Photo: Depositphotos

Back when a real-life travel agent was involved, trip planning had a personal, human touch. These seasoned experts tailored recommendations based on your specific needs as opposed to the masses. However, with the rise of social media and online booking platforms in recent decades, the process of travel planning has become fragmented and largely impersonal. Even as companies recognize the gaps in booking that extend beyond mere transactions, I’ve noticed there are still many moments where that personal, human element can be intentionally integrated to enhance a traveler’s entire experience.

Take the Planning Experience Beyond the Screen

Travelers crave inspiration. According to Expedia Group’s 2023 report, nearly three in five travelers do not have a specific destination in mind when they decide to take a trip. Currently, most travelers — 75% as per American Express’ Global Travel Trends Report — turn to social media for ideas on where to plan their next adventure. Engagement on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube lead us to relevant influencers and communities, where we discover exciting destinations as well as itineraries of like-minded people. We scroll through, save and share these destinations and experiences, only to switch to a siloed platform when it’s time to book.

If travel companies could draw inspiration from social media’s personalized content and apply a human approach to engagement, they’d develop a relationship built on loyalty as early as the idea-sparking phase of trip planning. There’d be less time spent virtually traveling via smartphone feeds and more time embarking on fulfilling adventures.

Moving from Chaos to Coordination

Shared experience is a huge benefit of travel. After all, planning a trip can — and should — be fun, whether you’re setting off on an adventure with friends, family, or even solo. Collaborating with others on ideas and itineraries adds to the excitement and connection we feel when creating a great experience. However, getting on the same page can be a challenge. For example, a friendly golf weekend will likely generate a massive, unwieldy thread on a group text chain or a constantly recirculating spreadsheet that one person has to decipher and update.

Since people spend upwards of three weeks researching and preparing for every one week of travel, why are we still “Flintstone-ing” that key piece of travel planning? Travel companies have an opportunity to deliver a comprehensive, shareable, inspiring trip-planning tool that encompasses everything from one shared calendar and scheduling options to feedback features. The modern traveler is in need of a tech-savvy path to more efficient, enjoyable communication before, during, and after their trip.

Navigating Your Way to Unique Experiences With Support

AI-powered technology has the potential to anticipate and deliver exactly what we, the travelers, want and need. As consumers, most of us already serve up our likes, dislikes, and personal data in exchange for loyalty perks or to unlock a more customized experience. While no one wants to be bombarded by blanket emails or unsolicited promotional messages, we appreciate suggestions that are timely and pertinent to our specific situation.

According to Expedia’s 2023 report, travelers want real examples of other people’s experiences. Online travel platforms, such as, help steer trip planners toward like-minded travelers and destinations. For instance, consider a dad with three soccer-playing daughters headed to Miami. He’d likely benefit from checking out a fellow parent’s family-friendly itinerary for their sports-oriented children. Similarly, newlyweds planning a getaway to Kauai would greatly appreciate a peek at a honeymoon-themed Garden Isle itinerary.

Personalized recommendations can be human-centric, even if they’re generated by an algorithm. Imagine receiving a text message just after boarding a flight to New York City, informing you that a Broadway show now has available tickets. Or, perhaps, thunderstorms are in the forecast and a timely message recommends a shift from outdoor plans to indoor fun. These tips, offers or recommendations don’t have to be complicated. As travelers, we just want to feel special — and to have an insider’s perspective on where to go and what to do.

And when things go wrong, or we just need a little timely advice, travelers need to be able to reach a real person. No one wants a sales pitch, but everyone wants an expert. Providing easy-access support creates an actual human-to-human connection. Travel companies that craft a quality customer support line have the potential to offer that personalized touch.

Online booking has allowed travelers to take an empowering approach to trip-planning, allowing us to find deals and captain our own adventures. As travel moves deeper into the digital realm, the industry has an opportunity to step up its personalized services and adapt to travelers’ expectations of good customer service and experiences that feed the soul.

The online experience has the potential to go beyond booking to curated guidance in a holistic trip-planning package. It’s time to transform the entire booking experience, from start to finish. If the online travel industry can bring all the fragmented pieces of the process together — delivering tailored inspiration, creating shareable trip-planning tools and serving up personal and relevant recommendations and support — it’ll receive more than just the one-time transaction of travelers and cultivate real loyalty.