Braille Monitor                                                 January 2013

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Equal Access for the Blind: Airfares, Hotels, Cruises--Savings with Travelocity

by Steve Dumaine

From the Editor: Steve Dumaine is senior vice president of global strategy and product innovation at Travelocity Global. He addressed the national convention on Wednesday afternoon, July 4, 2012, and pledged to partner with the NFB to see that the travel experiences of blind people are as good as those for the sighted, beginning with booking and continuing throughout the trip. As advertised on NFB lists earlier in the year, the company offered convention-goers a promotion code good until September. The code is no longer valid, but the gesture was meaningful enough that it has been left in these remarks. Here is what Steve Dumaine said:

Steve DumaineOn behalf of Travelocity's twenty-seven hundred employees around the world and the four hundred and fifty based here in our DFW headquarters, welcome to North Texas. Thanks to all of you for spending your Independence Day with us here at the Anatole, one of Dallas's premiere convention hotels. Like the NFB, Travelocity is fortunate to count Hilton as a partner, and we've really enjoyed the atmosphere here and appreciate the attentiveness of the Hilton team.

Over the next few minutes I'm going to tell you a few stories. My overarching objective with this opportunity today is to share with you why our team believes travel is such a foundational element, and we want everyone to have the opportunity to play a role in its ecosystem. At Travelocity, simply stated, we believe everyone deserves life-enriching travel experiences. Having spent my career in the military and in the travel industry, I've had the good fortune to see the world over. So I want to begin with a personal story of what travel means to me.

Back in 1999 my son, who was eight years old at the time, and I backpacked across Indonesia. Many of you know that Indonesia is an archipelago, and our plan was to work our way over land and water from the island of Tamar to the island of Komodo, which is famous for its Komodo dragons. This island is, however, very remote. We had reached a place called Lara Tuba, which is on the far end of the island, just to the east of Komodo Island. In planning the trip, I had looked at the map, and it appeared to be approximately sixteen miles by bus to our next stop. I had interpreted this as a relatively short ride, a couple of hours at most. The once-daily bus was scheduled to depart at 8:00 a.m., and so we arrived at the bus stop, and we waited. Then we waited, and then we waited some more. Finally a bus that looked like something pulled right out of the movie Back to the Future pulled up. The bus, as it were, appeared to be a Winnebago with cutouts for windows and a steel bar exoskeleton. We piled in and were able to get the last two seats in the back. The bus was packed with locals, and we were seated next to the live chickens. Now, after picking us up, the bus circled around town, picking up more passengers, who were climbing on that steel bar exoskeleton. Our lesson that morning was that in Indonesia the bus leaves when it's full, not when it's scheduled.

As we left town, the driver picked out a cassette tape—hopefully some of you will remember what those are—and popped it into the player, and this is what we heard: “I'm a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world; Life in plastic, it's fantastic,” a Danish pop band called Aqua with their big hit, "Barbie." Needless to say, dance pop music was not part of my expectations for the trip. While we felt like we were riding in the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine, as the ride progressed, we met three Dutch nationals who had been traveling in Indonesia for several months, and we made fast friends. For the rest of our trek they taught us a lot about how to navigate the country, and to this day my son and I fondly remember that ride, a sixty-mile ride that incidentally took more than twelve hours due to road conditions.

So this anecdote encapsulates much of what we believe at Travelocity. First, travel opens doors to unforgettable experiences. We like to say that life isn't about acquiring possessions; it's about collecting memories. Every day we help millions of customers connect with thousands of travel suppliers so that our customers can have new experiences and collect new memories. Second, the Travelocity team firmly believes travel is an inalienable right. Everyone, regardless of circumstances, should have the opportunity to experience something as unforgettable as riding a bus across Indonesia. [Applause]

Third, we acknowledge that travel can be very challenging, and being able to take advantage of others' expertise can improve the experience. At Travelocity we live these beliefs every day by being the traveler's trusted guide. It revolves around a philosophy deeply ingrained in our company's DNA. We aspire to be the customer's champion twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As a traveler's trusted guide Travelocity empowers its customer service team to make it easy for shoppers to find the right trip that's right for them at any time. We market this through our Travelocity guaranty, but I can assure you that this is not just some slickly worded ad copy. Rather, it is something that every one of our employees around the world believes is part of the job.

A couple of proof points for your consideration: Travelocity ranks number one in 2012 among its peers in customer satisfaction by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The ACSI survey showed that Travelocity led the pack in quality, loyalty, and expectations. Travelocity is a full-service travel agency and not just a website. We are staffed twenty-four/seven with experts on hand to help customers book their dream vacations to destinations like Las Vegas; Orlando, Florida; New York; Mexico; the Caribbean; and Hawaii.

So how do we personify this? Several examples come to mind. As you know, we are currently in the throes of hurricane season. Each year these storms wreak havoc with the travel plans of thousands of our customers who book summer vacations to the Caribbean, Mexico, and the Gulf Coast. When these storms pop up, we don't wait for those affected to come to us for help with their travel plans. We instead take it upon ourselves to contact them proactively and advise them of their options. For some no action is required. For others it may be more complex and involve changes to flights, hotels, and/or car reservations. Anyone who has ever travelled knows that such a sequence of events can cause headaches. What we've learned, however, is that, when we anticipate our customers’ needs in such times, the headaches are far less severe.

Of course some situations test our ability to go above and beyond the call of duty. I am sure all of you will recall the tragedy involving the cruise ship Costa Concordia near the island of Giglio in Italy earlier this year. Sadly, not only were the travel dreams of thousands thrown into complete and utter disarray, lives were lost. We had two of our customers traveling together on the Concordia who made it off the ship safely and ended up in Paris following the accident. Our customer care team tracked them down and found out that they had reached the City of Lights with nothing. At that point our team on the ground in Paris stepped in and delivered a thousand Euros to help cover any short-term expenses. We also contacted the hotel where they were staying and gave them authorization to charge meals and other sundries. Needless to say, our customers were very thankful for the assistance we provided. Once they had regained their bearings, they actually continued their tour of Europe. [Applause]

While we know our future success will be grounded in excellent customer service, we also know that part of being a great retailer means offering competitive pricing and great deals. As a traveler's trusted guide, Travelocity makes it easy for shoppers to find the trip that's right for them and at the best value. There are several ways we do this. First, Travelocity guarantees that customers will not find lower prices anywhere else, and, if they do, the company will refund the difference and provide the customer with a $50 promo code for a future booking. Booking a dynamic flight plus a hotel vacation package with Travelocity can save customers up to $525 compared to booking the flight and the hotel separately, while also giving them added convenience and flexibility.

With Travelocity’s top secret hotels, consumers can save up to 55 percent off three- to five-star hotels. Above and beyond everyday great deals, I have a special exclusive deal for all of you here today. [Applause] Between now and September 4 we are offering the three thousand attendees of the NFB conference a special promo code for $200 off a three-night flight and hotel vacation package. You'll want to take note of this. The code is NFB2012. It can be entered in at checkout. If you have any questions about the code, feel free to let me or another Travelocity team member know. Remember, it's redeemable for a three-night flight, hotel, and vacation package, $200 off, and the code expires September 4 [2012]. We hope that many of you can take advantage of this offer. [Applause]

Hopefully you now have a better idea of why I am here today, why members of my team have been attending sessions here at the Anatole over the past few days, and why we deemed it important to engage with the NFB in such a meaningful way. We are passionate about travel, and we want everyone to be able to enrich their lives through its wide lens. Making travel fully accessible is completely consistent with these values. You see, we want the amazing experience of travel to be accessible and available to everyone, whether young or old, sighted or not sighted.

With that, I'd like to give an update on our Road to Accessibility full disclosure. When we first started working with the NFB in 2011, our site wasn't accessible. While we're not quite where we want to be, we have made significant progress, and we are very close to becoming fully accessible, unlike the other major online travel companies. Throughout the entire process we've worked hand in hand with Dr. Maurer, Anne Taylor, and the entire NFB staff. In just eighteen months we have transformed Travelocity. I am proud to say that Travelocity is the only major online travel company and one of the first e-commerce companies committed to making its website fully accessible to blind people. [Applause]

Our project started with the simple milestone to ensure that our home page and each of the home pages for our major travel services, particularly hotels, flights, and vacation packages, were accessible. We completed that effort last year, but then the real work began. We spent the first half of this year making our hotel, vacation package, and flights paths accessible, from the time you search, all the way through to the booking. Our site is a large and complex one, and the project called for us to change hundreds of web pages. Additionally, Travelocity has an accessibility coordinator who reports directly to me and an accessibility committee in place within our company so that it receives the constant attention that it deserves from key stakeholders.

Finally, and in my opinion, most important, a wide range of our team members in customer service, technology, and design have undergone hours of accessibility training. Many of them have been here at the conference this week. But we still have more work to do. As we head into the second half of the year, here is what we are planning to achieve. As I speak, we're in the midst of completing and releasing accessibility changes to our site. Once those changes are in place, we anticipate that our hotel, vacation package, and flight shopping will offer an accessible path for you to plan and book your next vacation using screen readers. So, if you are thinking about travelling this summer or over the Labor Day weekend at the end of summer, please think about shopping at Travelocity, and don't forget about that $200 promo code. [Applause]

Our next milestone calls for cruise shopping and booking to be accessible by the end of 2012, just in time for the beginning of next season's wave season when the cruise lines offer up their best deals of the year. We also plan to have our other high-traffic transactional and promotional pages accessible in that same timeframe. Again, when all the work is completed, we will be the first and only online travel company to make its site fully accessible to blind people. [Applause]

I hope you find all these developments as exciting as we do. Before I wrap up, I thought you'd like to know that our work with the NFB is making an impact on our team. Here's a quote from Fernando, one of our developers: "After listening and learning in more detail about the aspects of travel that worry or impede blind travelers or travelers with low vision, I understand now how many different things can make travel feel difficult or take the enjoyment out of the experience. There are so many more factors that blind people need to account for when going through each of the steps to plan, book, and take a trip. The best thing we at Travelocity can do is to make the booking process as easy and fast as possible. I don't think I would have really understood this had I not attended the conference this week. Up until now I didn't really have a good sense of the different people who wanted to use our site. This week has definitely changed my perspective and will help my work on this important project moving forward." [Applause]

I want to reiterate that we would not be where we are today without the collaborative spirit of our counterparts at the NFB. They have provided an immense amount of feedback and direction on matters like testing tools, coding best practices, and even implementation solutions. Working so closely with them has made us better and of course helped solidify our commitment to accessibility. As evidence of our commitment, I have some additional breaking news for you. First, as a token of our goodwill, we are giving away a hotel stay in Miami at tomorrow's banquet, so be sure and make it. [Applause] Second, Travelocity will be a platinum sponsor at next year's conference in Orlando. [Applause] We will have a team onsite, providing a series of training workshops and break-out sessions for conference attendees. [Applause] We look forward to demonstrating our site to the NFB members next year when the entire site is accessible.

I'll leave you with three points. First, we realize that accessibility for Travelocity’s site is a journey, not a destination, and we've committed to making that journey. We're making travel accessible to everyone and look forward to maintaining a strong partnership with the NFB. We would love your feedback on our site, so feel free to contact us at <executiveoffices.offices@travelocity.com>.  Second, a reminder that you have two months to use the promo code NFB2012 to save up to $200 when you book a three-night flight plus a hotel vacation package with us. Finally, should you ever need to catch a bus in rural Indonesia, remember the bus will depart when it's full, not when it's scheduled. [Applause]

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