Social Networking Now Books Travel

Do you offer your customers enough ways to connect with you? If not, you might consider beefing up your social networking efforts. Take a look at what Delta and Sabre are doing to make it easier for their customers to buy online. Here's a hint: don't wait for them to come to you -- go wherever your customers congregate online.

In a nod to the growing power of social networks, Delta Airlines became the first airline to let customers book flights on Facebook, the social networking phenomenon that now counts more than 500 million members worldwide.

Delta said Facebook members can now book flights with their friends at the airline's Facebook page.

Delta (NYSE: DAL) said it will also offer an online "Ticket Window" in banner ads distributed by social commerce channel Alvenda to thousands of publisher websites. Alvenda's StoreCast platform lets partner sites embed the Ticket Window application on their websites.

"Our customers are spending more time online and are looking for new ways to connect with us. We're now bringing Delta to our customers rather than the other way around -- on our own website, on Facebook, on travel websites, on Internet news sites and beyond," Bob Kupbens, Delta's vice president of ecommerce, said in a statement.

Future releases will let users leverage Facebook's so-called social graph, essentially an individual's network of friends and connections, to simplify the process of booking group travel, according to a blog post by Alvenda's founder and CEO Wade Gerten.

"Delta is the first travel company to open millions of new selling opportunities via a social commerce channel," Gerten said in a statement.

Separately, the Sabre Travel Network (STN) announced it is working with Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) to bring enhanced reservation services to the networking giant's telepresence video conferencing systems. Sabre Holdings, which owns STN, also owns travel reservation site Travelocity and offers a range of other travel-related services.

The partnership with STN is ironic since video conferencing providers like Cisco and others tout that a prime benefit of the system's virtual meeting technology is that it lessens the need for travel and saves companies time and money on travel expenses.

Cisco plans to leverage STN's expertise in reservation management to enhance the value of its telepresence systems by making them more accessible.

"For years, corporations and agencies have been using Sabre and GetThere technology to effectively manage their business travel and today it remains one of the primary tools used to collaborate," Greg Webb, president of Sabre Travel Network, said in a statement.

"Over the past few years, we've also seen the demand for telepresence grow and become an important collaboration technology that, like travel, drives business and economic growth for our customers," he added. "We believe our long history of technology and distribution leadership uniquely positions us to deliver the industry's first platform for virtual meetings."

A Sabre spokesperson said the two companies will build a distribution platform for telepresence that will allow companies to shop for and book telepresence rooms for videoconference sessions.

"We intend for this to be an industry solution that will allow any telepresence provider to be part of this broader network," she added. "Travel managers or travel agents will be able to book telepresence rooms through this system."

She said corporations with telepresence rooms will, for example, be able to use the system to book intra-company rooms. "They could also book their internal rooms and public rooms or rooms within other corporations" given the appropriate permission, she added.

No timetable was given as to when the first services to come from the partnership will be available.

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