Travel agent-facing apps provide clients with a dynamic itinerary and can help agents work more effiiciently. // © 2016 AXUS; Tripscope; Umapped; iStock
Agents can sign up for one of these apps — but what about apps that are their own travel agency? Read about new Virtuoso member Lola
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Lost time is never found again.” His words continue to ring true in today’s world of incessant distractions — from the digital noise of social media to the pings of a text message. Take a moment and consider how much of your work day is wasted on redundant communications, menial tasks and follow-ups. If you could get back a fraction of that time, would you?
A few travel industry professionals are on a mission to help you do just that: They have created B2B2C itinerary management apps that not only optimize the advisor’s workflow but also create a seamless travel experience for the end client.
“Travel advisors compete against hours in the day, not their ability to add value to a customer’s travel,” said Tom Cintorino, executive vice president of digital media for Northstar Travel Group, the parent company of TravelAge West, Travel42, Phocuswright and others. “Itinerary apps provide a critical function of integrating all confirmations into a single, visually designed and usable presentation. This both saves the advisor time and enhances the traveler’s experience with his or her advisor.”
The three most recognizable agent-facing itinerary apps — Axus, TripScope and Umapped — have a lot in common. Each offers an easy-to-use desktop interface for the advisor that expedites the itinerary-creation process through GDS PNR importing and ClientBase synching. All three platforms allow itinerary collaboration among travel advisors in the same agency as well as with suppliers, destination specialists and clients. Other shared features include access to Travel42 city guides, customizable branding for the agency, in-app text messaging with clients and real-time itinerary updates.
There are subtle differences when it comes to pricing, and agents can secure better rates with their consortia’s app partners. Monthly memberships for the apps range from $25 to $30, and annual memberships cost between $240 and $324.
Agents should also analyze each app’s unique features and customer service. Ultimately, choosing between them is a matter of personal preference. Read on to find out which itinerary management app is right for you, and how these apps could one day become your primary workflow solution.
Preferred Partnerships: Signature, Virtuoso
Julia P. Douglas, the CEO of Axus, began her career as a travel agent specializing in multiweek, multicountry bucket-list trips. For each client, she found herself spending hours copying, pasting and reformatting various confirmations from different vendors, consolidating them into a single document.
“The biggest problem was that paper is static and travel is dynamic,” Douglas said. “The moment the itinerary went to print, it was already outdated. With the evolution of the smartphone and the age of the internet … I questioned whether [travel agents] would remain relevant.”
Douglas set out to develop software that was an all-in-one solution for travel planners and discovered that there was a strong demand from both travel advisors and tour operators. Axus now operates in 15 countries and continues to expand.
“Personally, I love the Axus app,” said Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, Ariz. “It’s a great tool to see all my clients’ departures on a timeline, as itineraries are sorted by departure date. I can easily see who is traveling this month, when they are leaving and where they will go. Before using the app, this was something I had to write out for myself to keep track. And with all the latest updates, the app now automatically imports the entire Res Card from ClientBase and updates it after I make any changes in ClientBase. It’s a huge time-saver.”
Harrison has found that her clients enjoy collaborating in the app and often continue to add their own confirmations, from dinner reservations to day trips booked with a hotel concierge.
“When they add this information to the app, I can track their spending habits during the trip,” Harrison said. “It allows me to learn who is more prone to add-on services while traveling, and I can better prepare for their next adventure by offering them a fully loaded itinerary or more inclusive product.”
What Sets It Apart: Axus offers the personalized services of an Axus Customer Experience Manager who is solely responsible for training, support and retention.
How It Helps: A dedicated team member who can solve problems on the fly is priceless — especially when you’re just getting started.
Preferred Partnerships: Travel Planners International, Virtuoso
As a luxury travel advisor, Katelyn O’Shaughnessy was tired of waiting for technology to catch up with her clients’ needs and embarrassed that she had to present them with clunky 15-page itineraries. She took matters into her own hands and launched TripScope in December 2013, with the goal of providing a pain-free travel experience for everyone involved.
TripScope’s most recent innovation eases the strain with a personal assistant service called First Class Treatment. For $200 a month, TripScope’s team of in-house itinerary specialists will create unlimited itineraries for advisors with a turn-around time of one business day or less. Agents can even include special requests to be added to the itinerary, such as only vegetarian restaurant recommendations. Once completed, TripScope sends the itinerary to the advisor in three different forms: paper, online and within the mobile app.
“It’s a game-changer,” said Gail Rosenberg of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn. “All I have to do is forward TripScope the various itinerary confirmations from suppliers, and they put it together for me. It always looks good, and I can tweak it if I need to.”
What Sets It Apart: The TripScope platform offers video chat and screen-sharing technology that allows agents to conduct virtual planning directly with clients. During the video chat, for example, the agent could share her screen to display hotel recommendations pinned on a map, zoom in to show areas of interest and draw on the map to call attention to different areas of a destination.
How It Helps: Instead of allocating time and resources to back-and-forth emails, an in-person visit or multiple phone calls, the agent and client can plan out a complicated trip face-to-face — without ever having to leave the house.
Preferred Partners: Ensemble Travel Network, Travel Leaders, Vacation.com, Virtuoso
After spending a decade in the hospitality industry, Lisa Israelovitch became fed up with the flood of email confirmations and static PDF documents she would receive from partners, particularly when working with top-tier travel advisors and agencies.
“Beyond the bookings, all the great local recommendations were also buried in emails, and we saw a big opportunity to bring relevant content to travelers at the right time — within the context of their itinerary,” she said. “We started Umapped with a vision to empower travel and hospitality companies to make itineraries mobile so that they could engage with their customers during all stages of travel.”
In addition to integrating bookings and content from tour operators and destination specialists, Umapped has a live connection with Sabre Web Services. This means that any booking made in Sabre is automatically updated in the Umapped platform. Furthermore, advisors can link their Sabre Agent ID to their Umapped profile so that they can automatically find their bookings in Umapped without ever having to enter the PNR.
“Clients are blown away by their itineraries and especially the app,” said Michelle Murre of Azurine Travel in San Francisco. “They love showing their itineraries to friends, which adds wonderful visibility for Azurine.”
Like Axus, Umapped offers a complete white-label service so that the app displays the agency’s name and branding front and center. The app’s thumbnail image can even be replaced with the agency’s logo.
What Sets It Apart: Umapped offers an online journal section of the mobile app. There, travelers on the same itinerary can post and instantly share photos, notes and videos, as well as save locations with their device’s GPS coordinates. A direct integration from the mobile app to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram makes it easy to share content.
How It Helps: All journal posts generate URLs that include the travel agency’s branding and a link to contact the advisor. When clients share the best moments of their travels, they spread the word about the advisor who made it possible.
As they continue to scale, the leading itinerary-management apps have some hurdles to overcome. Perhaps most combative is the cost of the service. Agency owners who view these productivity tools as nonessential aren’t going to want to invest money nor the time it may take to get their employees up to speed.
“Right now, advisors see these apps as a luxury,” said Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies at Signature Travel Network. “I want them to see it as something that’s not optional but a necessary way of connecting with clients. This technology gives advisors the ability to make sure they are on top of the experience every step of the way — including while the client is in the destination — and they can jump in to resolve issues if they arise. It takes service to the next level.”
To increase adoption among members, Signature has a negotiated rate with Axus and provides a minimum of one free seat per member. The consortium has also partnered with Classic Vacations to sponsor seats.
The Future of Travel Planning
In a time when virtual travel assistant services that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) — including Lola, Pana, HelloGbye, Claire by 30SecondsToFly and Alexa by Skyscanner — are gaining steam, advisors have an enormous opportunity to migrate their offline travel expertise to the online world.
“The challenge is driving adoption and teaching an industry that has actively avoided the online revolution,” said Evan Konwiser, vice president of Digital Traveler at American Express Global Business Travel. “Advisors wanted to offer high-touch service and differentiate themselves so much from the OTAs that, by default, they couldn’t be tech-savvy.”
Konwiser suggested that advisor-facing app developers integrate chatbot technology (AI) so that agents can automate tedious aspects of their work, such as airline searches. This approach would allow advisors to focus on more complex areas of the planning process, from finding the right room type at the best hotel or connecting with a DMC that can suggest personally-tailored excursions for the client.
“In the coming years, we’re going to see technology that can make you better at your current job by helping you service more customers more efficiently and capture more lucrative business,” he said. “It’s not going to commoditize you. It’s actually going to allow you to differentiate even more and further support your value proposition as a human agent. Once everyone supports that in a very meaningful and obvious way — and these tools are getting there — I think we’re going to see mass adoption and a lot of happy travelers.”