An always-connected industry
The iPhone has also changed the travel industry itself. Consortia and hosts are frequently employing mobile-first strategies, ensuring that the websites, tools and products they offer agents are able to be used on small smartphone screens.
Many companies have added entire mobile divisions to keep up with the technology, and much as the iPhone has changed the way consumers travel, it has also changed the way executives and agents travel and work.
John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, said the iPhone has enabled him to be more productive when he's traveling. It has also offered his network's agents an enhanced communication platform with their clients, whether or not one or both parties are traveling.
"A consumer, for the most part, wants to talk in the method that they want to talk in at a given moment," Lovell said. "It might be the phone one minute, it might be Facebook the next moment, it might be via chat the next moment."
Instant access to those channels via a smartphone helps facilitate those conversations.
"A lot of times people just want that instant access, that instant connection with their client or with their agent, and there are so many forms to do that," Lovell said. "To be a good travel professional, you almost have to be relevant within each section."
In recent years, David Kolner, senior vice president of global member partnerships at Virtuoso, said he has noticed an increasing number of agents who conduct business via messaging services like iMessage and WhatsApp.
"It's just a huge way the clients are communicating in their day-to-day lives" he said. "And they're extending that communication to their adviser, and I'm not surprised by it at all."
Libbie Rice, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group, said that agents today must meet their customers' expectations when it comes to technology, but what technology that is depends on the client; some still want paper itineraries, while others would prefer a mobile version in app form.
"Agencies have to recognize who their client is, because some of them are still going to want documents, and they want that printed piece because they're worried that their phone isn't going to be available, or they don't want to pay the fees or whatever it is," Rice said. "So there is a certain know-your-client piece, and I'm sure a lot of it is somewhat dependent on the age of the client or level of sophistication."
Phocuswright's Rose argued, though, that all agents should take advantage of increased communication with their clients during their trips.
"Historically, travel agents have [said], 'Let me plan your trip for you'," he said. "'Here's all your documents, everything's booked, see you next time.' And I think that what the platform enables is more ongoing communication, whether it's promoting in-destination activities [or] it's just providing on-demand service in the case of disruption. But I think it's extended the life cycle of a traditional travel agent beyond just the booking and ticketing function."
Vicky Garcia, COO and co-owner of Cruise Planners, said access to iPhones has made agents' jobs "easier in many cases because they're more connected." But she acknowledged that those who don't keep up with the technology could find it challenging to deal with.
At the same time, though, agents who might have previously turned down opportunities to travel now have more freedom because they can virtually work "literally anywhere in the world," said Brian Hegarty, vice president of marketing for Travel Leaders Group.
Virtuoso's Kolner agreed.
"The adviser working from the pool in a safari lodge in South Africa is just as common as an adviser sitting at a desktop in Ohio somewhere," he said. "I mean, the mobility that the iPhone has offered the adviser, with so much functionality, has just really allowed advisers to take their job satisfaction to a higher level and also just serve their clients better -- closer to the 24/7 type of service that the clients are probably ultimately looking for."
But greater access to work also comes with a caveat: It becomes harder and harder to truly disconnect and stop working. Traditional 9-to-5 office hours are now largely a thing of the past, Hegarty said, and the verdict is out on whether or not that's a good thing.
"Is instant, nonstop access a good thing? Most of the time," said Taylor Ruecking, director of marketing and technology at the Travel Institute. "Sometimes it's difficult to separate work from home life. Having access to so much communication on the iPhone makes it necessary to pay close attention to time management."
The iPhone and smartphones that followed it have also had an impact on agent education or, more specifically, the way educational content is delivered, Ruecking said.
"In responding to a shift in student learning patterns and industry trends, we are creating and delivering more online, on-demand types of learning, much of which is based on video and bite-size content for greater retention," he said. "This has made it easier to layer education by using different multilevel content and methods that meet the different learning styles. It is no longer one size fits all."
Accessing educational courses via smartphones has come into prominence, Ruecking said, especially with many students' need to access courses anytime and anywhere.
In Harteveldt's mind, the iPhone and subsequent smartphones have given agents a level technological playing field.
"This is something that democratizes technology for the travel agencies just as the [customer relationship systems] did starting in the 1970s and the internet has done," he said. "Mobile has reached the point where it is affordable, and travel agents can use this to improve their business. They can use it to stay more in touch with their customers. They can use it for self-promotion. ... The agent is able to better manage time and sell more efficiently."