As host agencies have evolved over the years, so has the technology they offer agents. Today, hosts are largely moving to create agent-facing technology in-house and are offering agents a single place to access everything from customer relationship management (CRM) to marketing to social media components.

Stephanie Lee, founder of the website HostAgencyReviews.com, said, "I've seen their technology evolve, and I think it makes sense because, in the beginning, they were very heavily reliant on their consortium's suite of products."

Over the years, she said, hosts have migrated to all-in-one suites developed in-house and designed for use by independent contractors (ICs).

When you're running a host agency, Lee said, "You need something more specific that fits the specific needs of ICs." 

She pointed to Avoya Travel as a good example. Avoya began developing its Agent Power platform in the early 2000s as a "one-stop system" for independent agencies (IAs, as Avoya calls its affiliates) to manage their agency and connect with customers. According to Steve Hirshan, Avoya's senior vice president of sales support, the system has enabled agents to save time and realize efficiencies in their businesses.

Kevin Kimes, vice president of leisure travel product management at Travel Leaders Group (Nexion Travel Group's parent company), said Nexion recently announced that the final portion of its MyNexion solution will be available this year, culminating a four-year effort to consolidate a number of processes and systems.

Kimes is a big believer in "less technology that does more" from a user-experience standpoint, meaning that everything is available to an agent with just a few clicks. 

He also believes that successful travel agent technology starts with an agent's back-office system, which enables them to be more efficient, giving them more time to sell travel and to research ways to grow their businesses.

OutsideAgents.com also recently revamped its technology, according to co-owner Chad Burt.

"We just spent the past three-and-a-half, almost four years, rebuilding all of our technology so that it all runs on the same language, on the same servers, and it's all highly connectable, if you will," Burt said. "Integration was the core of our objective."

That has helped the host become nimbler in releasing new technology, such as consumer-facing websites branded and managed by individual agents. Before its technology infrastructure was rebuilt, Burt estimated, offering a solution like that would have taken two years. But with the infrastructure already in place, it took a fraction of that time because all the systems (such as an agent's CRM and the website) are connected.

Agents access the technology in one primary location.

"End-user adoption is the key here," he said. "Travel agents are sometimes resistant to change. It was about not just building the technology but building the communications and the confidence in agents to get them to start using it."

Offering a user-friendly system also helps hosts stay competitive with their peers and attract new ICs at a time when they are entering the industry in greater numbers, as Travel Institute president Diane Petras pointed out. 

"As the Travel Institute survey indicated earlier this year, we are at an all-time high in attracting ICs to the industry," Petras said. "So if you wish to attract them, then your information on booking processes, preferred suppliers, training tools and other services needs to be centralized in an easy-to-navigate online environment. All of this works toward building a more efficient, productive and profitable IC network."

Like other businesses reliant on technology, host agencies are not immune to the issue of keeping their systems updated without breaking the bank.

"Although we update Avoya's technology often, we're very mindful and strategic with how we implement change and innovation," Hirshan said. "New developments are usually rolled out in phases, go through A/B testing and are evaluated by Avoya Advisory Board members before being rolled out to the entire network so that it doesn't disrupt [independent agency] workflows or the customer experience."

Developing technology in-house enables the network to have full control over its technology, he said, and to adapt it quickly. It's also cost-effective, as it eliminates the monetary and time expenses that come with working with a third party.

Third-party costs were one of the drivers behind OutsideAgents.com's technology rebuild, Burt said, though its primary goal was a better agent platform. The host previously worked with a number of third parties, with costs based on the number of users. By building similar functionality in-house, the host has an improved agent platform and saves on per-user costs.

"It's a balance, to be sure," said Sandi Szalay, vice president of information technology for Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. "You are prioritizing the needs of agents and the system maintenance that must occur for longevity."

Like other host agencies, she said, her company reaches out to its various agent committees and focus groups when considering what needs to be upgraded or added technology-wise. 

Incremental updates along the way are important, too, Kimes said.

"There has to be consistent investment in the infrastructure in order to, frankly, keep your costs down," he said.

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