Before the pandemic, 60% of travel agents worked full-time; that number dropped to 25% in 2021, and it has not yet recovered. The Covid-19 pandemic forced huge swaths of travel agents to abandon their jobs due to the drop in demand, with over 30% saying that they were working five hours or fewer a week during the lockdowns. Agents also had to handle vast amounts of cancellations and refunds, which caused them to lose substantial amounts of commission. About 83% reported losing significant sales in 2020, and 50% lost between 81-100% of sales in 2021.
Unfortunately, this crisis happened because travel agents didn’t have the right tech to help preserve their cashflow. The old, conservative GDS system was all they had, which didn’t allow for risk mitigation in the form of hedging cancellations and refunds. Income-saving hedging with things like insurance is only possible with big data and analytics, and those require more modern tech solutions.
Tech companies now realize that it is their responsibility to solve the most complicated challenges of the travel industry. The global pandemic forced travel agents to shoulder the burden of this risk before, but now, it’s time for tech to not only shoulder the responsibility but solve the root cause.
Three ways technology will transform travel agents’ jobs
Big tech providers understand that traveltech must support its agents, and brands like Expedia and Booking.com have already implemented useful solutions for travel agents. Expedia Access allows travel agents to easily navigate and manage their affiliate accounts for better booking, and the company has recently announced the launch of its Open World accelerator tool to encourage SMBs and startups to build better tools with the help of their platform. Booking.com’s travel agent platform provides a comprehensive dashboard for managing reservations and simplifying accounting processes.
Here are three significant ways updated tech will make travel agents’ jobs simpler, better and more rewarding:
1. Business process automation
Before, travel agents had to juggle nearly everything manually, including client and trip management, for an entire list of travelers.
Classic CRM solutions only work here if there is built-in trip management, which is a crucial part of properly managing an individual client’s case. For travel agents to be most effective, they need to be able to easily organize and automate the process of managing a client throughout their trip.
Traveltech companies are already working on better solutions for seamless automation. Two prime examples are TTS Consolidator, which automates ticket issuance and mitigates financial risk for travel agents and TravelWorks, a travel-oriented comprehensive CRM solution.
In the future, I expect to see a boom in day-to-day process automation, specifically for travel agents.
2. Booking automation
Complicated booking processes should not consume the majority of a travel agent’s time. People go to a travel agent for their expertise and personal touch, not because they need to learn how to book a trip. Customers want a quick, streamlined booking experience, and travel agents need tools to facilitate this.
Currently, solving issues like voluntary and involuntary flight changes, delays and unforeseen booking problems requires the travel agent to manually search and sort through massive amounts of information, check policies and present new offers.
In the future, more traveltech solutions will be able to leverage machine learning to automate these tasks and provide suitable alternatives with minimal effort from the agent, freeing them up to give the emotional support that harried travelers often need.
3. Better fintech penetration
We have already seen the beginnings of fintech integration into the travel industry, such as the partnership between Capital One and Hopper or JP Morgan Chase’s travel agency, but there are still several steps between a travel agent booking a trip and receiving their commission. The current process forces the travel agent to wait for the traveler to pay the airline and then for the airline to pay the commission.
Fintech can eliminate this gap, allowing travel agents to receive payment as soon as the transaction is completed and creating a more positive, stable income stream for them. With the right solutions, travel agents can get paid more like Uber drivers: as soon as the transaction is complete, the money is available. There will be no need for manual invoicing, accounting or billing; everything will be automatic.
The future of tech in travel
In the near future, we will see more tech companies offering platforms to travel agents, transforming their roles and shifting the paradigm of the travel industry.
Traveltech solutions aimed at solving the problems of travel agents will help to change the role of a travel agent from a “booking manager” to an actual “trip advisor,” which is a much more personal and rewarding role for agents.
New technology solutions will help to automate the most tedious and time-consuming parts of a travel agent’s job, such as performing routine booking and management tasks, freeing up the agents to take a more active role in building client relationships and utilizing their travel expertise to truly elevate a traveler’s experience.
Once tech companies help automate searching, offering and post-booking support, travel agents will only be left with the best parts of the job: gathering personal travel experience and sharing this knowledge with clients.
With the introduction of traveltech, agents can step into the role of valued specialists, thus making them happier and more effective. Integrating modern tech into travel is the clear path toward helping travel advisors discover the world for themselves and, in turn, their customers.