How Smartphones Have Changed The Travel Industry

Published on Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Train smartphone

It was not all that long ago that phones were anything but smart. Simply a device to communicate with others, they were indeed used to call travel agents, airlines, hotels and others to arrange elements of travel.Today, we can and do use smarter phones to do all of the above, often more efficiently than before. The impact smartphones have had on the travel industry is undeniable, as is their effect on music, entertainment and more; now made more portable than ever. It’s a topic that often angers those who sell travel. Some think the hand-held device will make them the next dinosaurs of an evolving industry. But others have driven past that dead end road, choosing to embrace the expanding technology, much as their predecessors did in generations past.

A Brief Look Back

To put smartphone technology in perspective, let’s think back to a time when they did not exist at all. Today’s social world allows us to connect with other people just as a business might have a half-century ago by joining a chamber of commerce or other community-oriented organization. Go back a bit further, before the advent of television or radio, and people would connect on front porches of houses in small towns. The paperboy brought news twice a day. Encyclopedia salesman was an entry-level position that taught many the basics of marketing. What if those with a full stake in old ways of doing business had held out and resisted the inevitable change that comes with technology? In that extreme example, surely they would have been out of business in short order.

A Reality Check

Today, I still hear from travel agents who look to extoll the virtues of one global distribution system (GDS) over another. Sabre, Amadeus, Apollo and others court agencies to be their GDS of choice, an effort that has roots in old technology as each tries to hang on to a shrinking need. Like being accountable for paper airline tickets, new agencies on the horizon do not even have the antiquated machines needed to print them. Today, consumers are bypassing sellers of travel to buy directly from the source for one reason and one reason only: it is easier.

It’s not that consumers would not appreciate having the expertise of an efficient travel agent on their side; they would. It’s not that travel sellers can’t figure out the latest technology; they can. If there is not a clear alignment of the goals of travelers with what travel agencies are offering it is no one’s fault but that of the agencies being left behind. 

The New Need Created By Smartphones

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Successful sellers of travel are fully embracing the technology of today and commanding it, rather than the other way around. They realize that today’s traveler has a choice but that choice might be focused on which smartphone app to use for booking. Gone is the thought “yes but wait until something goes wrong. Then they’ll wish they used an agent.” In style is the thought, “Sure, use that smartphone app to research travel. Know what you want before you call me and let me focus on seamless travel arrangements for you.”

This is a thought pattern that harnesses the power of today’s smartphone technology and puts relevant information into the hands of buyers, instantly. Embrace it and thrive. Resistance is futile.

Today’s Smartphone-Charged World Of Travel

When I travel, on the home screen of my smartphone are several travel apps. These take the place of a paper itinerary, tickets, and other travel documentation necessary to travel in the past.

An app for the airline(s) I will fly has boarding passes for the day’s flights. When I fly Delta, their app even keeps track of where my luggage is at any given time. The iPhone passbook hangs on to those boarding passes, so I can verify mileage with frequent flyer programs later, replacing luggage tags and boarding passes saved in the past. TripIt is basic travel organizer that keeps all my plans in sync by ‘reading’ my email and auto importing itineraries and destination information. Upgrading, the TripIt Pro version keeps track of my mileage on all airlines and will watch for a preferred seat location to open up on a full flight. A Flight Track app serves as an additional source of organization with all flights for upcoming trips at a glance. At the destination, a UNESCO World Heritage app alerts me when in the vicinity of something amazing to see. The list can be as long, helpful, and interesting as I choose.

Sellers of travel that understand this are not just still in business but thriving, becoming another source on my smartphone home screen through apps of their own. Those relevant agencies realize that in a race for information, there is no way to compete with today’s smartphone technology. It’s not even a close call.

Smartphones can still be used to communicate with other people though and, oddly, this is where successful travel sellers are growing their business. I have apps that send me text messages, alerting me of gate changes, flight delays or cancellations, and even the weather at my upcoming destination. Of the number of times I look at my smartphone in a day of travel, rarely is it to answer a call and talk to a person. Oh but what if it was and it was a travel agent who was also notified when my flight landed by smartphone technology, welcoming me to that new destination? That’s next.

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