While technology will enable travel agents to keep the competitive edge, it's ultimately the human touch that makes the difference in a high-tech world, says Thuan Dao, CEO of Bedlinker
Technology is changing the tools travel agents use and how they use them, how they communicate with clients, and how those clients buy into their services.
It makes things easy for travellers. Hotel reservations, comparing prices and researching destinations – they’re all there. Travel agents need technology to stay ahead too. They also need to stay up to date with technology that improves efficiency, offers additional services and keep them relevant.
The competitive edge, however, will go to travel agents who capitalise on technology to provide their clients with the most up-to-date communications and customised services, i.e. agents who delight their customers.
So what’s changing in technology, and as a travel agent what should you be looking out for in the year ahead?
Trends to look out for
Services to clients are becoming more focused and travel is driven less by destination and more about the experience. Technology provides the data agencies need to consolidate operations while at the same time reduce costs and increase revenues.
Agencies have access to high traffic portal travel sites and can access flight and hotel booking systems, enabling them to quickly filter travel options for their clients.
Social media enables a skeleton staff to handle high volume inquiries and forward automated alerts on delays and waiting times.
Technology-based luggage tags enable travellers’ luggage to be tracked, with up to the minute data via text message, email or apps. Mobile is continuing to penetrate this market.
According to a report by Criteo this year, over one third of people use a mobile device to book hotels and OTAs have around a 45 per cent share of that market. Interestingly, an eMarketer report revealed that a third of those surveyed said they were still uncomfortable using mobile to research and book – and this hasn’t changed since 2015.
Adapting does not mean being controlled by technology
Many agencies are shifting focus to online services while maintaining some bricks and mortar stores where business is sufficient to do so.
Adapting to new technology is tough but necessary; however, the industry is beginning to recognise that it should not be controlled by technology.
Technology enables agents to gather intelligence about the traveller which is used effectively by real humans, and ultimately that is the key. Travel agents will, as always, continue to be advisors – people with a passion and human knowledge that technology cannot replace. Technology just makes the service better and give an agent the edge.
Technology will enable travellers to call or message their travel advisor, to get a problem fixed or answer their questions while on holiday. It means that future agents will ultimately become not just an advisor but a technically assisted concierge.
They have all the data at their fingertips, they can learn more about their clients by analysing data that shows their travel habits, but with a real person delivering that information. It’s about personalisation, reassurance and a great experience, and that’s what travellers want.
The primary focus for agencies has been on online sales because it allows clients to book whenever they want without worrying about opening hours.
However, people like the human touch and they want a good experience from an agent who has the knowledge and advice they can trust. This is the cornerstone of the travel agent and it’s a business that, with the help of technology, will continue to thrive for many years to come.
Bedlinker is a technology provider of integrated B2B distribution solutions for hotels and resorts in Vietnam.