TMC apps – the consultants’ view

Despite a great deal of discussion, most local agencies have not yet developed an app for their clients. Sue van Winsen looks into this and other technology-related trends. 

Despite the huge hype around travel apps, most travel agencies have not invested in developing one for their clients. This is according to the latest travel app survey conducted by TAM’s sister publication, TNW, which discovered that just 33% of respondents worked for an agency that provides its clients with access to an app, while 67% did not. 

High usage

Of the 33% that did provide access to an app, usage was fairly high. Just under half of agents (46%) said most of their clients used the app, while 45% said a few of their clients did. Those companies that have apps only introduced them fairly recently – with 52% stating that their app was launched less than a year ago. 24% of respondents said their app was launched between one and two years ago, while a further 24% said their app was launched more than two years ago. The most eager adopters of travel apps are corporate travellers, followed by leisure travellers. In terms of demographics, millennials and young travellers were cited as the most likely to use the app, followed by families and senior travellers. 

Mixed feelings

Travel consultants who work for agencies without apps seem to be on the fence when it comes to the usefulness of the technology. When asked whether they thought their clients would find an app useful, the majority (67%) said “maybe – it’s a nice-to-have”. But 21% said they thought an app was essential, and just 12% felt apps were unnecessary. Most respondents weren’t privy to their agency’s plans to develop an app, with 47% stating they didn’t know whether their company would be developing one in the future. A further 38% said their agency had no plans to develop an app, while just 15% said their company would be launching one in the future. 

Essential features

When asked which app features would be most useful to their clients, the majority said flight status updates, followed by security risk notifications and access to travel documents like e-tickets, quotations and invoices. Less important features included travel vouchers, itineraries, maps and quoting facilities. The least requested features were live chat facilities, image libraries and pop-ups for add-ons. Consultants also included a few other features in their wishlists. One said she would find it useful to have an agency service rating, another asked for time zone info, and one consultant said she would eventually love a travel app that enabled clients to make changes to their flights and ground services.

While travel apps may not be playing as big a role as some may have imagined, according to Aadil Esack, product and marketing manager of XL Travel, it’s still essential that TMCs play in this space. “The question regarding functionality is key though – is your app simply another portal to transact (e.g. an online booking tool), or does it provide the end user with actual, valuable information? This was a key factor when deciding on the features of our app, XLGO,” he says.

This was reiterated by Robyn Christie, gm of Travelport Southern Africa, who said the recent launch of the XLGO application was an indication of Travelport customers’ appetite to make the most of the latest technologies.

Getting the balance right is something that Travel Counsellors has also considered. Michelle Bullmore, marketing manager: South Africa of Travel Counsellors, says the launch of the Travel Counsellors app was based on the business principle of using technology to enhance agents’ personal relationships with customers.

“Technology might make the world go around but nothing can replace a personal relationship and that’s why Travel Counsellors created a free app that is a virtual extension of our agents,” she says.

“We are continuously investing in the app and adding new enhancements that will improve the customer experience.  There is an increasing amount of competition arising from the Internet, and it is vital we provide our Travel Counsellors with the technology tools to help them win more business and to compete in the industry,” adds Michelle.

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