Online Looks to Offline

Travel agents were not overlooked at this year’s PhoCusWright Conference By: Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro
Kenneth Shapiro

The Details

As you can read in this issue, the Phocuswright Conference took place earlier this month in Los Angeles, and at the Travel Innovation Summit (TIS) portion of the event, 32 innovators had the opportunity to demonstrate their products. You might assume that at a tech conference there won’t be a lot of talk about retail travel agents — but this year, that was definitely not the case. Not only were two of the TIS presenters focused on agents, but other companies were talking about agents, as well.

Luke Crawford, founder of online booking platform Tripbooka, was very direct about his focus on offline travel agents. He presented a slide of an iceberg as seen above and below the water line. Above the water, the iceberg represented the $492 billion worldwide online travel market; the submerged, larger portion of the iceberg represented the $836 billion offline travel market — served specifically by travel agents.

“The Internet is going to kill the travel agent? We don’t think so,” Crawford says. “Tripbooka is not focused on the online travel market. We’re focusing on the offline travel market, which is 63 percent of the overall travel market worldwide.”

Another TIS presenter, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, is a travel agent and a 2014 TravelAge West Trendsetter Award winner, as well as CEO and co-founder of travel app TripScope, a TIS finalist. She pointed out that one in five affluent consumers use a travel agent, and last year 28 percent of millennials booked a trip through an agent — more than any other demographic.

The merging of online technology and offline customer service seemed to be an undercurrent of the conference.

“We used to end our online trip-planning experience with an automated booking engine,” says Eyal Keren, COO of MiniTime, a website specializing in family travel. “But we found that users were much happier when they could connect with a live agent instead. So we changed our model.”

Keren cited customer service, flexibility and accountability as some of the benefits of choosing an agent over an algorithm. Of course, all of this is not news to us, but it’s nice to see travel agents getting respect throughout the industry — even from their online colleagues.