As the saying goes, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" and despite the never-ending debate surrounding technology's impact on the survival of the traditional travel agent, a new tool is aiming to make a marriage between the two viable and profitable.It's called The Travel Valet, a pocket travel adviser coming soon to a smartphone near you. The app was built to connect agents with their clients' mobile devices, offering a comprehensive search tool, a wealth of travel product, and communications platforms so both parties can quickly and easily interact with each other. It's a hybrid solution between online booking and traditional travel distribution, allowing travel agents to finally leverage new consumer behaviours to work in their favour."It's the fastest way to start the research process that I've ever seen," said Ryan McElroy, Chief Awesome Officer & co-founder. "It's really one part Instagram, one part Uber, and one part Expedia to a certain degree because there is the inventory. It runs the gamut of all the technology currently being used in the marketplace.""The Travel Valet is the platform itself, just like Facebook or Twitter," he explained. "The agent will promote themselves - Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or download me at The Travel Valet. The consumer goes on, puts in the agent's name, and it automatically connects the consumer and their agent together."From there on out, when clients open the app, they're "basically in the ecosystem of the agent.
McElroy and his business partner, Ericson Smith, recognized the need for travel agents to find a mobile solution, which typically meant a $50,000 - $100,000 investment in building an app, plus continual development and maintenance.The new alternative? "Purchase from Travel Valet, which is constantly evolving and improving, and provides the content as well. The barrier to entry is very limited - our customers are looking for a mobile solution and we can provide them a customized, out of the box solution that is a fit for their customers, whether they're 19 or 75," McElroy said.It's not by accident that the system is very simple to use, as they see that a large part of the travel agent population isn't necessarily tech savvy.So for example, when a client sends an instant message to his or her agent through the app, the agent will receive said request via e-mail so it doesn't disrupt workflow."There is no disruption, there's no learning curve; it has to be that simple," he said. "Like Instagram, Facebook - they are elegantly simple, and that's what we've built. We needed to be able to build something that new entrants to the industry at 25 can use, and someone who has been in the industry for 35 years can use."Select agents are currently testing the product across North America, and an official launch is scheduled for the end of August.The initial strategy is focusing on "Mary, the travel agent," as McElroy puts it - in other words, the everyday consultant instead of the overarching consortiums."We'll eventually have conversations with them but we need to focus on Mary and her consumer," McElroy said. "If we keep that dead focus, everyone will be a winner...We just wanted to keep our focus so strategic in helping Mary generate business through the application and then everything else will take care of itself from there."It will be an SAS business model - software as a service - with a monthly fee likely ranging from $12 to $20 per month. A 'Best Practices' guide is in development to help agents understand how to acquire customers via the app, how to use social media in the process, and to give direction in getting a mobile strategy up and running.Extending to traveller experience, The Travel Valet will also have the ability for travellers to connect in-destination, sharing favourite places such as restaurants or nightclubs. They can also book excursions on-location via the app, which means more benefit to their travel agent.For more information, click here.