When it comes to travel agents and technology, it can sometimes seem like a fine line is being walked.
At what point does the tech eclipse the human element? How do we ensure technology is being used as a tool and not something that will replace?
That negotiation between the human element and using tech to a travel agent’s advantage seems to be a big point of contention and anxiety for many people.
We listened to a talk by Waseem Haq, Travel Counsellor’s digital and innovation director at the Travel Counsellors conference over the weekend and gained some key insights into how the home-based travel agent company is using tech to its agent’s advantage, not detriment.
Haq told a packed conference room at Pullman’s International hotel in Cairns that tech spending has gone from $5.4 million in 2015 ($3740 per TC) to a huge $11 million in 2018 ($6330 per TC) in 2018.
Which is pretty bloody huge, if you ask us.
He also assured the room of eager Travel Counsellors (TCs) that the technology they are spending on will “empower, not replace” them.
We were so fascinated by what Haq had to say that we sat down with him to find out more about the Travel Counsellors tech use.
“When we look at tech we look at how it fits in our model,” Haq said.
“We launched our online learning platform last year called COACH. In a country like Australia where so many people are remote, it’s so important they can access the training materials and the online forum from home.”
That’s why they hold their annual conference, Haq told us.
“I spoke to two TCs that joined us two weeks ago and they just said the content was great, feeling a part of the brand that early in their career with us is great, but meeting with the TCs, and to actually put a face to the name is just fantastic.”
“They can do a lot on our systems, there’s internal message boards and Yammer and they can communicate via skype but to meet with each other face to face and build a relationship here at a conference so then when they’re speaking to them they know what they’re like and hear their voice can be really good.”
When asked what their increase in tech spending went towards, Haq said some of it went into maintaining their core systems, but a lot was invested in new technology, such as the Reasons to Call feature on TC’s dashboards.
Reasons to Call is designed to encourage TCs to communicate more with their clients and nurture their relationships.
The feature gives them prompts that offer an excuse to call their clients, for example, if their client’s passport is close to expiring, or if they are about to leave or get home from a trip.
“We’re also continuing to invest in the app,” Haq said.
“The app has cost us over a million pounds, so close to two million dollars, over the last two years since we’ve released it. We’ve got an app development team in Manchester that built that.”
Studies show that travellers are increasingly choosing mobile booking systems and apps are a crucial part of this process.
Which is why TC customers can use the app to let TCs know what they’re interested in, browse trips and choose to “book now” through the app.
“The app triggers a booking request and it triggers the TC to then have a conversation with their customer.”
“It just gives them another way of interacting with their customer. For us, the whole tech strategy is around enabling a relationship. Not replacing the TC.”