It wasn’t that long ago that the Internet was seen as the “enemy” that would steal clients away from agencies and put them out of business. Savvy travel agents, however, learned to harness the web to make it work in their favor. Today agents, independent and home-based ones in particular, might be hard-pressed to remain competitive without the apps, webinars, social media and online services at their disposal. Keeping up with new developments is essential to survival, so here are some of the latest online and technological tools.
Virtuoso Partners With Yonderbound
The new socially shareable online travel marketplace Yonderbound recently announced a new partnership agreement with Virtuoso. Travel Agent spoke with Yonderbound founder and CEO Barbara Muckermann to find out more.
Yonderbound is an online travel marketplace that allows users to collect their dream trip ideas in an aspirational collection called a Yonderbox. Through its new partnership with Virtuoso, select Virtuoso travel advisors will be able to create their own Yonderboxes, which consumers will then be able to book directly through the advisor.
“The idea is to bridge the gap between automated travel booking and a travel advisor,” says Muckermann. “For example, for something as simple as a one-night trip to Miami, a consumer may want to book that themselves. But for a big, complex trip, they can rely on the experience and expertise of a travel advisor.”
A Yonderbox works similarly to a scrapbook. For each trip a user is planning, they can collect inspirational photos, favorite hotels, notes, and links to attractions or events into a separate Yonderbox. When another user searches the site, for example for “Myanmar,” hotels and attractions in Myanmar will appear in the search results, along with Myanmar-related Yonderboxes from other users and, through the new Virtuoso partnership, from travel advisors. Yonderboxes can also be shared to Facebook for additional visibility.
“Other online travel agencies tend to act as gatekeepers—they show the inventory that they want to push out,” says Muckermann. “We don’t want to act as a gatekeeper.” Yonderbound also differs from other OTAs, he says, in that it is built around saving a user’s research between sessions, something that OTAs don’t typically do.
“It takes a user an average of 44 days to decide where to go,” Muckermann says. “With Yonderbound, all that research is saved.” Yonderbound results are also integrated with TripAdvisor and Google Street View.
Vacation.com Introduces ‘Agent Snapshot’
At its annual International Conference and Trade Show last month, Vacation.com unveiled a new online marketing tool, Agent Snapshot. Accessed from Agent Universe, Agent Snapshot enables Vacation.com members to convey much more than just their agency’s general specialties and destination expertise. The new tool provides them with an opportunity to personally and electronically introduce themselves, their travel experiences, their skills, their locale and their passions that count for potential clients. The more differentiation in the agent’s snapshot, the more intelligent a consumer match will be.
Pinterest as Marketing Tool
Pinterest is making moves to expand the ability of travel agents and other brands to market on the platform. The social media network recently announced plans to move forward with its Promoted Pins feature, which it had originally announced last September. The move followed the introduction of a new guided search feature which, while not directly marketing-related, could mean big changes for how users discover content on the platform.
Promoted Pins allow advertisers to pay for a pin to be promoted in users’ search results and category feeds. Promoted Pins will have a “promoted” label indicating that they are a paid advertisement.
On its official blog, the social media network recently announced plans to work with a small group of U.S.-based brands to roll out a paid test of the Promoted Pins feature in the search and category feeds.
Expedia Ups Agents Access
Expedia recently released its updated version of their Travel Agent Affiliate Program (TAAP). TAAP gives U.S. travel agents access to Expedia’s global inventory. TAAP includes single sign-on (SSO), dedicated tools for agency managers, the ability to build customized itineraries for adding service fees, and reporting. TAAP now offers API integration for XML with selected agencies.
“TAAP demonstrates Expedia’s commitment to giving travel agents a competitive edge, letting them generate incremental revenue and expand their client base,” says Linda Lossing, U.S. head of Expedia’s Travel Agent Affiliate Program. “We’re thrilled to make it available to travel agents nationwide.”
TAAP members have access to Expedia’s inventory. They can use Expedia’s platform to research, plan and book trips for clients, while earning commission. Launched in the U.S. in 2010, TAAP currently operates in more than 40 countries and gives travel agents access to more than 240,000 hotels and 400 airlines. The program has over 38,000 members nationwide.
Travelport’s ‘Mobile’ Upgrade
Travelport has launched a new version of its Travelport Mobile Agent (TMA) tool with new features and functionality for travel agents. The mobile app was developed in partnership with TTA and allows travel agents to make bookings for their customers from handheld devices.
The recently launched upgrade, version 3.0 of Travelport Mobile Agent, includes features which were implemented after the collection of user feedback. The new features, all designed to enable travel agents to provide better customer service, include a more user-friendly interface, enhanced content with improved data, customizable quick keys, a newsfeed with relevant travel articles, and integration with the Travelport ViewTrip itinerary tool.