages from Perth to Rottnest Island, has built its own booking pages, via the Bookit API, and has a hand-held boarding card scanner for use on a Toughpad. In Canada, V2V Vacations, which specialises in transporting visitors between Vancouver and Victoria harbours, has also incorporated a hand-held boarding card scanning application for use on a mobile phone. Ornö Sjötrafik, which transports vehicles and passengers to Dalarö Island in the Stockholm archipelago, has built self-service ticket kiosks, using the Bookit API, and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group is now using Bookit for both its ferry services from Penzance to St Mary’s as well as the community’s small airline. This is the first time that Bookit has been used for air passenger transportation, and the entire application went live in late 2016.
Hogia has also been working with one of its key existing customers, Destination Gotland, to enhance its reservation and booking systems. Mr Blomström said: “Customers can now check in online, or in the terminal at self-service check-in kiosks. They can then embark using the automated gates with a QR code, very like the experience passengers now have with most airlines. Working with Destination Gotland we have simplified and streamlined the check-in process to improve customer experience.”
Maximising revenue through the Cloud
E-Dea Transport Technology of Italy is another specialist ticketing and reservations systems developer that has been investing to further enhance its passenger shipping related software. The company has been working with strategic technology partners, including Oracle, to maximise ferry operators’ revenue generating capabilities.
Marco Pavoncelli, chief commercial officer, said: “Over the past year, significant business-driven functionality has been added to our standard product to increase value, both in terms of business opportunities and call centre efficiency.” Upgrades have also been implemented for administrative functions, with a “positive impact” on back office and IT operations.
E-Dea has focused on using open standards, such as Java and XML, without any vendor lock-ins, to give customers access to proven technology and solutions with a low overall cost. The company has also concentrated on ensuring its software can be seamlessly linked to third-party systems through a service-orientated architecture approach and using XML web services.
“Cloud services are ideal for ferry businesses with increasing, or varying business demands due to seasonal factors, as the cloud’s inherent flexibility can give ferry companies a real competitive advantage” Marco Pavoncelli (E-Dea)
Further enhancements to E-Dea’s ferry transport systems are on the way, with the E-Dea R5 platform due to be launched later this year. Mr Pavoncelli said: “This new version has been designed to facilitate our customers’ efforts to standardise, consolidate and automate management of passenger reservations, check in and ports handling systems.” It is a single, scalable solution that has been optimised for the cloud systems such as Amazon AWS and Oracle Cloud.
E-Dea points out that, with the growing popularity of internet-based reservations, there are often a high number of tariffs, and special offers, on a given route, and managing this diversity is a growing challenge for major ferry operators worldwide. “We believe that E-Dea R5’s advanced elastic computing and in-memory caching features will offer ferry companies significant benefits in this context, reducing workload, making system performance more predictable and reducing IT infrastructure costs,” suggested Mr Pavoncelli.
E-Dea is also investing to meet a growing demand within the industry for cloud-based applications. Mr Pavoncelli said: “Cloud services are ideal for ferry businesses with increasing, or varying business demands due to seasonal factors, as the cloud’s inherent flexibility can give ferry companies a real competitive advantage.”
He pointed out that the cloud is also available at cheaper rates than standard software and so can significantly lower a company’s IT expenditure. As a result of the specific R&D investments E-Dea has made in this field, it is now able to assist its existing and new customers, that decide to move their business into the cloud.
E-Dea has a loyal customer base, including Color Line, Grimaldi Group and BC Ferries of Canada, and claims 100 per cent client retention over the past five years. In the first half of 2017 it has started working on several new contracts to replace reservation systems for leading ferry operators, and has recently secured a major contract to supply one of the biggest ferry operators in Northern Europe with a new booking and ticketing system.
Boosting intelligence for reservations
California-based Versonix Corporation has recently achieved some notable successes in the cruise shipping sector, further strengthening the company’s position as one of the leading suppliers of reservations and revenue management software to this sector. Virgin Voyages selected Versonix Seaware as its premier reservation platform this year, which will give the new cruise operator the flexibility to recommend products and services that match customer profiles. The Versonix reservation software that will be delivered to Virgin Voyages also features dynamic pricing, targeted offers and inventory optimisation capabilities.
Hong Kong-based Star Cruises continues to expand its use of the Versonix Seaware system, having selected a version of the reservations platform that includes the mobile friendly version of Seaware Touch. This system is hosted in the cloud, using Amazon’s AWS technology.
The Versonix reservation platform continues to evolve to ensure it remains at the forefront of market trends and advances. The company has recently introduced the Seaware Machine Intelligence Engine, that takes advantage of publicly available machine learning tools, such as Google’s Tensorflow, to enhance the yield and management features within Versonix Seaware. Other improvements made recently allow travel agents to upload extensive guest details for group bookings and to manage and create groups; a B2B administration module that gives travel agents the freedom to manage their own agents’ rights, while freeing the cruise line or ferry operator from carrying out this task; and customer experience enhancements, such as a seamless interface that uses customer profile preferences to automatically generate special requests for future bookings.
Kristen Kristich-Madjar, project manager, said: “As the industry becomes more saturated, it is of the utmost importance for companies to differentiate themselves with a superior user experience coupled with unique offerings that appear to be a custom fit for each guest.”
She said that Versonix can offer “unparalleled” revenue management capabilities and a “personalised, highly efficient” booking system that “challenges the industry standard”.
How to: Three ferry operator challenges; three solutions
While Bookit is a standard product, Hogia says it goes to great lengths to make it feel like a tailor-made system, to meet very specific customers’ needs. The company has recently commissioned three very different solutions to address particular requirements, underlining Bookit’s flexibility.
Mr Blomström said: “One customer, in a start-up phase, came to us with a challenge as they needed a way to allow passengers to check in and embark within a single, simple step, but the physical location was outside the terminal, without a booth or shelter of any kind.” He said that on top of this, they wanted it to be possible to enter the booking number manually, or scan a confirmation or commuter card, to check in and embark all passengers on a particular booking in one go.
Although there was already a check-in application within Bookit, the particular circumstances of this ferry development called for a different solution. “We managed to meet the customer’s requirements by developing a scaled-down express check-in application for a mobile touch screen,” said Mr Blomström. “Since the application is easy to configure and works on both handheld devices and computers, it has proven to be a great addition to our off-the-shelf product catalogue for ferry operators worldwide.”
Another customer was only offering online customers prebooking, and handled ‘show and go’ customers offline in a way that created a significant amount of manual work, especially for generating statistics and reporting. Mr Blomström said: “They wanted us to get all the bookings into the Bookit database without the need for manual work, but this was difficult because a combination of the operator’s multi-leg service setup and that it was calling at small ports in rural areas meant that no ticket offices or land-based personnel were present.”
The solution provided by Hogia was to develop a simple, handheld port application that deckhands could operate to check-in passengers and create new bookings. The handheld device’s camera was used for scanning and, by using its built-in GPS, the system was always aware of which port the vessel was arriving at. The new application is automatically able to ensure that check in, and ticket sales are always for the right port and right sailing.
For another company Hogia has developed a ‘freight gadget’ as a response to a customer requirement to cut down the amount of time taken to sell ‘show and go’ freight tickets on passenger-freight ferry services. The customer had a departure every 20 minutes and aimed to reduce the time required to 18 seconds per booking. Hogia says it has, in fact, managed to cut the time taken to four seconds per booking, by designing a specific layout and tab order that best suited the customer concerned. Mr Blomström added: “While this particular development is really a tailor-made solution, and would only work for this set up, it shows that Bookit is a great place to start if you have a process that needs to be more effective.