(photo credit)

Can an Uber for travel agents revive a sinking ship?

In travel’s heyday, travel agents were living large, but today they live on the endangered species list and travelers suffer as a result

A long, long, long time ago (especially if you are a Millennial) all travel was booked face to face or over a telephone that was hooked to a wall. Visiting a travel agent’s office filled with its colorful destination posters was both inspiring and exciting. You were planning a vacation! And making those travel arrangements with an agent was a very customized experience. Just imagine in case you don’t recall; a real person was sitting there to assist you with all your travel needs and answer all of your location specific questions. In fact, back then you could have the agent make all of the arrangements for the entire trip (flight, hotel, activities, tickets to events, restaurant reservations, et.). Looking back, it was almost the ultimate user experience and it was all driven by the act of consumers simply engaging with people who specialized in knowing as much as they could about travel.

(photo credit 1) From San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive (photo credit 2)

To be honest, I barely remember those days, but some of my earliest travel memories were of flying on Southwest airlines from Dallas-to-Lubbock to visit my grandparents. I can still vividly remember the orange and yellow colors of the Southwest brand, the smell of eaten peanuts in the air (maybe some cigarette smoke too), and the beauty of an iced cold Dr. Pepper washing down my throat. Boy, those were the days — the flights served free food, the passengers dressed up in their best clothes, and the flight attendants were not only way more professional than what you’ll find today, they were hot! In those days, being a travel agent was a desired profession, but those were the days.

Southwest Airlines Website- 1999 (photo credit)

We all know what happened next, the internet was invented. Slowly, like dinosaurs stuck in tar pits, the travel industry scrambled for years to figure out how to take advantage of the web. Some companies, like Southwest, took the transition literally, by turning its brick and mortar establishment into a website — at least graphically. If you recall (after waiting 3 minutes for your modem to connect you) the first Southwest website actually looked like a ticket desk at an airport. It was as simple as it could get. Looking back, maybe it wasn’t the greatest design approach, but at the time I remember it as being innovative and functional.

Many entrepreneurs saw the slowness of airlines and travel agents to engage emerging digital channels as a huge opportunity, and today you know them well and probably use their products and apps weekly, if not daily. Sites such as Google, Kayak, Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and many others changed the travel landscape forever by bringing the ability to book travel into our homes. Within seconds or minutes, anyone who had access to the internet could find prices to travel almost anywhere, and book it themselves without ever talking to, much less meeting with anyone in person. It was a damn revelation for those who were tired of dealing with the fees of an inflated travel agent industry.

And over the course of 10 years, that once very personalized experience of working with a travel agent or customer service representative shifted to what it is now — engaging with digital storefronts where all that matters is the self service aspect, the speed in which you obtain the best prices, and deals on flights or hotels. Most of the inspiration and excitement driven by those tropical beach posters is gone. That ala carte human touch is lost, replaced with the lame satisfaction of knowing that you can now view every flight to any destination and get the best price possible. We lost our way in fulfilling the vision of technology by removing humans from the equation.

I want someone live to reach out to in a pinch on my iPad. I want a real person to give me some tried and true restaurant recommendations, or golf course recommendations, and then book the associated reservations and tee times for me. But I can’t, at least not in pinch. Back to square one.

But are we? With the advent of sharing services like Uber, AirBnB, Car2Go and more, our travel world is changing, and quickly for the better. Technology is now advanced enough to provide us with the tools to once again allow us to engage with real people in the digital manner we choose without having to meet in-person or pick up the phone. Ala carte travel booking service is now available, in addition to that important 24 x 7 customer service aspect for emergencies, or just those general questions about finding the best playground for kids in London, for example. And the tool making it possible now is called Higgy. He is going to bring the sexy back to travel by merging all of our brilliant technological innovation with humans.

Higgy, short for Higgins, will soon be at your service, launching in beta in the later half of 2016. Please check out our Kickstarter page to learn how you can help us get Higgy through his development cycle. It takes a community to raise an app! Here’s a short video for your perusal. We are always looking for user feedback, so don’t hesitate to comment or get in touch with us.

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