Comment: Staying ahead in a social mobile world means constant evolution

Comment: Staying ahead in a social mobile world means constant evolution

Android, Apple, Blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google+, Foursquare, Groupon, Gowalla – the list goes on.

If you are in the travel agency business, you’ll be familiar with these names and know you’re in a fast-paced race to serve the traveller.
For more than half a century, travel technology companies have invested billions of dollars in technology to help travel agencies, corporations and travellers shop and book travel with airlines, hotels, car rental companies, rail operators and tour operators.

For decades the agent has played a significant role in planning, shopping and delivering a trip to a traveller.

But with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and social media platforms, the traveller now has the ability to research, communicate, share and make decisions from wherever they may be in the world.

Today, the number of people using handheld devices to call, text, browse the web and download apps exceeds the number of people connected to personal computers.

More than 26 billion texts and a billion multimedia messages are sent from wireless devices every day.

The tablet is the fastest growing electrical device ever, with 67 million expected to be in use by the end of 2011.

Then there’s social media. Foursquare, Groupon, Gowalla and Facebook are all targeting travellers with social location-based services, such as offers and discounts on food, beverages and consumer goods.

And when you consider the number of Facebook users has grown to 650 million from 175 million in the last two years, you begin to appreciate the depth of reach these platforms have at their disposal.

So how does this impact the agent? Today’s travellers have little patience and want more control. They want instant options, lightning-quick responses and total transparency; and all from the palm of their hand.

Does this mean TMCs are on the brink of extinction?  Well, that depends. History shows those intermediaries, and the technology companies that serve them, have adeptly evolved with the needs of their customers to provide invaluable services. 

Now they must embrace the opportunities brought by mobile technology and social media in order to survive.

For business travellers, the TMC will continue to play a vital role in the booking of travel and accommodation.

However, the way they communicate with travellers will change as the smartphone evolves from being a simple information and communication tool to a transactional device providing access to like-minded online communities.

What is most striking about recent trends is that travellers want their business and personal agendas in the same place.

They want to book a flight, car or hotel from their smartphone, but expect to make these decisions using tools that normally sit outside of the GDS and outside of the travel policy.

The late Steve Jobs once said: “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

The travel technology goal, therefore, must be to provide a platform from where the traveller can manage personal objectives in addition to meeting the requirements set out in the company corporate travel policy.

In the technological race there is no finish line. Front-runner developers have demonstrated over the years that evolution is perpetually enduring and everlasting.

It is important, however, that agencies and TMCs remain at the front of the pack in order to survive. That fact is as true now as it ever has been.

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