Travel Agency-Backed Tech Startups Take Off

by Barbara Peterson
Travel Agency-Backed Tech Startups Take Off

Photo: Axus Travel App


Many travel agencies see the world of online travel and tech startups as a threat, or, at least, as incompatible with the service ethic of the agency business. But recently, several startups are bridging the gap, with new tools that are either developed by agents or that tap into the human interaction that agencies offer.

A notable example of the former is the AXUS travel app, an itinerary management and support program for travel advisors and tour operators, which was founded by travel agent Julia Douglas, owner of Jet Set World Travel in Chicago.

Douglas was inspired by the increasing burden of managing complex itineraries:  the constant back and forth and the “hundreds of emails” that landed in her inbox, not just during the planning process but also during the trip itself. The app solves all that, she said, replacing bulky paper printouts of itineraries with a simple interface that sends clients flight notifications, driving directions and destination guides, and keeps them in touch with their advisor via in-app messaging. Anyone can use the app, but they must sign up with a specific travel agent to do so.

Despite the risks of launching a startup, “I know it was something I wanted to do.  I had a vision of how things could be done better,” Douglas said. She began working with a mobile app developer several years ago, and launched the final product more than a year ago, after obtaining financial backing from private sources.

Since then AXUS has expanded its customer base, most recently with Signature Travel Network, which is integrating the app into its Pocket Travel Consultant to create “one solution” that should enable travel managers to differentiate their services and deliver a superior experience to the client.

Meanwhile, another tech startup is making waves in the travel agency arena: Lola, a startup founded by former Kayak chief Paul English, is an app that connects travelers to live travel agents.

In several presentations at tech conferences, English sought to clear up the confusion over the apparent contradiction of a technology product that acknowledges that people actually prefer to interact with a real human being.   English emphasized that agents will “always” have a role, and he has already hired and trained an initial team of 20 full-time agents. 

The real test will come in the next few months, when the plan is to expand Lola to a wider audience and when English plans to add staff and open a call center.   

Another notable example of an agent as tech entrepreneur is Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, CEO of TripScope, a website for agents that combines itinerary planning with a mobile app for customers, so that agents and their clients can keep in touch through all stages of the trip.

Like other self-described “tech-obsessed travel experts,” O’Shaughnessy, who has worked as an agent at Coastline Travel Advisors in Southern California,  came up with the idea several years ago and helped raise financing. After beta-testing, the site was showcased at the Phocuswright conference in 2014. Since then the group has signed up dozens of independent travel agencies and has partnered with the Virtuoso and Travel Leaders consortia.  

O’Shaughnessy has described the product as targeted towards “forward-thinking” agencies whose clients are comfortable with technology but seek the sort of personal service that an OTA or other online-only service typically lacks.

If these startups beat the odds and succeed, observers are betting the industry will see many more of these agent-friendly startups in the tech space.

  5
  1
Tip of the Day
Daily Top List

Most Useful Twitter Accounts for Travel Agents

1. AskTSA

2. FlightRadar24

3. Department of State

4. CLIA Global

5. ASTA

Source: TMR

TMR THIS WEEK
http://services.travelsavers.com/AMGService.svc/REST/GetImage?ImageID=dd7f092d-7dff-e711-80eb-782bcb667b27

What's Their 'Why'? Connect Your Clients to Their Passion for Travel

The unique reasons that inspire people to travel are the foundation of travel fulfillment, and more sales for travel agents.

TMR Recommendations
Top Stories
Small Agent Credit Card Scams Are Still Popular
Small Agent Credit Card Scams Are Still Popular

That email from a potential customer might seem like an enticing sales opportunity, but you could become a fraud target if you engage with them.

Bomb Cyclone Delay Raises Issue of Clients' Rights When Service Goes Awry
Bomb Cyclone Delay Raises Issue of Clients' Rights When Service Goes Awry

An airport incident between passengers and a Canadian airline in Boston during the “bomb cyclone” highlights the tensions that can rise when there are significant delays.

Multi-Trip Travel Insurance Could Cost Less, But Has Low Awareness
Multi-Trip Travel Insurance Could Cost Less, But Has Low Awareness

This lesser known option has yet to catch on because most travelers aren’t aware of it, and agents are more inclined to sell single-trip policies.

What Do the New Facebook Rules Mean for Travel Agents?
What Do the New Facebook Rules Mean for Travel Agents?

Changes announced this week by Facebook’s CEO may lead to less value for businesses trying to reach customers through unpaid content on the social media platform.

Lonely Planet’s Top Places for Solo Travel Includes Adventure and Foodie Destinations
Lonely Planet’s Top Places for Solo Travel Includes Adventure and Foodie Destinations

The travel guide’s list includes 10 cities from around the world that will convince even the most uneasy single traveler that it’s time to start exploring solo.

Headquarters Happenings: After a Successful 2017, Travel Leaders Looks to a Stronger 2018
Headquarters Happenings: After a Successful 2017, Travel Leaders Looks to a Stronger 2018

Synergies from 2017 merger, enhanced travel agent tools, and expanded luxury offerings propel the company into the new year.

News Briefs
Advertiser's Voice
Advertiser's Voice: Scenic Cruises