Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travel "Agents"

The role of a travel agent is well established. Consumer's often need someone who can guide them towards a purchase that will satisfy their travel needs. With the advent of the world wide web, this role has to some extent been cannibalized by online shopping sites that provide consumers with the same power a fully connected travel agent has in terms of shopping for and finding deals. And yet we've also lost something. Nothing beats having and expert assist you with a difficult decision. Searching for and purchasing travel on sites like Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz can be frustrating and although they try, the shopping experience remains daunting unless you know exactly what you are looking for. Surely you are familiar with the scenario. You search, find a good price, attempt to purchase, and it's suddenly unavailable. Returning to the search page you try several more dates only to see things get worse. I believe this can be better.

Normally the traveler has a set of parameters that frame their travel needs. Instead of entering these over and over, once per search, imagine defining them once, and asking an agent (of the software variety) to begin searching for results that meet your specifications. This seems so obvious you may wonder why it hasn't happened already. The answer is that the current leaders in online travel depend on you visiting their site. Advertisers cannot target software agents, they want real eyeballs on their ads. This Spring I'll be blogging about software agents and online travel, and what needs to occur for that to become a viable way to dream, plan, and purchase travel on the internet. In the mean time, I have taken a stab at what technologies may enable agent based travel search.