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Under no Illusions

Faisal Memon

Travel Daily Media’s online editor Sam Ballard talks with enterprise travel technology firm Illusions Online to discover why its solutions are creating such a buzz

There is a strange scenario playing out within the travel industry. Looking at it from a completely objective stand-point it would seem that the entire market can be split into two camps: those that understand technology and those that don’t. It may be an over-simplistic way of looking at it, but the facts are stark: those companies that have taken technology seriously have gone on to reap the rewards. Unfortunately, those who have chosen to ignore it and cling to bricks, mortar and manual systems have often fallen by the wayside. 

“The web is the best tool that travel agents have, yet so many companies refuse to go online. It’s insane,” explains Faisal Memon founder of enterprise technology firm Illusions Online. “We focus on developing technology for destination management companies (DMCs), incoming agencies and outbound tour operators. We’ve also been cloud-based since 2000 which brings with it a whole host of further benefits. We are a complete end-to-end solution.” 

Memon’s Illusions Online is creating a stir within the industry and the answer as to why lies in the firm’s multi-faceted approach. One factor that gets many people excited is the use of the buzz word ‘cloud’ – one of the greatest marketing tricks of the 21st century. After all, how do you think you’ve been able to access your e-mails on any internet connected machine around the world for years, without the messages being stored on individual hard drives? The cloud. However, what this technology means is that, regardless of your location, the solution is hosted remotely. So, maintenance costs are removed from the equation, as are costs of upgrading – which are more often than not put in the hands of the technology provider. What does this mean in the case of Illusions? The company’s clients have cutting edge, enterprise-level technology at a fraction of the price paid by the major players. 

“One of our major USPs, besides the fact that we’re cloud-based, is the detail that our solution goes into,” Memon adds. “Booking engines are just one aspect, we’re also involved with product management, which means contracting air, hotels; and then packaging that together; distributing it to your customer base, which could be business-to-business or business-to-consumer. Then we also take into account the whole operational and administration aspect, the documentation for suppliers and customers, the logistics, e-commerce, reporting – everything. It’s an end-to-end software-as-a-service solution.

“There is another USP – which is perhaps the most important of all,” he explains. “We are one of the only systems out there which can provide the same solution for an incoming agency as well as an outbound company. It’s one singular product. The needs are different but it’s the same solution. So you could have an outbound tour operator in the UK which sells Dubai as a destination, working with a DMC in Dubai, which is also on our system. What this means is that they can connect virtually. It’s called iWTX – our own world travel exchange. We connect all of our customers’ products around the world and resell it to all our other customers. Fundamentally a broker system. It allows our clients to buy and sell off each other, which is very unique. So a DMC on our system can have their products available to tour operators; the tour operators suddenly have access to real-time real inventory without having to put anything in the system. It’s a very interesting dimension to our offering.”

Illusions stand at WTM

A firm which has recently adopted the Illusions solution, and is currently in the implementation phase, is DMC and inbound tour operator Select-Seychelles. Coming from a relatively small market, the Seychelles is nonetheless an incredibly complicated region – consisting of 115 islands over 1,000km away from mainland Africa. The country has only recently had its high speed internet connection enabled and with it a host of opportunities for companies like Select.

“I was looking for a way to better serve our partners and clients overseas,” explains managing director Freddy Karkaria. “At the same time I was looking at the ways and means of leveraging my expertise vis-à-vis my suppliers, who are very strong partners of ours. There was no option but to adopt cutting edge technology.

“We chose Illusions because we’re a small operator and I needed something which was simple, easy to understand, easy to implement, easy to access and had good people to connect with. Illusions is perfect for that. It had a very reasonable price of acquisition – the company instead charges a transaction fee which creates a very interesting dichotomy. Fundamentally, if we succeed then they succeed. It’s a partnership and they are the one company which offered that – a mutually beneficial relationship.”

The philosophy which surrounds Illusions is, as Karkaria explains, one that is based on trust. The fact that their destinies and profits are both entwined does a lot to help the situation too. And it also creates a network which can just as easily be described as a community.

“I don’t pay subscription fees and when a new version is available we all get upgraded for free,” Karkaria adds. “The solution is constantly being reviewed by Illusions as well as its clients – we’re franchised into the idea. I can operate in real time and our speed to market is now vastly improved – a fact that is critical in today’s market. We have become a more serious player within our region and I’m starting to take calls from people who weren’t interested in working with us before. Why? Because we’re going to be the first Indian Ocean inbound tour operator to offer holidays online in the Seychelles.

“We’re going to be linked to hotel’s central reservation systems – so we’ll be going down the supply chain while at the same time going up it. We’re integrating with tour operators and online agencies and their systems. Suddenly there is a seamless, almost virtual connection. Who benefits? The consumer. There will be more choice and quicker decisions. The teenagers of today are our customers of tomorrow – they are all online so it really is the only way to go. This move will be converted into sales and benefit everybody.”  

Simply put, the solution offered by Illusions is a no-brainer. It increases interactivity, operability and sales. If you had to boil it down even further – the return on investment is phenomenal. And, as Memon concludes, it also gives small players like Select-Seychelles the opportunity to compete with the titans like Expedia and on a level playing field. 

“The online travel players have come from nowhere,” he says. “In most cases they have absolutely no travel background – they are fundamentally technology companies. These guys have harnessed technology and taken the industry to the next level while a lot of the traditional tour operators have just sat there and moaned because all the business has gone online. However those that have gone online are now reaping the rewards. They understand that it’s not a singular investment – the industry has a lot to learn. It’s an education and technology is vital. It has to be at the heart of your strategy.”