Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Today's travel advisors are experiencing a "golden era" thanks to the technology that's become available in recent years, according to industry veteran Bob Gilbert.

"I find these really exciting times for the agency community," said Gilbert, who currently heads North American business development for the companies Rezdy and eRoam. "I think it is a golden era based upon the technology and the availability to provide more tools to advisors, to travel professionals, to really focus on their customer. If they know enough about their customer, they can really do a great job."

The companies Gilbert represents are good examples of agent-focused technology providers. Rezdy is an Australian reservations platform that includes tour, activity and attraction distribution, while eRoam uses artificial intelligence to craft customized itineraries for agents' clients, including activities and experiences.

Others, like Airbnb and Booking Holdings, are also investing in the space.

The tour and activities space has been particularly underrepresented when it comes to booking technology, though it's beginning to pick up.

According to Phocuswright, 80% of bookings in the tours and activities market remain offline.

That market holds great promise: It is expected to reach $183 billion by 2020, Phocuswright said.

"Whether it's an online travel agent or whether it's a brick-and-mortar [agency], they want to be able to book that product," Gilbert said, "or the customer wants to be able to book that product,".

But if 80% of bookings are offline, there is obviously a disconnect.

Gilbert said some tour operators are using in-house systems that work well but don't connect to outside systems. Others are smaller activity companies that feel they aren't ready to step into uncharted waters.

"The reality is, there are companies out there that can actually make their lives a lot easier for less than a cup of Starbucks," Gilbert said. "That's the reality. But it's breaking through the barrier of consciousness."

Travel advisors want access to that kind of inventory, he said. And they're beginning to find it as more companies break into the tours and activities space.

"All of the changes in that space have been fairly recent.  It brings to the agency community the tools to be able to make their lives a lot easier today," Gilbert said.

That's why Gilbert is so bullish on the outlook for advisors today. They're being met with the technology they need to offer increasingly personalized itineraries.

"It's heady times," he said. "For a travel advisor or travel agency chain or consortia, this is a new golden age, if you will, driven by technology."

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