It's time for traditional travel agencies to embrace mobile

Traditional travel agencies are beginning to embrace – somewhat unwillingly – the mobile arena.

It's been a long time coming, but now agencies are seeking to streamline the travel booking and planning process by exploiting the mobile phenomenon – but, of course, without removing the human element that makes them so unique, says travel industry news site Skift.

Agencies face a long haul to make up valuable time lost against long-standing OTAs.

Firstly, when developing apps they're hampered by the fact that there's no one-size-fits-all solution for travellers – it all depends on individual preference and the type of trip being booked.

"Today there's a blend of generations using technology to support their vacations. We do have a mix of individuals who prefer to have one-on-one counselling with someone experienced in a particular destination, and that isn't also necessarily generation-oriented; it is a blend hard to predict on who is going to participate," explains Bill Sutherland, vice president of travel services for AAA Travel.

The type of travel being booked plays a part: data from the travel firm shows that the average mobile hotel booking is made 3.2 days out, whereas for those on desktops the stay was booked 12.1 days in advance.

So it appears that mobile booking appeals the most to those who book closer to their intended travel date.

"People using mobile are making decisions much quicker than they would have on desktop," adds Sutherland.

The key focus for bricks and mortar travel agencies is to allow free-flowing communication between travellers and travel advisors, Skift continues.

Jeremy Van Kuyk, vice president of information technology at Travel Leaders Group agrees. "Our online travel agent profiler allows constant online communication," he commented.

While Cruise Planners, which is affiliated with American Express Travel, has revamped its app to offer clients multiple ways of reaching an agent and booking elements of their vacation on their own.

Cruise Planners COO Vicky Garcia said: "Clients want to know there are multiple ways to reach an agent; they want to know they have these cutting-edge tools that are accessible. It's a reality that as agents we have to make sure we're connected and accessible."

Using images and rich content to entice users to book is crucial to agencies growing on mobile platforms, since it ties in with the overall agency sales process, adds Garcia.

Cruise Planners sees mobile apps as equally important for keeping existing or new customers engaged and satisfied as for acquiring clients.

The firm grants users access to the app's features only if the customer is working with a Cruise Planners agent.