Published on Tuesday, July 6, 2004

'Technology will never replace the travel agent'

Travel technology consultant Paul Richer says travel agents are relying more and more on technology, but says travel will always need the human face.

Mr Richer’s consultancy, Genesys has just published its Travel Agency Technology Review (released every 18 months).

Paul Richer, Senior Partner of travel technology consultancy, Genesys told TravelMole: "Since the last edition of our review, we have seen a much wider range of technology suppliers targeting travel agents. This reflects the fact that the travel industry is relying more and more on technology to deliver its services cost effectively.

"Technology will never replace the human face of the travel agent, but it can certainly help agents work more efficiently. It also allows agents to reach out to new markets beyond their front doors. "

The review gives the lowdown on what technology companies have to offer agents in terms of products, training and support. In some cases it provides information on who their clients are.

The review features ten new suppliers this year taking the total to 48. They are split into ten categories: Front/mid/back-office systems, GDSs, GDS automation tools, travel extranet portals, Viewdata interface/connectivity, web development and sales applications, GDS connectivity specialists, sales applications, net fares and rates databases and online booking engines.

Mr Richer told TravelMole: "As the life of a travel agent becomes increasingly complex, a review such as ours become more important as a starting point in an agent's search for the right technology. "

The review is sponsored by Amadeus and Powersoft Computer Services and is available at www.genesys.net, at £49.50 plus postage. Genesys also publishes reviews covering the hotel reservations and tour operator sectors.

Report by Ginny McGrath

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  • Erm, obviously not. But is in industry tech savvy?

    Obviously it won't - travel is a very personal experience, the data available or required to search is vast, systems available are either very old and mainframish or very new and completely bleeding-edge XML type stuff. But I have some thoughts on this and have posted these comments on my site. If you're interested, you can read what I had to say on www.insidec.com. (the link to the posting is http://www.insidec.com/mt/archives
    /2004/07/technology_will.html) Riaan London

    By Riaan van Schoor, Friday, July 1, 2005

  • Experience Design

    I agree with Alex. Design experience is the absolute key to making our village idiot want to travel. Three steps that I would like to re-iterate from Bev Williams, Telme Farebase is to stick to the basics of the business model. What is the product, the packaging style, Pricing and promotion.Applying these principles to the objective of the booking engine as support for it will encourage anyone out there to log on to the web and book. Keeping the strategy simple is all that there is to it.

    By Naufal Khan, Friday, July 9, 2004

  • Experience is key

    I suggest that many leisure travellers read guide books and travel stories prior to their annual trip. Do they see this as a chore? My opinion is not. Mike probably ENJOYED the EXPERIENCE of researching and booking all his 12 travel components. He probably reads and enjoys travel guide books too. Its how he wants to spend his leisure time. Paul may not wish to spend his leisure time working up a 12 component trip. Experience design means creating emotive responses to researching travel - not just commercial responses (ie a purchase). Its also very holistic Examples where experience design is key: - Destination marketing organisations promoting a country rather than a particular tour or commercial product (eg National tourist boards) - Computer games where there is no real objective to the software - except to give the user a fun experience - Choosing between competing travel products - if both are the same price, have companies with similar credibility - who gets the sale? - probably the company who offers the product that matches the experience expectations of the customer.. Travel agents can use experience design to look at the whole trip holistically - including research, booking, travelling to holiday, holiday itself, travelling back, developing photos, inviting your friends around for dinner for "showing the photos" etc. Travel agents who learn how to create great end to end client holiday experiences (rather than just providing a booking function) will still be around to use the technology that Paul reviews in his guide. Alex Bainbridge Online travel experience designer Travel UCD www.travelucd.com

    By Alex Bainbridge, Friday, July 9, 2004

  • Experience is key

    I suggest that many leisure travellers read guide books and travel stories prior to their annual trip. Do they see this as a chore? My opinion is not. Mike probably ENJOYED the EXPERIENCE of researching and booking all his 12 travel components. He probably reads and enjoys travel guide books too. Its how he wants to spend his leisure time. Paul may not wish to spend his leisure time working up a 12 component trip. Experience design means creating emotive responses to researching travel - not just commercial responses (ie a purchase). Its also very holistic Examples where experience design is key: - Destination marketing organisations promoting a country rather than a particular tour or commercial product (eg National tourist boards) - Computer games where there is no real objective to the software - except to give the user a fun experience - Choosing between competing travel products - if both are the same price, have companies with similar credibility - who gets the sale? - probably the company who offers the product that matches the experience expectations of the customer.. Travel agents can use experience design to look at the whole trip holistically - including research, booking, travelling to holiday, holiday itself, travelling back, developing photos, inviting your friends around for dinner for "showing the photos" etc. Travel agents who learn how to create great end to end client holiday experiences (rather than just providing a booking function) will still be around to use the technology that Paul reviews in his guide. Alex Bainbridge Online travel experience designer Travel UCD www.travelucd.com

    By Alex Bainbridge, Thursday, July 8, 2004

  • Ignore the competition at one's peril

    I think David Sleath and Paul Richer are missing the point. We live in a world of choice. Some people like to shop in supermarkets, others in the corner shop. Sometimes they use both. I was merely illustrating that travel doesn't always need a human face, which Paul Richer said it would. In fact Paul has always extolled the virtues of using the Internet to book direct. I'm a consultant and time is money. But like most consumers, including those who shop on the high street, I research before I buy. In this case I approached over a dozen tour operators with a tour brief. None could offer me a flexible package, preferring to sell me a standard tour. Most agents would have been less inclined to help, and I speak as one who has been an agent and has over 30 years' experience in this industry. Finally, no one could match the overall price I paid, before adding any booking or service fees. In truth, I spent no less time booking this trip myself than if I had used an agent. In fact, I saved more than I could have charged for the time! I'm not predicting the demise of the travel agent, though I do think a large number of shops will close. Agents can compete, as long as they gear up their consumer offering and make better use of technology. On this I agree with Paul and David. But if everyone thought the travel agent was the best option, how come Expedia, lastminute, medhotels, OTC, Ryanair etc are still here? With the exception of Ryanair, none of these were around when Equinus was established ten years ago! But its good to see all the comments. I think this is one of Travelmole's best features. Mike Cogan Equinus

    By Mike Cogan, Thursday, July 8, 2004

  • ... but time is a scarce commodity

    Reading about Mike making his online arrangements reinforces my belief that agents will still be around for a long while yet. How long did it take to make all those bookings? 30 minutes? 1 hour? I think I would have preferred to have spent five minutes on the phone to my local travel agents and let their fingers do the walking. Of course, I am a great believer that technology is and will continue to disintermediate the agent (whether in travel or any other industry) but travel agents will certainly continue to have a role to play researching and facilitating complex bookings. This is surely backed up by the fact that those agents who charge their customers a service fee are finding this to be well accepted.

    By Paul Richer, Wednesday, July 7, 2004

  • Agents need to embrace Technology!

    I do not agree with Mike Cogan at all! Very few people have the time, the inclination or the knpowledge to spend hours on a computer booking twelve individual travel components. Most people still want advice from a travel agent and are only too pleased to let the agent do the work. The issue is that agents who rely on the sale of traditional package holidays for a living are unlikely to survive in the long term but those who embrace technology to provide new revenue streams have a very exciting future ahead of them. Our own Sunhotels product is expanding in the UK by the week with more and more UK agents booking a flight and then using our system for the hotel or apartment. Everyone is happy, the customer has good service and gets a holiday often cheaper than through a traditional Tour Operator and the agent makes 15% commission plus a service fee! We have seen the doom mongers predicting the death of the High Street Travel Agent for years....for enterprising travel agents there has never been a better time to provide good service to your customers and make extra money in so doing!! David Sleath Sales and Marketing Director Uk and Ireland Sunhotels.net

    By david SLEATH, Wednesday, July 7, 2004

  • Or will it?

    What I find interesting is the number of companies featured in Paul's latest review who are offering self-booking solutions that by-pass the human face, if not the agent. I'm off to Canada next month. Flights booked online with Canadian Affair, hotels through Expedia. Tyax and Tofino resorts booked direct on their web sites. The BC ferry to Vancouver Island reserved online, as was the airport lounge and car park at Gatwick. Oh, and the Westjet flight from Toronto and car hire from Suncars. In total, I booked 12 different components, all online. No human face to be seen. I'm not predicting the end of the travel agent. But to say technology will never replace the human face of the travel agent is a bit wide of the mark. Mike Cogan Equinus

    By Mike Cogan, Wednesday, July 7, 2004

  • Not so sure ...

    The title of the article is somehow misleading. In a few years the traditional travel agent will disappear. Travel agents need to be very fast in adopting the new available technologies. They need to realize that from now on they will not be one of the very few sources of information about travel and tourism and they will be dealing with well informed, demanding customers. There will be significant regional differences regarding the role and the power of the travel agent.

    By Simion Alb, Wednesday, July 7, 2004

  • Careful...you never know!

    There are two ends of the stick to consider. What is the goal of suppliers at the end of the day, to either assist the agent in workflow or eliminate the intensive people process. To comment on the latter it is possible to eliminate the phonecall, the enquiry and the overall paperwork to organise a flight with effective transaction processing. I can easily eliminate the 'agent factor' out of the equation with the only people process being with checking in at the airport. I think it is better to view the Technology aspect as a competitor to the agent other than focussing the mindset as a 'replacement for the agent'.

    By Naufal Khan, Wednesday, July 7, 2004

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