Like any parent of a young adult, I often feel inadequate as a tech person these days. My sons frequently roll their eyes as I ask them to fix something on my iPhone yet again. Even so, I did serve as a tech consultant during the past two years, and I like the result.
I run D. Tours Travel, a boutique travel company in Larchmont, N.Y., which I founded in 1999. I specialize in high-end, international, custom travel, and business has been great for me in recent years. Early on, I decided that I could not be all things to all people. I do not try to compete with the Internet; my clients come to me mostly as repeat business and referrals, and my mantra is "Bring value to the travel equation."
Two years ago, a friend with high-level experience in the airline business asked if he could consult with me about an idea he had. He wanted to harness the power of the Internet to facilitate sharing travel plans among small groups of friends and relatives. Could I help him understand how travel is sold? Who are the primary decision-makers in couples? In families? In general? What are the most important factors that consumers weigh as they make their plans? What is my role as their travel adviser?
Over time, his idea evolved into what has now launched as TripShare, an app that you can find in the App Store for your iPad and, coming this fall, for your iPhone. TripShare offers concrete components of custom travel (hotels, tours, transfers) with gorgeous pictures in a mobile environment. It's beautiful.
Wait a minute, you might say. Am I not helping put myself out of business with the development of this app?
I don't think so, and here's why: There is plenty of room in this industry for both my friend's application and my business as a travel professional.
Let's face it: Simple travel transactions went online years ago. Plane tickets are now a commodity, often sold simply on the basis of price. Hotel stays in major U.S. cities? Many people book those themselves, especially when they've been to that destination before and they have lots of input from their friends and relatives.
Although my consortium hotel program would often benefit them, self-bookers are confident and happy to handle these basic travel processes themselves. They don't need me, and I don't spend a lot of time worrying about how to capture their business.
My clients are people who absolutely want help with complex arrangements, like orchestrating a custom trip to Italy or Turkey or Vietnam. Even cruisers often want a pre- or post-stay hotel, and I've acquired more than one client just because of the need for hotels on either end of a Rhine River cruise. Disney World? So many choices, right?
We're back to bringing value to the equation. When you can do that, you don't have to worry about competing with Expedia for the lowest price on a hotel in Las Vegas. We all know who's going to win that one.
Let's even take it a step further. I would love to adapt TripShare for my own purposes.
Right now, when I design an itinerary for a client, I send them a proposal with words. I use nice words, enticing words, compelling words, but in the end, it's just paper and words.
I can see that mobile devices are the way of the future for many industries, including travel. However, D. Tours Travel is a small shop, and I doubt I will ever have the resources to develop proprietary technology for my clients.
What if D. Tours Travel could use TripShare to deliver to my client's smartphone (and her husband's smartphone, too) a lovely itinerary with pictures of the hotels that I'm recommending, the tour that I'm suggesting, the location to which I'm sending them? I know those pictures would display beautifully on an iPhone or an iPad. They would love it. I would love it. And I bet my accountant would love it, too.
I'd like to incorporate TripShare into my business plan. This kind of technology embodies the wisdom I've heard at my consortium's annual conference: Manage your business smarter. Look at what you're doing, and improve how you do it.
I don't want to spend time worrying about travelers who don't need me and will never call me. But I would like to jazz up what I can deliver to those clients who value my services and refer their friends and relatives to me.
Wouldn't it be great to find more mobile apps that we could adapt to our business models?
Diana Hechler owns D. Tours Travel in Larchmont, N.Y., which specializes in European and other international vacation planning. Her Scotland itinerary is among the vacations offered on the TripShare app for the iPad.