• July 1, 2009
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Smooth Sailing

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For the rest of the July 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

There are sea cruises, and then there are sea cruises. Travel Dynamics International (TDI) specializes in the latter. The New York–based provider of luxury travel has been operating since 1969, booking small-ship expeditions to historical sites and combining opulence with education and cultural exposure. To achieve that end, TDI went on a journey of its own, starting with one CRM plan and ending up with another.

The largest of TDI’s three vessels holds 114 guests, the smallest just 34—but every booking is about comfort and a sense of community. Private charters are available, but the majority of TDI’s clients are academic societies and alumni associations with a particular interest in a given topic. Cruises are built around each topic, and the nature of the journey typically aligns with that theme, often including expert lecturers.

TDI’s reputation is built on delighting members of an elite niche. Repeat charters are a must, so expert handling of customer relationships is key. “[Our cruises] are a high-end-touch, expensive product,” says Nikos Papagapitos, TDI’s manager of technology and special projects. “For the last 10 years, we were working with our legacy Astro system to handle reservations, with other databases for other purposes. Clients were slipping through the cracks—we were not efficient, and there were process gaps.” The company went looking for something newer that might offer a higher level of integration.

After deciding that building from scratch wasn’t in the cards, and a straight-from-the-box implementation was unlikely to succeed, TDI started looking for an implementation partner to make a custom job happen. “We originally took a liking to Sage, since we were familiar with ACCPAC, and we went with one of their partners to build us a Sage CRM system,” Papagapitos says. “But [when] the partner realized we needed a large-scale solution they didn’t have the resources for, [the partner] pointed me to Infinity Info Systems.” Also based in New York, IIS casts a long shadow in the world of value-added resellers, and was the recipient of a 2007 Rising Star award from CRM magazine—not to mention a slew of other accolades from its two primary partners, Sage and Microsoft.

“When we were first brought in, I realized TDI doesn’t only work with organizations for selling and booking,” says Brian Heltzer, an IIS account executive. “There are individuals within those groups as well, and the booking was not always through the same [people]. TDI needed to be able to see the hybrid of both, but Sage tends to be very organization-focused.”

The IIS team suggested that TDI might do better with Microsoft Dynamics CRM, but Papagapitos had done some initial research and was hesitant, especially after a disappointing first demo. “I don’t remember much, except wanting to fall asleep,” he recalls. That all changed after a second viewing, this time at the hands of Matt Bogan, a senior project manager at IIS. “It looked like a different product,” Papagapitos says. On the strength of recommendations and renewed faith in what Microsoft was capable of, the project changed directions to integrate TDI’s existing Sage ACCPAC on the back end with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 on the front. It all went live in December 2008.

The new set-up’s integration meant that TDI could transfer information as necessary, allowing users to see account status even as event planning was still in progress. As a result, reservation-level relationships can now grow into ongoing personal relationships. Customers are now people instead of bookings.

“It was a complete '180' from before—instead of looking in four or five places, we had one integrated database for everything,” Papagapitos says. “With Astro, we had no way of tracking loyalty and its revenue effect, whether with an organization or a person. Now we can see who our biggest, best, or most-frequent travelers are.” Rapid access to client data and fast input of new bookings has become the new standard.

The new system enabled better sales practices as well. “In the past, it was like the honor system: The sales team would try to pull in new alumni, organizations, and travel agencies, but if [the prospect] didn’t come in the attempt was forgotten about,” Papagapitos says. “Now, if a person calls in, we can see their history with us, and can record what made them choose us in the first place.” It also allows targeted marketing in a way TDI could never manage before.

Best of all, IIS gave TDI a gift that will only increase in value as time and technology advance: the ability to add new capabilities as needed. “We were exasperated with their old system,” IIS’s Bogan says. “You had to run every little change through multiple people over the course of time. Now, TDI is largely self-sufficient and can make changes on its own; they don’t always need our intervention.”

Even so, Papagapitos says he plans to call upon the IIS implementation team again. “We’re at Phase 2 of about 80 or so,” Heltzer jokes. Those future phases include the addition of a client Web portal, offline connectivity for the three ships in TDI’s fleet, and a program for frequent travelers. 


In the six months since integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Sage ACCPAC, Travel Dynamics International has:

  • reduced reservation-entry time by 50 percent;
  • accelerated access to sales data and metrics by 75 percent;
  • established individual tracking of prospects and ongoing relationships;
  • improved the targeting capabilities of its marketing efforts;
  • consolidated 60 percent of server space; and
  • built confidence in being self-sufficient for future system upgrades.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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