Last updated: 08:37 PM ET, Tue September 27 2016

What Does The Future Hold for Travel Agents?

Travel Agent | American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) | Robin Amster | September 27, 2016

What Does The Future Hold for Travel Agents?

Photo by Robin Amster

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be the next new technology that travel agents will need to embrace to be successful,  according to panelists at a session during the ASTA Global Convention in Reno.

The session—called Travel Agent of the Year 2020—explored the coming significance of AI. It was sponsored by Trisept Solutions which develops travel merchandising and distribution solutions.  Its products include the VAX VacationAccess platform for leisure travel and Xcelerator, an agency management platform.

Next month, Trisept is set to launch Discover, an AI search feature that will be part of Xcelerator. Discover will  be powered by WayBlazer, an IBM  Watson Ecosystem Partner focused on travel solutions, said John Ische, Trisept’s president and CEO.

“AI will be the next new technology to have an effect on the travel industry,” Ische said. “It’s the culmination of the computer age and it will hit all aspects of our lives. Technology companies across all industries are making huge investments in it.”

Ische noted the importance to travel agents now of “travel intelligence” and “customer intelligence,” but, he said, “in the not too distant future both of these won’t be enough.”

Agents who combine their travel intelligence and customer intelligence with the right technology, namely AI, will have what Ische called “’Genuine Intelligence,’ the essential ingredient that will assure agents’ success.”

“Our  investment in AI has just begun,” he added.

Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and the founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said AI is so important because it is already affecting our lives as consumers.

“Most online retailers are already using it and the next generation of customers expect us as an industry to use it,” Harteveldt  added.

Travel agents now have to deal with an almost infinite number of combinations in serving clients, he said. Clients too may have multiple vacation personalities meaning, for example, they  will want one thing for a weekend getaway and another for a longer vacation.

AI can replace the necessity for agents to research multiple websites to serve their clients, “helping you do your job better and faster,” said Harteveldt.

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It will also mean agents will have to look at clients as individuals and no longer as members of a  particular generation like a Millennial or Baby Boomer,  according to Felix Laboy, CEO of WayBlazer.

AI can, for instance, make it feasible for an agent to easily meet a client’s request to take his or her son who has an interest in history to Italy and stay in historic accommodations, Laboy said.

Customers today are not loyal to their agents, “our research shows that,” noted Andy Stuart,  president and COO of Norwegian Cruise Line. Technology represents a “massive opportunity,” he added, to meet the challenge  of customer retention.

Cruise ships and products have  become extremely complicated, “so really understanding who the customer is and what their journey will be, will be really different.” Technology---and AI—can be an “incredible enabler in assisting that process,” Stuart said.

“Agents  who don’t embrace the technology, I think, will  struggle as we  get  to 2020,” he added.

What then will the travel agent of 2020 look like?

Joanie Ogg, co-founder, Ogg Marketing Group, said agents have endured a lot of change in recent years but it’s now time for yet another change. Agents will have to be open and willing to learn new technologies like AI, said Ogg.

“I’m not highly technologically focused but I do know I have to use it,” she added. “All  this intelligence will  make it easy for agents to better understand their  clients.”


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