The travel agency channel was once the most high-tech of industries back in the 1970s and 1980s.
The retailers worked on high-tech big-box computers and used almost as much code as programmers to book tickets and make reservations.
As the decades progressed, the segment changed and was often criticized for being less than tech-savvy.
Today, the travel agency business is fueled by artificial intelligence, apps, businesses run on tablets and smartphones and a social media expansion in marketing and customer engagement.
Subscribe to our newsletter below
“Something is happening in this channel,” says David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships at Virtuoso. “Established tech firms are getting funding and building out more features. Additional rounds of funding is such a good sign.
“People are buying from advisors via text, WhatsApp, WeChat. The advisors have taken technology and transitioned to help meet clients where they are. Agents are much more flexible and nimble … something Expedia and OTAs cannot do.”
Kolner says so much has changed in the demographics and business models of the agency community, as well as in the role of technology and the acceptance of consumers using agents.
There has been a renaissance of the travel distribution channel.
David Kolner - Virtuoso
“There has been a renaissance of the travel distribution channel. I call it the IC-ification. These changes have made travel advisors accessible to public and available in their local market,” he says.
“Personal connections and networks that were the foundation of original businesses, such as being in the business and social community, wasn’t as scalable, but is now as independent contractors expand. Consumer reach of independent contractors has changed
the industry and fueled the growth, not just for Virtuoso, but for everyone.”
Just a few years ago, mobile was such a small part of the equation. Today, Kolner anticipates a very different picture. “With respect to technology there is a misnomer that this channel is tech-averse. Nothing could be further from the truth. New millennial
advisors or old established mature advisors, I have so much respect for them. They are constantly testing new systems. The best travel advisors are curious, a force, so creative.”
Virtuoso believes the combination of creative and effective technology and human interaction is what makes the travel advisor competitive.
The definition of “online” has multiple meanings, with many traditional retail businesses generating their customers online but servicing and closing the deals offline. Independent contractors have risen to a level of high importance for suppliers as
top agencies grow through these off-location sales people.
U.S. Online Travel Agencies: Consolidation, Cross-Shopping and Channel Shift
Virtuoso is one of the lead sponsors of a new research initiative by Phocuswright in 2018, the US Travel Agency Landscape, which will analyze the complex and changing business models of the segment.
The study will explore technology choices, booking patterns, mobile and social strategies, online activities and loyalty among agents to suppliers and among consumers to their agents. The agency landscape will be analyzed across their supplier relationships,
consortia and affiliation partners and their technology providers.
Phocuswright is seeking additional partners for this research. For more information, please contact Pete Comeau, senior vice president of sales and marketing, at PComeau@phocuswright.com.