Project Management

Flight Centre readies Web facelift

Travel agency Flight Centre is ramping up its online efforts with a new Web interface designed to reduce the time -- and frustration -- involved in booking flights and holidays online.

Travel agency Flight Centre is ramping up its online efforts with a new Web interface designed to reduce the time — and frustration — involved in booking flights and holidays online.

The company — which has accrued more than AU$27 million in online sales this financial year to date — will be the first travel company in the world to launch a new Web interface for its domestic air travel booking system using Macromedia's Flex technology.

Flex is an application server initially released by Macromedia in 2004. It allows Java server applications to compile on the fly an XML-type language called MXML and Actionscript into Flash client applications.

The advantage of using Flex as a presentation tier is that the client only loads once, making booking flights and holidays online an improved user experience relative to current Web based applications using JSP, PHP and CFMX, which require roundtrips to the server with every action request.

The company is expected to trial the domestic flight booking engine on the www.travelthere.com.au Web site before rolling it out to its other transactional brands, including www.flightcentre.com.au, www.escapetravel.com.au and www.studentflights.com.au.

Flight Centre will leverage its existing Java booking engine giving the company the option to re-skin (change the user interface of) all of their different brands. Other companies in the travel business may also be able to exploit the re-skinning capability if they signed up to use the Flight Centre back-end.

However, Flex wasn't the only technology Flight Centre was eyeing to improve the online user experience. Barry Moore, Flight Centre's global e-commerce manager told Builder AU  the company had also considered a competing open source platform, called Laszlo.

"We did consider it, because we use a lot of open source projects like Apache and Tomcat, but I really liked the innovation Macromedia has shown by making the user experience better," Moore said.

Flight Centre will be the first travel company in the world to leverage the Flex interface and Moore is confident that other travel companies will follow suit.

"What I think you'll see is once its out there will be a lot of people copying what we do. There is a lot of 'lets wait for the other guys to do it first' mentality out there. A representative from Qantas approached me a recent developers' conference" to discuss the project, he said.

The project has taken approximately two and a half months, with approximately seven developers involved, including two external consultants from Macromedia services company, Rocketboots.

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