Like any industry, travel has been profoundly changed by
advancements in technology. How people research, book and experience a trip is
completely different than it was just 20 years ago.
Yet moving the travel industry from the offline world to
online hasn’t been without its challenges - not least because travel is
inherently about a physical experience.
Travel is about seeing, doing, tasting, touching, meeting.
It’s about human interaction.
And while the foundation of our coverage at PhocusWire is
focused on how online systems have transformed the travel process, the offline
component - the agencies, the technologies, the suppliers that have a
person-to-person element to their services - remains very much at play.
For part two in this month’s series on the offline travel
market, we look at the technology that is supporting the work of traditional
agents and how it has evolved over the years.
Korrine Johnson has been a travel agent for more than 10
years and in that time has seen a dramatic change in the amount of time and
effort it takes her to serve her clients, which now number around 3,000 at her Journeys Travel Company.
“When I first started I had to make a call for every single
thing,” Johnson says. “It took me forever to do anything. Now I can book a
cruise start to finish online, completely confirmed, in five minutes.”
Across all types of travel that she books, from cruises and flights to accommodations and packages, Johnson, who is affiliated with Travel
Planners International, says she relies on wholesalers that provide search and
booking tools exclusively for agents - tools that didn’t exist when she began
10 years ago and that are continually being improved.
“These travel suppliers are creating software and technology
that helps us quickly sort through the options and narrow things down based on
any number of factors,” she says.
“And, of course, their prices are better than what a
consumer can find.”
Social media, which was still in its infancy when Johnson
began her career, is now a valuable resource in her research on behalf of
“There are a million Facebook groups out there based on any
specialty or generality you can think of,” she says.
“As agents, we can’t possibly have been everywhere, but when
you put us together, we can say, ‘Who’s been to this resort?’ and get real
feedback from a travel agent point of view.”
When I first started I had to make a call for every single thing.
Korrine Johnson - Journeys Travel Company
Johnson has also seen an increase in the tools she can
provide to her clients to digitize their experience.
“My clients rarely want to speak to me. They want to do
things electronically too,” she says.
“For example, I’m booking a group of families for spring
break next year, and I’m using Funjet Vacations. They will build me a website
for the clients so … they can book it themselves. It immediately links them with
the group they are going with, and I have access to the information so if they need
the personal touch, I’m there. It makes this nice hybrid experience.”
Johnson says she does also work with the online travel
agencies’ affiliate programs, but she prefers not to book clients through those
“When you go to a hotel and you book through a site like
that, they know your loyalty is only to price, so they may give you the room by
the laundry room. If they need to walk someone, they will walk you. They know
you will only ever be looking for price, so they’re not concerned about keeping
your loyalty,” she says.
But in cases where one of these sites offers the best deal,
Johnson says she encourages clients to let her handle the booking since there
is no additional cost to them and it comes with something that is priceless –
peace of mind from knowing Johnson has sales representatives at the OTAs that
can assist her if something goes wrong for one of her clients.
“I always say a cheap vacation can still be a very expensive
Powering the search and booking engines of the dozens of
suppliers that Johnson and other agents use are the global distribution systems.
These systems, which once were built with green screens and
rate codes, are now point-and-click graphical interfaces with rich content,
helping agents work smarter and faster.
And as consumer-facing sites have matured to provide deep
access to travel products and prices, agents rely on these agent-exclusive
products combined with their industry expertise to help them differentiate
“We are highly acclaimed for having over 260 airlines that
have branded fares and ancillaries in our Travelport Smartpoint, where this
content can be consumed through our APIs,” says Erika Moore, vice president and
general manager of U.S. sales for Travelport.
“For tour operators, loyalty operators, leisure agencies in
general, this is music to their ears because in a single point of consumption
to their own point-of-sale platform, they are able to provide what is needed to
upsell their products: an upgraded seat or Wi-Fi or extra baggage. This is a
dramatic change. Just a couple of years back, if you wanted to sell these things
you had to go into the airline’s website, and that
would be an interruption in the workflow of the travel agent.”
Sabre Travel Network’s leisure segment
marketing manager, Sjoefn Arnbjoernsdottir, says it has three areas of
focus for its agent-facing technology: automation of repetitive and tedious
tasks, integration of IATA’s New Distribution Capability content standards and
facilitation of business intelligence and data analytics.
All of these capabilities are available to agents through
the new Sabre Red Workspace, the company's point-of-sale tool for travel
agencies that has been rolling out since April.
“Consumer behavior is changing, and that is of course driven
by some of the ways that non-travel brands innovate. I’m referring to Amazon
and Netflix and others,” Arnbjoernsdottir says.
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“Travelers have started to expect similar service. They want
people and tools to recognize them, and they want to be presented with relevant
offerings. We have continued to differentiate in the areas of customer
profiles, air shopping and merchandising capability. So when you have access at
your fingertips to good customer data, and you have all these offerings
available at your fingertips, it can be very powerful for the traditional
travel agent. In earlier days, they were a little more transactional, and they
have now the tools in place that enables them to be a much better consultant.”
Sabre Red Workspace also has a marketplace with more than
100 apps that agents can select to customize their capabilities. Arnbjoernsdottir
says it's also investing in revenue optimization tools for agents, such as
advanced filtering that allows them to maximize what they earn from each
Through its Search Control Console, Moore says Travelport is
providing an intelligent, easy-to-use interface for agents to optimize search
results for clients.
“In the past, in order to drive changes around the way that
tools search for options, it would be an entire project around coding and
development,” she says.
“Through tools like search control console, it is literally
an ‘if and when’ solution-type matrix that allow you to define business rules
and it does it automatically for you without the need to touch code."