Innovations in travel technology are changing the way agents do business. // © 2014 Thinkstock
Read insights from TripScope’s founder as she discusses the issues travel agents
Our appetite for acquiring and disseminating information is insatiable. During Center Stage of November’s PhoCusWright Conference, managing director Tony D’Astolfo helped put this theory into perspective. In front of an audience of travel technology executives and entrepreneurs, D’Astolfo revealed that, every minute of the day, Twitter users send more than 100,000 tweets, individuals create approximately 570 new websites and Google receives more than 2 million search queries. It’s no wonder that technology is accelerating at an exponential rate — it has to.
Clearly, the online tools that travel professionals have relied on for the past 15 years have changed dramatically as well. The marketplace has progressed from static websites with utilitarian booking functiontionalities to online tools that incorporate the wisdom of the crowd, aggregated information and hyper-personalization that aims to customize the travel experience every step of the way.
“I view the change in the marketplace as a positive one, not only for travel agencies but also for travelers,” said Douglas Quinby, principal analyst of research company PhoCusWright, a sister brand to TravelAge West. “Technology has driven new efficiency in the marketplace, and a lot of agencies that were not providing added value or high-quality customer service had to leave the market. This has created an opportunity for the companies that have weathered this big change in the industry. They have become highly specialized, highly knowledgeable and add a lot of value to their clients.”
Travel planners who want to remain competitive in an ever-progressing marketplace must stay on top of the latest developments in technology. What follows are TravelAge West’s picks for the seven travel technology companies to watch in 2014.
According to new research from travel itinerary planner TripIt, increased mobility is a top priority for travelers in 2014. More travelers expect to buy tablets than laptops this year, driving connectivity between the travel agent and client. Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies for Signature Travel Network, sees this trend continuing.
“The majority of travelers are now traveling with smart phones and like to have access to all of their itinerary details on demand, be notified of changes to their schedules due to unforeseen circumstances and access pertinent information about their destination, hotel, cruise ship or schedule,” she said.
TripScope, launched in December, provides just that. Created by a travel planner, for travel planners, TripScope offers an agent-facing website that allows travel professionals to conveniently format, create and customize white-label itineraries, geo-tagged city guides and maps that are accessible to clients in one convenient app. Its push-notification software allows both the agent and client to send and receive messages anywhere in the world – even if the client is without mobile service or Wi-Fi access. Therefore, should any unexpected itinerary changes occur, either party can be notified right away.
“TripScope allows agents to market their services through their client’s social media sites as well, generating a greater reach of referrals, potential clients and increased revenues,” said founder and CEO Katelyn O’Shaughnessy. “We put the travel agent at the front and center of the travel experience.”
The app is free to clients, and the service costs travel planners $10 per itinerary.
If you’re tired of emailing boutique hotels in remote locations and waiting for them to respond about rates and availability, Globa.li (pronounced “globally”) will be your new favorite tool. The B2B Web and mobile-enabled technology provides a robust marketplace where hoteliers, ground handlers, DMCs, inbound operators, outbound operators and travel agents can engage and manage their business relationships.
“For the first time ever, Globa.li is bringing travel agents a way to check availability and make bookings online and in real time for the world’s best boutique hotels,” said Sarah Fazendin, co-founder and CEO. “Agents are able to see all hotels that meet their search criteria as they show up in the search results. While this makes the actual booking process immediate and the communication happens directly in the system, Globa.li also offers travel agents an awesome opportunity to learn about new properties that they can do business with and new packages that meet their client’s exact needs.”
The company will launch in May 2014 with an inventory of approximately 500 boutique hotels from across sub-Saharan Africa and will be rolling out inventory in Latin America this summer and Asia shortly thereafter.
After dealing with the TSA security check, a cramped flight and a taxi ride in traffic, the last thing anyone wants to do is wait in line to check in at his or her hotel. Enter CheckMate, a mobile check-in service that benefits hotels, travel agencies and, perhaps most importantly, the hotel guest.
“Our technology platform enables mobile and online communications for guests and allows hotels and travel agencies to improve the guest experience and promote loyalty,” said Anthony Maggio, CheckMate co-founder. “We are focused on making it easier for travelers to check into hotels and excited to be helping shift the paradigm at the front desk.”
CheckMate offers a free, white-label service to travel agencies, enabling them to provide clients with enhanced service at participating hotels before they arrive, including an alert to submit room preferences and the ability to manage special requests and loyalty accounts. Through the CheckMate platform, travelers learn their room assignment and the time their room will be ready in advance so they can plan their arrival accordingly.
The service launched in November and currently has partnerships with MetWest Terra Hospitality, Pacific Hospitality Group and Commune Hotels, the parent company of Joie de Vivre Hospitality. There is no cost for agencies or travelers to use the service.
There’s nothing worse than being in a compromising situation abroad and not being able to communicate. VerbalizeIt co-founder Ryan Frankel realized this firsthand when he fell ill in China and couldn’t get the medicine he needed due to an impenetrable language barrier. Out of those unfortunate circumstances, however, came the idea for VerbalizeIt — a service that provides real-time access to human translators.
The easy-to-use app connects travelers to a global network of more than 17,000 qualified translators, ensuring that language will not be an obstacle on their next international trip. Additionally, VerbalizeIt provides extensive business translation solutions ranging from document, email and itinerary translation to website localization, mobile app translation and multilingual call center support.
According to Frankel, VerbalizeIt provides a great opportunity for agents to boost loyalty among clients.
“Travel agents gift and sell VerbalizeIt gift cards to their valued clients to create memorable experiences during travel, drive loyalty and create an additional touch-point between themselves and their customers,” said Frankel.
Gift cards range from $9.99 for five minutes to $99.99 for 100 minutes.
It’s a lot easier for business travelers to seal the deal in foreign countries when they understand local customs and can speak essential business phrases in the native language. With TripLingo’s mobile app, travelers can learn how to communicate with foreign colleagues and business partners in more than 100 languages. Travelers can get a leg up on the flight with an interactive phrasebook that offers more than 2,000 phrases per language, including 500 phrases that are business-specific. The app also features a 10,000-word, two-way dictionary, audio lessons, flash cards, quizzes, information on local etiquette and customs, a currency converter, a tip calculator and access to a human translator (provided by a VerbalizeIt interpreter) within 30 seconds.
TripLingo also provides access to comprehensive safety information and contact numbers to ensure that travelers always have what they need in an emergency situation, including a “Call My Travel Agent” prompt.
Travel agent customers get premium access for 50 percent off the regular price, and agents share the revenue, typically at 20 percent, of any TripLingo purchases their clients make.
Travelers might not have an empty row to themselves on their next flight but, thanks to Routehappy, they can get the most comfortable seat for the price. Using Flightpad, a proprietary Flight Product Attribute Database and custom matching algorithms, Routehappy provides a new breed of flight search that shows agents clearly and easily which flights have wider seats, better entertainment options, AC sockets, USB outlets, Wi-Fi connectivity and more. Its one-of-a-kind Happiness Scores for hundreds of airlines help agents select shorter flights with better seat configurations, amenities and flyer ratings.
For planners working with business or upmarket leisure travelers, Routehappy offers in-depth information about the type and layout of premium seats available, from standard economy seats sold as premium on some routes to full-flat pods. Travel planners can explain and show — with flyer reviews, images and an independent data source — what premium flyers will get on their flights.
Looking for new business? Tripology, which was acquired by USA Today Travel Media Group last year, provides an interactive travel referral service that matches travel planners with new clients. To participate, agents create a profile on Tripology.com and indicate the types of customers they want, any areas of specialization, the kinds of vacations they would like to book and any accreditations that they have earned. After the Tripology team reviews and approves their profile, agents receive a consumer-generated trip request and may select any leads that are of interest. Agents pay a fee between $1 and $25 in order to receive the contact details of the consumer, and the rest of the booking process is handled completely by the agent.
According to Tripology’s 2013 Trend Report, the clients who visit the site are often time-starved and ready to book. Their requested trips tend to be more complicated than what can be booked on an OTA, and they are looking for expert guidance that only a travel specialist can provide.
Whether travel agents need assistance with lead generation or booking the perfect boutique hotel for their clients, the latest innovations in online technology can help generate valuable new business as well as help them retain customers for years to come.
“In the research I’ve done over the years, what has struck me about traditional travel agencies is their focus on customer service — they love planning travel for their customers and providing a great experience for them,” said Quinby of PhoCusWright. “If you want to provide amazing service, the best trip and the best possible experience, then all of this innovation in the industry and all of these new services should be exciting news.”