The trend toward providing travelers with travel-booking desktop interfaces that link directly to reservation systems is expected to accelerate. Next up: booking trips from cell phones and PDAs.

Travel agents need all the help they can get fending off the competitive threat of online travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity, and next month a startup called Portaga Inc. will add a key weapon to their arsenal. Portaga Travel Manager will let agencies offer travelers a desktop application that lets them book all the elements of a trip from Microsoft Outlook.

A year in development, Portaga is a Web-services platform that uses the Open Travel Alliance's industry-standard XML messaging schema to pull inventory from Sabre Holdings Corp.'s global distribution system. It will later add connections into other distributors, as well as the reservations systems of airlines, hotels, car-rental companies, limousine providers, and restaurants, CEO Rob Kost says. The company, founded in 2000 as Realtime Enterprises, spent its first few years building applications on a contract basis before deciding to attack a wider business need in the travel industry.

Portaga last year built what could be considered a mini-version of its new service for Cendant Corp.'s Avis Rent A Car System Inc. The Book Avis tool is downloaded into Outlook, adding a button to the main toolbar that travelers can click to initiate an Avis booking via an Open Travel Alliance XML link into its reservations system. Like that product, Portaga Travel Manager will automatically integrate travel-booking information into the traveler's calendar, as well as those of any colleagues who need to be alerted. It also will automatically create expense reports related to trips when needed.

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