The future travel agent will be “superhuman,” a combination of technology, human care and first-hand agent expertise, but agents will never be replaced.
An article recently posted on Stuff by Lorna Thornber notes how “increasingly sophisticated technologies” like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) are helping companies understand how to “deliver a seamless, personalized travel booking experience.”
But while all this high-tech innovation is enticing, Thornber writes, “real-world travel agencies insist that human agents will remain the heart and soul of the planning and booking process, although they too agree such technologies will change the space entirely.”
Australia-based Flight Centre is noted for being one global company bullish on human agents. Its website recently added a feature that allows customers to choose a Flight Centre travel agent to help with online planning and booking. “They can request a specific agent by name or be assigned one and, after booking, the agent gets in touch to ask if they'd like any extra help,” Thornber said.
Flight Centre’s New Zealand-based managing director David Coombes is quoted saying “having a travel expert there all of the way through the process will still be an essential part of the travel journey."
Thornber also quotes Ken Freer, marketing director at House of Travel, a bricks and mortar travel agency that is trying to find ways to have technology complement travel agents, including chatbots and VR.
"[VR] can play an important role in giving travelers a more realistic idea of things they will experience on holiday, such as hotels and resorts. But it’s more of a hygiene factor, ensuring people know exactly what they're going to experience," Freer said. "Travel is about how an experience is going to make you feel inside and the best way to understand that is still by communicating with a real person. Someone who will get to know you, find out what kind of holiday you're after and want to know how it went when you get back."
Even Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi supports real agents in the article. Technology can help create “a human travel agent on steroids,” he is quoted saying. “If you combine these things, you can ideally start creating interactions with humans on an individual basis. It allows us to go back to the travel agent who knew us and our families and knew if we wanted to take a taxi or an Uber for example."