Travel Counsellors has invested £600,000 in a recommendation engine for its Phenix booking platform.
A total of three technology updates were announced at the Travel Counsellors annual conference in Manchester, held from November 15-17: the rebuilding of the My TC customer app; the launch of pre-made itineraries – Phenix Itineraries; and the TC Recommendation Engine.
The first of chief technology officer Rob Snelson’s announcements was a new version of the My TC app, which has been completely rebuilt.
He revealed that 85,000 TC customers have utilised the app, but more than 200,000 have not.
He told TTG: “Adoption rates are on the increase… it’s a hearts-and-minds piece that we’re well on the way to winning.”
Snelson highlighted an 80-year-old customer whose TC had assumed was not a digital native, but when she heard about the app embraced it fully “and is using it on her holiday in Australia”.
He added that there was a financial benefit for TCs in encouraging their customers to utilise the app. For every 100 quotes sent, 18 more will convert to a booking if sent via the app.
Updates to the new app, which is will be submitted to the app store once it’s been ethically hacked for testing, include increased intuitiveness, easier use, resolution improvements, and improvements that take advantage of Apple and other phone companies’ hardware upgrades. The app has also been designed to be native to both Apple and Android, and “all the best features” have been retained.
The second update from Snelson was the development of Phenix Itineraries for Travel Counsellors’ Phenix booking system.
TCs and support staff can build itinerary templates that can be banked and shared.
Snelson said: “Once the TC has found one they want to use, they simply enter in the passenger details and numbers, and dates, and Phenix will find availability in real time, in about 60 seconds.
They can be tailored too.
“We want eventually to be able to make recommendations in a way that leverages all the knowledge of our 1,900 TCs and can generate information about places they’ve perhaps not been to before. We’ve got so much knowledge.
“We’re bringing it all together in a way that doesn’t remove the personal way we do things.”
He added that as well as TCs creating the itineraries, the product team could put something together that takes advantage of an offer, for example.
The final announcement by Snelson was that of the TC Recommendation Engine, whereby properties and other trip elements will be surfaced according to detailed attributes, such as “family”, “romantic” and “boutique”.
Utilising data collected from the Travel Counsellors themselves, the company has invested £600,000 in an engine that generates advanced recommendations.
Snelson described the tools and software used to make the work as “leading edge”, adding a dedicated team had been installed to oversee it.
“We’re extremely excited to be leveraging the power of our community in this way,” he said, adding that that’s what differentiated the technology markedly from any B2C propositions.
“The technology is just doing the heavy lifting,” he said.
The system, launching initially with just hotels next spring, and with flights, ancillaries and other elements added over the remainder of next year, will automatically tag attributes using algorithms Travel Counsellors has built.
The system will be tested with a group of Caribbean specialist TCs.
“The TC response was really positive, but the technology is leading edge and we have to keep it that way,” he said.