July 17, 2012 at 3:40 PM ET
As a travel agent of just two years’ standing, Debbie Newcomer may not have a long history in the business but she’s got a good handle on its future: With software and smartphones enabling people to do much of their travel planning themselves, agents must adapt or die.
For Newcomer — yes, that’s her real name — that reality prompted her to create All Resort Search, a mobile app that helps users find all-inclusive resorts that offer the specific amenities they want.
“Customers would say, ‘I want to go to an all-inclusive resort and I would like it to have premium drinks, be adults-only and not require wristbands,’” said the Houston-based agent. “To try and find that information on the Internet themselves can be really hard.”
Seeing a need, she figured an app could facilitate the process. She sent out hundreds of e-mails to resorts, built a 30,000-entry database that cross-referenced more than 500 resorts and 50 amenities and hired a local high-school senior to design the app.
Total investment: Four to five months and $3,000.
The app organizes resorts under multiple buttons, including "general information" (location, resort type, etc.), "food" (number of restaurants, room service, etc.), "recreation" (kayaking, scuba diving, etc.) and "additional information" (Internet access, clothing optional, etc.).
Tap the screen to select your preferred amenities and the app will return a list of the resorts that fit your criteria; tap one and it will connect you to the resort’s official website.
“The idea is to spend less time on the computer,” said Newcomer, “and more time on the beach.”
And, quite possibly, less time in travel agents’ offices, which is unlikely to please more traditional members of the industry who have seen their roles eroded by the exponential growth of online travel.
“Travel agents have been getting beat up by the online travel industry for years,” said Matt Zito, an online travel business consultant. But, he said, the answer is not to bemoan the state of affairs but to accept the inevitability of change, offer unique products and services and provide value to customers.
“With technology, there are always new opportunities,” he told msnbc.com. “Here’s a travel agent who has seen the future and said, ‘I’m going to create my own business.’ Kudos to her.”
Currently available for Android devices, All Resort Search sells for $4.99.
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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