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The talk of the travel world may often revolve around which company the Priceline Group or Expedia will acquire next, and while those are of course crucial conversations to have, there are still millions of people around the world who don’t even know an Expedia site from a Priceline site and prefer to handle their travel bookings offline. The reason why they do this doesn’t require a brainstorming session to figure out–they want to see a smiling face physically in front of them who they know will handle all details A to Z of a trip and get them out of any trouble should it arise. These people, travel agents, have roles that evolve every day and they must focus even more on why people have used travel agents since the dawn of modern travel- for their knowledge and experience in already having been to a place where a traveler wants to visit. These five startups want to get back to the heart of what a travel agency should be, both on and offline, and bring personalization and experience to the front-end of a traveler’s journey.
>>TravPro Mobile produces mobile hybrid learning and sales solutions featuring native sales companion apps that provide travel agents with anytime/anywhere access to training and rewards programs, booking and sales tools, real-time directories, sales tips and offers.
SkiftTake: There should be more software and startups out there that are teaching travel agents how to bring their business and techniques into the 21st century.
>>Bookitlyst a website and mobile app to discover and book unique travel experiences, while getting access to expert travel planners. The startup also promises 24/7 assistance from travel agents should anything go wrong with a booking.
SkiftTake: This is the argument travel agents make for their existence- that travelers need them in case something goes wrong. Reverse logic says travelers should also need a travel agent when something goes right, too.
>>Hitlist is one of the first mobile apps to combine a low fares search engine with editorial curation, and recommendations from a traveler’s social network to provide a “Best Of” list of destinations under dozens of categories such as Unforgettable Honeymoons, Cities for Foodies and Beach Towns, etc. Hitlist has developed proprietary technology that combines user-volunteered intent and preference data with live and predictive pricing data.
SkiftTake: Overall conversions resulting from searches on online travel agencies are still relatively low because of lack of personalization. Hitlist claims its conversion is 20 times higher than most online travel agencies offering flight bookings and its use of big data and personalization is likely one of the main reasons for that.
>>Nekst is a site that curates hotels for travelers based on their specific interests. It also combs through more than 60 booking sites to ensure a best price guarantee.
SkiftTake: Curating a personalized list of hotels from dozens of booking sites is great, but Nekst’s model relies on travelers having the time to fill out a questionnaire that matches their tastes. While the startup says it’s using big data and probably gets to know travelers more and more with each booking, it shouldn’t be an undertaking to get up and running during the first booking.
>>Jokly is a travel platform that focuses on independent travelers and helps them to design their trip itineraries step by step. A user can construct his or her journey plan by choosing destination, booking hotel and marking points of interest at the selected place. Jokly also integrates with Booking.com and is seeking more integrations and partnerships with already respected brands.
SkiftTake: Jokly works at getting to the heart of what an online travel agency really should be with quality descriptions of attractions and matching hotels to travelers based on what their plans are in a city. Adding flight bookings would be a plus, too.
Note: Hitlist co-founder and CEO Gillian Morris is speaking at Skift Global Forum, October 14 and 15 in Brooklyn, New York.