By Shaun Busuttil @shaunbusuttil15 Nov 2017Okay, so here’s the deal travel agents: if you wanna stay relevant in this ever-changing industry that’s growing increasingly competitive by the second, then you need to make technology an absolute priority. Not that you’re not already incorporating tech into your business. But it seems there’s still some way to go… And that’s not me saying that, but industry leaders at the recent World Travel Market (WTM) in London. In a panel discussion entitled “In a world controlled by technology, is the role of the travel agent defunct?” at the WTM, James Marchant, Senior Business Development Manager of easyJet, John Lombari, owner of Abbot Travel, and Brian Young, MD of G Adventures, sat down to discuss why technology is so crucial to travel agencies around the world. Obviously, technology is having a huge impact on the travel industry, with virtual travel agents, automation, cloud passports, Virtual Reality experiences, drone photography, online booking system (duh!), and personalised travel through big data analysis taking the travel experience – from booking to being there – into exciting new directions. Yet despite these exciting new opportunities, travel agents around the world are failing to incorporate them into their business. For example, in 2016, there was only a four percent YoY increase in spending on travel technology amongst UK travel agents. Down here in Australia, we can expect a similar figure, if not even less. Perhaps part of this failure to invest stems from us trying to meet the challenges currently facing the industry, such as economic and political instability, cyber security and data privacy, travel company failures and their effects on knocking consumer confidence, OTA’s squeezing profit margins, and the failure to bring new blood into the industry. But there are also tons of opportunities that travel agents can take advantage of, such as an increase in online booking scams (up by 19 percent), more and more people travelling, a generally time-poor society (who could therefore use a travel agent), and the possibility of using technology to give customers a more personalised travel experience. It’s this last opportunity that is particularly fruitful, according to the panelists, and they are urging the industry to make technology a major priority, instead of just a cool novelty. This won’t only give agents an incredible advantage over OTAs through the mighty human touch (hello more personalised travel!), but will also make agents much more efficient. Indeed, travel agents don’t need to turn into robots, but they do need to incorporate more technology if they are to survive and not be thought of as human search engines. Of course, travel agents are definitely not going anywhere anytime soon, with more and more people turning to agents to book their holidays. In fact, in the case of G adventures, 70 percent of their business is driven by travel agents, and only 30 percent from online channels. And according to Young of G Adventures, this market share isn’t likely to drop in the coming years, especially as travel becomes more personalised and travellers continue booking more complex itineraries: “Travellers are inspired by online content, but often turn to travel agents to book these complex itineraries.” Brian Young, MD of G Adventures. But that doesn’t mean the industry can’t increase its marketshare, nor should it rest on its laurels. So where do we go from here? On a whole, travel agencies need to make technology a major priority and look at new ways they can use it to enhance the customer experience. This may mean equipping all agencies with VR headsets and perhaps establishing exclusive partnerships between agencies and hotels/brands so that customers can only get particular VR experiences through their local agency, making better use of social media channels to solicit more inquiry, and injecting new blood from outside the travel industry to come up with fresh ideas. Because at the end of the day, travel is obviously evolving with technology, and travel agents need to do the same – perhaps more so now than ever before. How can travel agents incorporate more tech into their business? Tell us your suggestions in the comments below. Other stories you may like 5 ways to tell whether you’ve been naughty or nice this year What does 2018 predict for agents, numerologically speaking? AGENTS: What’s it like to join a truly independent travel network?