ChatGPT. Direct Instagram bookings. The internet. Being a travel agent in the “Age of Instant Gratification” is a far cry from their roles pre-World Wide Web. Travel agents negotiated and bought rooms for clients via tour operators such as Thomas Cook or created custom-made packages. Then online travel agencies — such as Booking.com — changed everything.
In 20 years, the entire booking and selling model for travel agents has dramatically changed — especially post Covid — and with the light speed advancement of technology, agents have to be quick to adapt.
Automation and innovation are not only paving the way forward in tourism, they’re accelerating the industry’s future.
Here are three ways automation and tech innovation continue to transform travel and how you can adjust to and integrate future-forward technology to successfully work with clients.
More automation tools make your life easier
Start-ups and innovative companies are regularly providing easier and convenient tools, whether ticket issuance or daily calendar management, that help in your day to day.
Take for example the tech tools being provided for travel agents, such as Expedia Access or Booking.com’s travel agent platform, and Sabre partnered with Trava to help automate post-booking processes for travel agents to help increase revenues. Traditional travel agencies need to take time learning what tools work best, and need to be flexible as more tools will certainly launch in the next few years, particularly generative artificial intelligence.
Automation tools work in your favor — in fact, at the recent Google I/O conference, the tech giant announced generative AI upgrades to its platforms, including Google Search. The new Search with AI, known as the Search Generative Experience (SGE), will include AI-powered snapshots for everyday queries, shopping and other areas useful for travel agents.
ChatGPT will make you pivot – but you can control it
Speaking of Generative AI, ChatGPT has had significant impact on travel, especially with the emergence and rise of AI-powered booking platforms. However, one thing ChatGPT doesn’t have is heart. A human connection is what many clients value.
ChatGPT, or any AI for that matter, haven’t breached the most intimate aspect of travel planning that requires customizing arrangements, firsthand experiences and your vast knowledge and expertise on the destination. While chatbots and virtual assistants can answer basic questions and are conveniently active 24/7, hosts and travel agents can leverage human connections for more intricate arrangements.
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Travel agents can use ChatGPT to their advantage by leveraging machine learning data they need to support clients and travel suppliers, such as algorithms for best time to book flights on specific dates, analyzing current and future travel patterns and trends, as well as traveler interests and preferences based on their social media activity (including forecasting trending destinations).
For instance, ChatGPT customizes recommendations based on a traveler’s preferences, as well as real-time data (distance from hotel to attraction during rush hour, inclement weather, etc.), which can help you tailor an unforgettable itinerary. You can also use ChatGPT to write customized emails, and travel agents can also use AI, such as Shutterstock, which uses AI to optimize image searches for their business or to market key destinations.
Finally, one of the most attractive benefits of ChatGPT or AI for hosts and hoteliers is to streamline booking processes and above all handle basic inquiries and automate tasks that save you time, such as instant responses to clients.
While ChatGPT can’t rehash the amazing experience staying at a wonderful boutique hotel like Kilmartin Castle is, it is here to stay. And it can let you know that the property is part of a collection of unique, notable and luxury independent properties, or that the property was ranked fourth in The New York Times’ “52 Places To Go In 2023” or that the young owners are exceptionally friendly and love pets.
The human touch and wonderful, personalized service that many travelers prefer can be integrated with ChatGPT to provide the best combination of facts, knowledge, convenience and empathy.
Prepare to immerse in virtual and augmented reality
The metaverse will open many doors in travel and shape how we interact with others. Virtual and augmented reality provides immersive travel experiences that will influence the way a traveler may book a future vacation.
Travel agents and hosts can immensely benefit from this. Painting a picture with words is one thing; immersing the client in a selection of destinations via virtual and augmented reality can help seal the deal. These type of experiences help travelers make decisions faster, rather than “thinking about it,” which results in faster bookings.
Both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies can be used to simulate a range of travel experiences, from exploring an exotic island to stunning, close-up encounters with animals on safari or ancient landmarks. The keyword for these technologies is “immersive.” In the ’90s, photos and short videos were enough to compel a visitor. Now, these new technologies can literally put the visitor in the hotel, restaurant, tour, attraction or destination virtually. The tech is also quite new; it’s an experience unto itself.
Many hosts and travel agents already use VR to promote destinations using 360-degree videos of hotels, cruises, resorts and exotic tours, such as Travel World VR. And a number of businesses, such as the British Museum, also use VR and AR to provide virtual tours of its exhibits. Have clients who want to know what it’s like flying business class on KLM? They have virtual tours of all their jets. Discover Los Angeles, the convention and visitors bureau of Los Angeles, offers virtual site inspections, which are helpful for not only travelers but also travel agents. And in May, Singapore Tourism partnered with Google to launch two new immersive augmented reality experiences around Singapore’s famed Merlion Park and Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall in its Visit Singapore app.
Today, many hosts such as Hocking Hills with its portfolio of thousands of properties, including famed Ridgemont Lodge of Bourbon Ridge Retreat, provide 3D tours of their establishment. As VR and AR technologies become more mainstream, it is only a matter of time before we’ll all be able to put on our VR glasses and step right into the room we’re booking. Obviously, this will come with increased challenges linked to regulation and the management of labels and certification to protect consumers against fakes.