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