The digital revolution in today’s travel industry has been a truly disruptive force in the way travel agencies source bookings, packages, and products and position these travel options for customers. Whether through the development of mobile apps, online marketing campaigns or platforms, or intelligent, integrated travel ERP or booking engines, travel agents have embraced technology and ideas many industry experts speculated would not arrive in earnest for years to come.
This poses the question: Has the future of travel agents already arrived? Have travel agents adopted and incorporated technologies and strategies in such a way that the future of the traditional travel agent is now? It’s an interesting question when you take into account where many analysts believe where the travel industry will be by 2020. The development of new markets, continued push for faster, more powerful technology, and an ever-crowding field of industry players are key indicators as to what the future of travel might resemble. Yet, even so, many of today’s travel agents are already much ahead of the curve in terms of realizing this future and leveraging current technology and strategy to bring 2020 closer to 2017.
A 2016 survey by MMGY Global indicated about 40 percent of millennials plan to work with a travel agent during the next two years to plan and orchestrate travel. In addition, that same survey showed about 86 percent of respondents believe travel agencies can offer better recommendations for potential bookings than other source points like social media or travel review websites.
With this in mind, here are a few ways in which travel agents of today are already embracing the technology and strategy of tomorrow to foster growth, productivity, and prosperity.
24/7 communication potential
Mobile apps, chatbots, instant messaging platforms via social media, and other real-time methods of communication have revolutionized the way travel agents engage with customers at every point of the buying process. Chatbots make it easier than ever before for travel agencies to dialogue with customers on a 24/7 basis even when traditional offices are closed, and instant messaging and mobile features give agents the agility to help travelers make adjustments to bookings in real-time based on a variety of constraints and variables - delays, cancellations, or change in the customer’s desires. In addition, the ability to send, receive, alter, and modify documents via mobile or online platforms in real-time also provides agents the responsiveness necessary to work through disruptions at any time in any stage of the travel booking journey.
We’ve discussed before how a majority of today’s travelers, especially millennials, are more interested in personalized, unique experiences rather than more commercial or commodified tours and activities. Travelers want to experience the heart and soul of their destination, and as such they demand a local flare from the activities and products they come in contact with during their trip. Today’s powerful search and booking engines allow travel agents to source hotels, accommodations, activities, or products via specified search criteria to fulfill the needs of today’s informed traveler.
For example, say a twentysomething from Europe wants to book a hotel in Lima, Peru nearest a certain cultural destination. With a travel agent’s expertise about the region in hand, the agent can use advanced search tools to identify local suppliers within a variety distances from said cultural landmark. This kind of agility allows agents to create unique, curated travel experiences customers will remember.
A robust knowledge-base
Today’s traveler is more connected and informed than ever before. But with this connectivity and access to greater amounts of information comes the potential for misinformation, inaccurate reviews about hotels or airlines, and other gaps in knowledge. Because a large percentage of travelers returning to travel agents cite an agent’s expertise and knowledge about whatever destination they’re interested in exploring, travel agents have not only embraced the wealth of information available to help travelers sort the fact from fiction, but they’ve also grown into their role as curators for today’s travelers. This means deploying the latest technology, know-how, and experience to prove to travelers agents have the robust knowledge-base necessary to guide travelers on their journey.
Has the travel agent of the future arrived? Are agents welcoming and deploying advanced technological strategies and platforms well ahead of the curve? The numbers of those returning to travel agents would indicate yes, especially among those younger travelers who have a wealth of resources at their disposal and who could easily bypass traditional travel agents. For travel agents who embrace the technology and strategy of tomorrow today, the future is now.