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For a long time, traditional travel agencies resisted entering the mobile arena. But the last few years have seen agencies seeking a solution to streamline the travel booking and planning process without removing the crucial human element that is their value proposition.
Travelers across the generations have mixed needs when it comes to using technology to plan a trip. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to creating an app that all clients will use, according to agency executives; it depends on individual preference and the type of trip being booked.
“Today there’s a blend of generations using technology to support their vacations,” said Bill Sutherland, vice president of travel services for AAA Travel. “We do have a mix of individuals who prefer to have one-on-one counseling with someone experienced in a particular destination, and that isn’t also necessarily generation-oriented; it is a blend hard to predict on who is going to participate.”
More important than the type of client, at times, is the type of travel being booked.
According to AAA Travel’s data, the average hotel booking on mobile is made 3.2 days out, compared to 12.1 days for stays booked on desktop. Mobile booking, then, appears to suit those who book closer to their intended vacation date.
“People using mobile are making decisions much quicker than they would have on desktop,” said Sutherland.
While large agencies have been investing for years in mobile booking technology, robust tools are now available to help travel advisors collaborate with both tour operators and clients.
“There is a lot of money finally flowing into advisor or agency productivity tools,” said David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships at Virtuoso. “Travel agencies are a legitimate business; they have real problems and technology can solve those problems.”
Virtuoso even founded a technology incubator to search for innovated technology services to solve problems common to the travel agent booking process. For now, Virtuoso has partnered with third-party providers Umapped, Tripscope, and Axus to create a collaborate itinerary management app that connects travel consultants, clients, and operators on the ground in worldwide destinations.
“The tour company or day guide can suggest things with the advisor’s input,” said Kolner. “When you’re in market, why not let the supplier push ideas to the itinerary?”
Other agencies said the key focus on any mobile technology is to allow simple communication between travelers and their travel advisors.
“Our online travel agent profiler allows constant online communication,” said Jeremy Van Kuyk, vice president of information technology at Travel Leaders Group. “As long as the agents are tech-savvy, theyre pushing these tools to the consumers as value adds.”
Van Kuyk said Travel Leaders is seeing increased engagement on its mobile apps, particularly from millennials.
Cruise Planners, which is affiliated with American Express Travel, has focused on revamping its app to allow clients multiple ways to reach an agent and book elements of their vacation on their own, specifically shore excursions while at sea.
“Clients want to know there are multiple ways to reach an agent; they want to know they have these cutting edge tools that are accessible,” said Vicky Garcia, COO of Cruise Planners. “It’s a reality that as agents we have to make sure we’re connected and accessible.”
Garcia thinks a focus on enticing users to book with images and other rich content is crucial to agencies growing on mobile devices, since it ties into the overall agency sales process.
It’s less about acquiring clients than it is about keeping existing or new customers engaged and satisfied; users need to be working with a Cruise Planners agent to gain access to the app’s features.
“Everyone is in an app frenzy, but we’re just focusing on making our app more robust and useful,” said Garcia. “We have to make sure agents are giving clients a lot more visuals, so we’re partnering with some third party tech to bring itineraries to life.”