BitDepth 626 - May 06

Derren Joseph is developing a mix of virtual and human interfacing to address Trinidad and Tobago's still developing Internet accessibility and credit phobia. He's going to sell airline tickets over the phone.
Tickets booked by mobile phone

Derren Joseph at the foosball equipped location of his new travel ticketing startup. Photography by Mark Lyndersay.

Derren Joseph's business is almost entirely virtual. The transactions pulse through digital connections, bleeping into cell phones and popping up in e-mails.
The core of his business operations is located downstairs at his Petit Valley home, a row of three computer workstations bounded by a pool table and a foosball table.
It's here that Deka Tickets, Joseph's new business enterprise, monitors the testing for his new travel agency business.
Derren Joseph has a fair bit of experience in the travel industry, coming off a short-lived stint as Director of E-Business and E-Commerce at Caribbean Airlines and two years with British Airways before that.

The returning Trini decided that this was the time to make a go of it in his homeland. 
"An English person once told me that England would have been a mess if they had endured a brain drain," Joseph explained. "T&T is experiencing an economic boom. If there was ever a time to get into business here, it's now."
Given his interest in electronic transactions, the way Deka Tickets operates is even more curious, a merging of old-school analogue procedures with high-end digital processes.

Voice activated transactions
Booking a flight with Joseph's business starts with a phone call, placed to a call centre that's answered by Direc One. A request for a flight date, destination and times are confirmed in conversation with the call centre agent, who accesses Amadeus, a Global Destination System installed by Deka Tickets.
The booking then goes digital, transferred to a system created by local technology company Teleios to a central database where it can be accessed by both the payment centre, Neal and Massy's SurePay system and Deka Tickets, who can monitor the status of each booking.
The Teleios system leverages their text messaging software to send a confirmatory e-mail and text message to the customer, confirming the details of their flight information.

Among these details is an expiry date for payment that will serve to confirm the booking of the flight. Customers must visit a SurePay facility, one of the 17 in HiLo groceries in Trinidad or three in commercial outlets in Tobago. 
Payment is immediately flagged by Deka Tickets, whose representatives confirm the flight booking with the airline.
The procedure is clearly inspired by modern transaction processes, which minimise contact points between product and consumer and push the work of purchasing back to the consumer, but there are a surprising number of physical steps to buying a ticket from Derren Joseph's company.

The differences are particularly surprising when you compare it with a typical web-based airline booking which takes place entirely in virtual space and results in an e-ticket that the customer prints on their home printer.
"We're still very much a cash society," said Joseph, "and we needed to create a facility that made cash transactions possible. I don't believe that the limit on e-commerce is Internet penetration; it's credit card penetration."

Credit card concerns
The Deka Ticket business plan is built around what Joseph believes is widespread consumer apprehension among the ten percent of the local population holding a credit card about using the financial instrument.
"There's real concern about letting a card out of your sight, far less unleashing it on the Internet. I think that Trinidad and Tobago might bypass e-commerce and go directly to m(mobile)-commerce."
So Deka Tickets puts customers in contact with a real person to make their booking and invites them to make their payment with another human being, lubricating the steps between with electronic bits.

Deka Tickets has been testing the system with hundreds of transactions since February and plans to go live in mid-May with a system capable of managing thousands of transactions per month.
The next step in the business plan is expanding the business into other ticket sales, but the social challenges of selling party tickets at Carnival are another kind of challenge entirely.
Initial conversations with the hosts of all-inclusive fetes suggest that committees are unwilling to give up the oversight that personal contact allows them in sharing tickets, and the larger fetes are happy with cheap paper tickets.
"What about Machel?" I suggest.
Derren Joseph's face lights up.
"Yeah," he says, "he might be game for something like this."
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