LAS VEGAS — Technology will never replace the human touch in
the travel industry but it is an important piece in curating client
experiences, according to executives and agents speaking last week at several
panels for the media during Virtuoso Travel Week here.
“The human connection is not going to take a hike,” said
Larry Pimentel, CEO of Azamara Club Cruises. “Technology is going to support
According to Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, technology
should be used in hospitality to place employees in front of customers.
“We’re in the experience business … Those experiences are
100% related to the customer-employee experience,” he said. “If we dial away
from that, we’re going to lose that energy and excitement.”
For example, Murren said MGM recently launched a digital
marketing program that enables consumers to research where they’re staying
before they go. Then, he said, they can go to the concierge to fulfill their
experiences, and that concierge can further tailor their options.
Technology has created a stronger desire for human
connection and a need for content curation, said Terrie Hansen, Virtuoso’s
senior vice president of marketing.
“There’s exponential amounts of information, which has
actually created more demand for travel advisers,” she said.
At Virtuoso, from 2010 to 2015, the consortium saw
membership grow 85% from both new member agencies and new advisers joining
existing agencies, she said. It now has 11,400 member travel advisers.
Agents are using technology to improve their day-to-day
workflow. For instance, Keith Waldon said that at Departure Lounge, a wine
bar/coffee shop/travel agency he founded, customers take a short, visual survey
touching upon where they’ve been, where they want to go, interests and brand
favorites. Advisers use that information when they meet with clients and also
intuit their budgets based on brand preferences, avoiding awkward questions
during a first meeting.
“We are handling the most precious commodity for
our clients, and that’s their time,” said Kimberly Wilson Wetty, co-president
and co-owner of Valerie Wilson Travel. “There’s technology that helps bring us
together and can help make it more efficient, but it truly is that human
connection and being able to relate in a way that builds these experiences.”