Travel Office
638 days ago
 

Not dead yet: Why the old school travel agent isn’t going anywhere

NB: This is a guest post by Nico Crisafulli, Social Media Manager at AirTreks.

If you’ve spent any time looking to plan or purchase travel online you probably know what a noisy place it’s all become.

Well-designed, angel-funded websites are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, each clamoring to deliver travel in a way you’ve never seen done before, and mostly patently failing to live up to their own hype.

What a dilemma.

Travel tech has dropped the ball

Since the rise of the “Web 2.0” there has been a significant increase in travel planning tools on the Internet, from taxi fare calculators to itinerary sharing software to automated booking engines, and at the core of each business model is the friendliest user-experience you’ve ever seen.

When you look at the sheer number of sites birthed in the last five years, and there are a lot, you begin to see an alarming trend: that the number is actually inversely proportionate to the ease in which we can get things done on the Web.

It calls to question whether there is simply too much information, too many choices, a sense of overkill that throttles your browsing esprit de corps before you even get to task. I like to call it “click fatigue”.

While the selection of resources online are numerous, hours spent in front of a computer screen does not always equal serious productivity for the end user. At least for me – the more time I spend researching the less likely I am to actually feel good about the time I’ve spent doing it. And while many sites have simplified (and beautified) the process, none have been genuinely effective in smoothing out a complicated trip’s various moving parts, and fewer still can grasp the trip as a whole, which to me is the goal.

A few of these sites claim to take away the painful, old-fashioned methods of planning travel – phone calls, back and forth emails, waiting around while actual people do things – but my experience is that travel consumers are still perfectly content to have those conversations, provided they feel it serves a purpose in the end. A slick UI simply cannot provide the sense of guardianship a human travel agent historically brings to the table.

With respect to the long-term travel niche, a pastime for which there is growing interest, the process of choosing the right place to plan and purchase is typically connected to a deep sense of soul-searching. It’s a process that gravitates toward a knowledgeable expert, as opposed to a team of bearded twenty-something developers that may or may not have any industry experience whatsoever.

Travel is an incredibly personal experience, right down to the act of buying it, and while our overly tech-saturated culture begs us to place our intimacy into the stewardship of a computer algorithm, the idea hasn’t been as quick to be adopted as some of these startups had hoped. Human-to-computer interaction just hasn’t replaced the desire for contextual human guidance, the divine spark so to speak, as part of the planning and booking process, and that doesn’t seem to want to change any time soon.

A recent NYT article stated that “in a recent test of agents versus online search engines, agents won nearly every time…on both price (the objective part of the test) and service (what you might call the essay question). In other words, the agents suggested alternate routes, gave advice on visas and just generally acted, well, more human than their computer counterparts.”

I’m calling it The Matrix Quotient: the overriding mistrust of a computer’s ability to fulfill our needs as travelers.

Perhaps once we’ve been shown that there can be no disruptions in the process, no glitches, bugs, crashes, or 503 errors, once everything works correctly 100% of the time, once the chaff has been separated, the automated booking process will begin to grow on us.

Until then the travel agent will remain uniquely relevant.

Travel tech doesn’t quite get it

As much as the social travel web is varied and diverse, there’s still an obvious disconnect between the media and the person using it. It doesn’t help that the greater majority of web-based travel startups are simply tech companies dressed up at travel services, Johnny-come-latelys created with the idea that if you build it, they will come, pawning off a shiny user-interface as a bona fide travel service.

Do we really have faith that an “if/then” JavaScript statement can provide an experience with our best interests in mind?

I feel it’s why travel consumers aren’t quite ready to go all in and embrace startups as their primary source for planning and purchasing travel. Perhaps it’s because the information is unsatisfactory. Perhaps people are inherently dubious of the choices from a Google SERP.

Maybe people just don’t trust themselves to know what to look for, or that a clear automated front-runner has yet to surface, but one thing is apparent: as enticing as it is to have automatically generated results spread out before you, their reliability remains suspect, and until the typical travel startup recognizes this, success will prove elusive.

The case for non-automation and the longevity of the human equation

Travel is a many-headed beast, something every traveler knows, and every human travel agent never fails to take into account. There’s a deeper complexity to grasp and it requires a 30,000 foot view to see it, a concept that’s extremely difficult to program into a piece of software.

But even as programmers get more adept at building tools to do the heavy lifting, they’re still missing the point. People don’t necessarily want faster, they don’t want prettier, they want better. They want personalization, as opposed to gaily accepting regurgitated lists of results produced by a dense block of source code.

To get their “better,” people will remain incredibly tolerant of the time a travel agent needs to do his work, perhaps due to the fact that they know every extra minute is one more where their needs are being considered.

Gary Belsky from Time.com sums it up perfectly: “For all the benefits and opportunities of online commerce and engagement, there is great comfort to be found in actual one-on-one encounters… particularly those that offer guidance in the face of a wide open field filled with countless options.”

Hey, I’m as much of a tech lover as the next guy, and for every new site that emerges on the scene I get excited because it means we’ve taken another step toward our Eureka moment, that day when someone actually brings to the table a service that can finally and unequivocally connect all the dots.

Until then, we the travel agents will be at your service. We will be standing by.

NB: This is a guest post by Nico Crisafulli, Social Media Manager at AirTreks.

NB 2: Travel office image courtesy of Shutterstock.

 
 
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About the Writer :: Special Nodes

Special Nodes is the byline under which Tnooz publishes articles by guest authors from around the industry.

 

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  1. Michael Hios

    Good and spirited discussion here. There are so many valid points

    Travel Technology has come very far in a very short span of time. I entered the travel industry 9 years ago (from high-tech) and was appalled by the lack of really useful tech at that time.

    Today, some of the best opportunities for new technologies still exist in the travel space because there are still so many unmet needs, the biggest being personalization, fluidity of mixed itineraries, and seamless change management. All of these things are very well handled by a travel agent, which is a big reason why they still exist. The ones who have evolved, but still excel at these things aren’t going anywhere.

    I typically make my own air, car, or hotel arrangements, but when I know there will be complexity or when it comes to my vacation, my trusted agent gets the job, and does it perfectly. I will pay more and I won’t have “instant gratification,” but I will have peace of mind and a enjoyable trip.

     
    • Murray Harrold

      Yes, of course … as long as you have time to make your own arrangements for flights, car and hotels… and it is fairly basic point to point stuff. You would be surprised, though, how many “simple” arrangements can get much more expensive than they need to be … the tech systems make this assumption that you are asking the right questions. Very often, the user does not ask the right question. They may get what looks like the right answer though that is not always the case!

      Further, larger corporations need their travel policed, which we agents do. We know what people are allowed to do, what they can pay for, what and when the person is taking the you-know-what and generally and agent will save a firm a lot of money before they have booked anything.

       
  2. Matt

    In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work with Nico at Airtreks. He is absolutely correct when he says that “one thing the internet is good at doing is separating you from your free time.”

    Businesses and business people love to talk about the time value of money vs. the monetary value of time. The former is often quantified by accountants when calculating factors such as depreciation and the like, but the latter is often overlooked, especially by consumers.

    For most people, planning your own travel is akin to doing your own taxes. If your situation is simple enough, then online channels are probably your quickest, most convenient and cost-effective option. However, as soon as your travel plans (or your taxes) start to become more complicated, then it’s usually to your advantage to consult a professional. It might seem to take longer as you won’t receive the instant gratification of online booking, but it most likely won’t take up much more of your own time as the tax or travel professional will be the one doing most of the work. And as for cost, again the more complicated your taxes or travel plans are, the more likely it is that the tax or travel professional can save you both time and money.

    Finally, as someone who lives in Silicon Valley and who has worked in travel technology and consulted with several startups over the past decade, I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that far too many of them are not simply focused of product, they’re outright dismissive of anyone or anything that’s ever been associated with their respective industries, travel or otherwise. Unfortunately there’s such an emphasis on buzzwords like “disruption” in this environment, especially when VC dollars are at stake. Look at Uber, which is facing huge legal battles in Chicago because it would like to pretend that laws governing livery there simply don’t exist, or Airbnb, half of whose listings in New York City are apparently illegal. These are not isolated incidents, and they are not minor. Furthermore, for every successful business such as Uber and Airbnb that you do hear about, especially in the travel industry, there are dozens of more that failed because its tech-focused founders had no idea about issues that they deemed to be trivial, such as fraud, customer service, license to use external content or the hidden costs of distribution infrastructure.

     
  3. Ankit Bhargava

    You hit the nail in head

    I completely agree that the process of planning and buying Travel online has started to see the downside pretty quickly now.

    Lets not compare the phase when there were only handful Mammoths in Online Travel Space, there is no dearth of the solutions/services these days and therefore the level of trust and commitment into the buyer has taken a toll. The web is full of complaints not only about the small time OTA/supplier setups but also the large OTAs who have billion Dollar reputation.

    From my experience atleast in Indian Market, people feel more comfortable entering into a purchase relationship ones they have had a human interaction, no matter if its for the consultation or just to establish a contact. The conversion in that case is much higher than conversion rate of completely online process.

    Why do OTAs like MakemyTrip (Indian Company) have huge Call Centers?

    v/s

    Why not despite of capturing a good marketshare in India, Booking.Com and Agoda.Com still do not encourage any telephonic contacts?

    Probably with time, we are approaching a true Click & Mortar model which will comfort the Travellers to not only plan and purchase their travel online but would make it a way of life.

     
  4. Holidays Please

    Our business (Holidaysplease) was formed 10 years ago by a high street travel agent combining with an internet business. With a foot in both camps we deal with this subject on a daily basis!

    We quickly found that for anything more than simple holidays (flight only, weekend breaks etc..) the consumer often seeks the reassurance of speaking to a human being.

    This is often to get expert advice (as the article points out) but I think it’s also a question of trust and reassurance. Holidays are often the biggest spend that a consumer will make in a year and they want to know that if something goes wrong that there is real person to help them sort it out. Often the best way to test the fortitude of a company’s customer care system is to pick up the phone and speak to them before they place the booking.

    I am not saying it will always be like this but I think the trust element is still a big factor and is still helping to persuade consumers to choose a more “traditional” way of booking their holiday.

     
  5. Psycho

    Well, in every era of “machines rise” there’ll be a dream of warm and cozy human care. There always will be some kind of luddites who will try to prove the human advantages. And definitely there are some advantages. And travel agents won’t be gone, I guess. They’ll have to become more like destination experts who will make travel planning easier – not just selling package tours to a places they don’t know of.

    So in fact, it’s the same degree of automatization as in any other sphere – those who can do only the things that computers can will find another job. That’s what progress is all about.

    Oh, and refering to the number of websites that “create noise”. You know, internet allows anyone to speak his point of view or to show what he thinks travel is about. Sometimes it looks crazy but anyway we need number of startups and experiments to make online travel experience better. Partly it is discussed in “Startups stop trying to be sexy” – http://www.tnooz.com/2013/01/31/news/travel-startups-stop-trying-to-be-sexy/ (see my comment about “professional dilettantes, for example).

     
  6. Stuart McD

    I largely agree with the author. I’m no travel agent, but I answer travel planning questions every freakin day, questions like this:

    http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/indochina/21018_mad-itinerary-with-5-people

    I don’t mean to link drop but its a valid question from an Irish Mum with a family of five whose itinerary is completely stark raving mad (as I pointed out to her).

    You cannot save these mad people with JavaScript.

    Sorry, you just can’t. And we see questions like this every single day.

    I would imagine High Street agents have lost some of the “7-days is Lanzarote” trade to the web, as, lets face it, it’s pretty brainless stuff & the agents made good while they could, but the low hanging fruit is getting harder to reach. A lot of this stuff requires in country knowledge, or at worst, connections to said knowledge.

    Good travel agents have this stuff.

    Now please feel free to go help my Irish friend.

     
    • Murray Harrold

      All very valid. The itinerary is bonkers. It is the same when we have to tell people that the holiday to Dubai in August may be cheap … but why they will not be spending much time on the beach, sunbathing. Or the “Yes, the holiday seems perfect but the aircraft toilet door is not quite the right shade of blue” effect …. and, and.

      If you have a potential booking that you know is a disaster in waiting, give your reasons and politely decline it. …. or suggest they book it online.

       
  7. Murray Harrold

    It’s odd. Airline commission went, what? 10 years ago? Since then, it is not the travel agent who has failed to adapt, it is many airlines and travel tech. In those 10 years, agents have changed dramatically and when techys criticise agents, they are criticising the agents of 10 or more years ago, not the ones of today. Travel tech, however, has failed to progress at all. It is still producing new variations on the theme of booking a flight, or a hotel or a holiday. True, it has brought some extra features into play such as (yet another) way of presenting holiday snaps or (yet another) way of presenting a booked itinerary… but as to any significant advances, nothing. (I am talking about customer facing systems, not tour operating or back office systems)

    Online systems have their uses and yes, a very simple point to point booking may be be better made online. Anything else, one is a fool to rely on online booking – unless one is very wealthy, of course.

    The reason why agents are doing very well is mentioned above. Agents police bookings for many firms – but are able to temper that policing function with common sense. Client firms pay their executives (and, in turn their PA’s) to land multi-million dollar deals. They do not pay them to spend hours trying to work out the best way to get from Boston to Beijing. There is another reason “the best” way – not “the cheapest” and by best, I mean the “best value” way. By determining what is best value, many factors have to be taken into account including times of meetings, importance (even) of meetings – a different approach may be taken with a travel event if the person has to hit the ground running to conclude a big number deal than to someone who is attending a conference in a few days time. As I have often said,in travel, when you go to make a booking, 98% of all opportunities to save money on the travel budget have been lost. Another 1% is invariably lost because the booking has been done online.

    Stuart mentions another vital point. Agents are there when things go tits-up (don’t know if that is quite the right expression) It is at that time when more is needed than a contact number which may or may not be available, may or may not be open and which may or may not be able to deal with an issue. Tech is very good at saying “You have a problem” it is hopelessly at then saying “… and this is what is being done about it”. Agents are there. Good agents are always there. Even if we cannot do anything (the ash cloud springs to mind) you would be surprised how many clients were just happy to have someone one the other end of the line who knew them, knew their problem and with whom they could have some empathy. True, many online outfits have call centres – but it is not quite the same, is it?

    When it comes to fixing issues, then you really need a well rounded, holistically trained agent who can think around a problem, take on board the nature of the travel (and the ticket) and the issues and provide a solution. All this, done with a very harassed client on the other end, perhaps with a tenuous link on a mobile telephone – Oh! And the wifi is down …

    Nope, for the new breed of agent, the future is very bright. For tech and online bookings, unless one can produce something that is not yet another re-hash of what is gone before – start looking for another job.

     
  8. ROLFE SHELLENBERGER

    There is one big change now being ignored by many comments. Airline ticket sales commissions will probably disappear. Airlines don’t seem to have faith that travel agencies will bring them new customers. In fact, just like websites, e.g., Kayak, etc, agencies tend to corrupt airline messages by always promising their clients not the best trip, but instead, the lowest fare. New carriers trying to get a foothold use “lowest fare” as their mantra.

    All in all, that’s a good thing for casual buyers who are afraid to. or too busy to, look at a host of options when they plan to go somewhere. They will gladly pay an agency to find “best value” rather than “lowest fare.” And that’s where agencies will find a pot of gold.
    Rolfe Shellenberger

     
  9. Derrick Bloch

    James – speaking purely for myself, I haven’t been in a High Street location in 15 years. I work from my laptop wherever I happen to be, and I do just fine without customers who don’t see the value in what I – and many others like me – do.
    I also know of many High Street agencies that do very well too, despite your not seeing the point, despite your not having been in a High Street agency for 10 years
    I accept your point of view as being valid for your own situation. It’s valid for thousands of others too There are many many thousands of travelers who choose not to agree with you
    I ripped out and installed a whole new kitchen in my home. I could have used the services of a professional. I chose not to, but my contractor buddy is not going out of business
    It’s a matter of personal preference decideding from whom to buy, but believe me, New School travel advisors are not going away
    Now I have to ask myself – why am I defending my profession against opinions that aren’t going to change????

     
  10. James

    I’ve not used a travel agent in over 10 years. Don’t see the point, the High Street TA is as dead a Dodo. I’ve been in plenty of times but always found better deals and better information online.

    A little bit of research, shopping around and making your own arrangements, it’s all part of the fun.

    It’s hardly rocket science.

     
  11. Stephanie

    There is no doubt that the internet has changed the travel industry and those who did not adapt were kicked to the curb. Clients now come to us more educated with an idea of what they want. We have a deep knowledge of the destinations and products; so much that it blows people away. A one hour meeting with me can save a traveller heaps of time on the internet. As they say, ‘time is money’.

    I recognize not everyone is a client for the travel agency format (such as Danny). There are many people that like that do-it yourself format and this is reflected in many other industry such as home renovations and real estate sales. To them, I say, “go for it and good luck”. It only takes one time to get burned by installing the wrong drywall to step back and say, “why am I doing this to myself?”.

    Service and techology can work hand in hand. For the people that still understand and appreciate the service industries, we will be here.

     
  12. Derrick Bloch

    There’s space in the market for both the web and high-touch agents (like myself). A certain portion of the population will always turn to agents who know what they are talking about. Compare to setting up a corporation through LegalZoom compared to working through an accountant. There is stuff that web just doesn’t know because it is a machine
    The online marketing folks have done a wonderful job of persuading the public that if it’s on the web it must be cheaper, and it must be true – because it’s on the web
    When someone says to me I can get it for less on the web, I say “go for it” – I have nor problem with that.
    But when someone asks me “how do you compete with web?” I tell them that the web can’t compete with me – in what I do – and that’s the key
    I would add just one more remark regarding the title of the article “Old School Agents Aren’t Going Anwywhere” – that is so true. They’re stuck in Old School ruts. New School agents have adapted and specialized and developed niches, and are very very successful, and will continue to be

     
  13. Stuart

    Enjoyable piece as per Nico

    @David “On the other hand, our company has transformed over the last few decades from a single office, to multiple brick and mortars, to a mixture of the two, to now a completely online model supported by real travel professionals around the world.”

    Yup that sounds very familiar :) And makes me think that most new-stylee TA’s (and I exclude business TAs) have evolved into almost quasi Tour Operators (in the UK sense)

    I have also been thinking about what that very special node Alex Bainbridge said last night on Twitter

    “RT @alexbainbridge: @hurrymurray The argument should be about cost of adding the value vs valued added, not whether any value added @MrStuartLodge @AirTreks”

    Now there’s the rub. Is the future of a travel agency intrinsically linked to efficiency and by extension scale. I wonder. Or are there other dynamics at play? Maybe what TA’s should be (and are) doing, and as both Alex and Nico on Tnooz and on Twitter, is to play to our, human, strengths.ie Experience, Knowledge, ability to help when things go tits up, Knowledge of emerging deals, overall cost.

    ps Did a study last year on my company vs KAYAK when it comes to RTWs
    http://www.roundtheworldflights.com/rtw-blogs/index.php/rtw-planning/getting-ready/roundtheworldflightscom-vs-kayak.html

    Might do another one soon on other online services soon. Bout time there was a little balance back in the world. Right sod this. I’m off to the pub before I die or, ahem, have to look for another job..
    Laters
    Stu

     
  14. Mike Thiel

    A really well-written and thoughtful piece. The web surely offers some fantastic research and planning tools and has its place when planning relatively simple travel but looses it when you get to the niches, complex travel plans, and especially travel where the nuances of the experience, and in fact the overall experience, are paramont. Witness that every major OTA site funnels you in through the questions “Where do you want to go?” “When do you want to go?” and not “What kind of experience are you looking for?”

    There is certainly a place for both channels of travel planning but, in the case of savvy upscale travelers looking for unique leisure travel experiences, there’s nothing quite like taking advantage of experts, preferably ones who’ve “been there, done that,” who can take care of all the details, and follow up on any issues that arise. I think a quote from a client/member of our travel club (www.Hideaways.com) recently returning from a trip we planned for them sums it up well: “I used to think that my vacations were just fine, but after returning from this one you just planned for me, they were purgatory and this was heaven.”

    People don’t generally complain that their vacation wasn’t good or fun, but then the average or infrequent traveler probably doesn’t have a broad basis for comparison and may not know what they were/are missing. I’m reminded of a personal experience. Due to a glitch in travel plans, I was forced to stay a night at a well known, major chain hotel on Cable Beach in Nassau (name omitted to protect the guilty). It was perhaps one of our poorest travel experiences in recent memory and we noted lots of shortcomings in facilities and services. On return, I checked its ratings on TripAdvisor. It got mostly 4-stars, with many people raving about it and only a few picking up on what we observed. It made me wonder how many people are misguided by the hype they read online. Incidentally, as a professional in the hotel/resort review business, I never provide reviews/ratings to Trip Advisor, but in this instance I did . . . and they never posted it, which I found interesting/telling.

    Unfortunately, as pointed out by one commentator above, finding companies and expert agents who can provide custom travel planning is getting more and more difficult as the overall travel business has become more competitive. However, I do agree with the thesis of the guest article that there will always be a place for them in the travel business.

     
    • Nico

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Mike. It’s true that the Internet and people who love to use it are never going away, and to hold onto the delusion that people will somehow put down their iPads to return in mass to sit in travel agencies is naive at best. I don’t think anyone actually believes this.

      The article was written in essence to point out that many people, even those that were raised on internet, will decide that their time is more valuable than their money. Because one thing the internet is good at doing is separating you from your free time.

      My point was to emphasize the role of the human equation in the travel planning and booking process, which is, as many pointed out above, to take the problem of recognizing and securing loose ends off the end user. No matter how slick and quick websites get there is a certain comfort in knowing you’re being taken care of by someone that actually knows what their doing.

      Perhaps even in our lifetimes, software will become advanced enough to think like a human, but until that day comes, provided they can adapt, I don’t think travel consultants don’t need to worry too much about their jobs.

       
  15. Nate

    I seriously didn’t read the article.

    The future is very clear – just project the last few years into the future.

    Working at an old school travel agent?

    Start looking for a new job.

     
  16. Dino

    Did I just read that on’line is a fad?

    There are some good points on both sides of the argument here and the truth lies somewhere in the middle as some of you have already indicated. Not only can consumers find everything they need online, but many enjoy the process. I’m not just talking about booking flights and accommodations, but exploring the customs and culture of the place a traveler wants to visit. it’s very exciting, much more than having a travel agent give you the options. But maybe there is a roll for both in all this.

    The last time I used a travel agent I had a layover in the mid-west and missed my flight. The travel agent called me before I called him and he had already booked me on a new connecting flight. I think there’s a role for agents, but it’s going to continue to be much smaller and specialized. Technology just has too many advantages.

     
    • nigel

      And there’s the point. The agent who helped you by anticipating the problem and booking your new connecting flight no doubt used technology to alert them to the problem and react to serve you. So you’re absolutely right, there will be agents, there may be fewer of them, but the ones that survive will be the ones who take full advantage of the new technology.

       
      • Murray Harrold

        Yes, we use technology. Such information generally comes through on the GDS as a “Q” …. (as it has done since the late 80′s) . It’s the same technology we use to “react” with.

        …. but with the new technology, one now, very often, has to wait until you get an irritated client telephoning from an airport terminal ….

         
  17. Corinne McDermott

    Danny, old school travel agents don’t need to be found in a “bricks & mortar” shop. As an agent and family travel specialist, I can provide personalized attention and a level of service that no website can (even my own!) and the families I book for know I have their back should anything go awry. I doubt a tech start-up can instill that kind of confidence in a young family going on their first family vacation.

     
  18. Danny

    This is wishful thinking by someone who desperately wants to cling to the ways of the past and refuses to see the handwriting on the wall. Just look at the numbers of on-line vs. off-line bookings! And the trend is accelerating as a key TA-customer segment of the population ages and is replaced by a generation of people who grew up with computers and the Internet and who don’t see the added value of dealing with a real person in a brick-and-mortar shop.

    Nor is the alternative to the cold and impersonal computer screen an incredibly skilled, personable, warm, and knowledgeable human being who has all the answers to the customer’s questions. To be sure, such people exist, but on average one finds average people — just like in any other industry. And, also like everywhere else, standards are sinking.

    A very large number of agencies have already gone out of business, and many more will follow because at the end of the day, for a huge majority of customer needs, anything an agent can do I can do better: just give me a decent Internet connection.

    Whether I like this trend or not is not the question. In fact, there is no more question. Reality is out there for everyone to see. Those who refuse to wake up and smell the mustard will only have themselves to blame.

     
    • Nick Vivion

      Nick Vivion

      Danny

      I can see the truth of what you say, but I do think as the world becomes even more connected – and screens permeate evermore – there will be a significant portion of people that would rather pay someone else to do their travel for them. These people will be mostly highly educated, affluent and well-traveled, while OTAs will continue to be for the more price-sensitive.

      I call this trend “techno-luddism” and it refers to people who choose when and where to make technology work for them, rather than just bestowing “cure all” status on all technological solutions. These are the folks that are simultaneously in touch with the world around them and the utility of modern-day technological solutions.

      I for one am part of said generation that has grown up with computers, and I completely see how travel agents will survive into the future. Granted, it will be a much smaller industry, but they are going to be some travel agents (smaller, nimble, more connected and aware) that will thrive among these new techno-luddites.

      N

       
    • Philip

      Actually Danny you are wrong. The reason web bookings are up is that is also the way that travel agencies book a large part of their travel. The internet is today’s phone…its not a travel agent vs internet discussion. There is no question that for simple things such as A – B flights you can do that yourself. And if you are in a job (such as some government positions) where you can spend hours researching your trip yourself…you can do a pretty good job. But to think you can do a better job that someone who has been professionally trained and has the experience is foolish. Travel agents (or consultants is a better term) have more resources, more skills and more connections and contacts all over the globe than any non travel professional would have. And that of course makes sense because that is their job. But like any profession…there are good lawyers and bad lawyers, good accountants and bad accountants there are also good travel consultants and bad ones. Find yourself a good travel consultant and not only will they save you money, they will save you loads time & energy and in the end you’ll have a much better vacation. And if something goes wrong – hotel reservation missing upon arrival, flight cancellations, insurance claim issues – you have someone working for you to help you through this before, during and after your trip. And if its ever happened to you then you know you you can’t put a value on that..

       
    • Ken

      Danny-You’re misguided….there will always be a role for TA’s…people are spending too much time on-line currently, as it is still a fad…the smart ones will get a life, and spend their time on something worthwhile-actually getting some exercise perhaps…Smart consumers want to talk to a professional, whether it be a lawyer, accountant, travel professionial or whatever…know it-allsthat have nothing better then to surf the interweb are usually loser clients nobody wants..in the meantime, Danny, keep buying your facebook stock and dreaming that another Y2K scam is on the way…..

       
    • David Anderson

      Good article, there is one big difference between old school travel agent and new travel agent though, which is the level of change they have put into place over the past decade. My favorite definition of innovation is changing before you have to. Many “old school” TA’s didn’t innovate, or when they did, it was too late. On the other hand, our company has transformed over the last few decades from a single office, to multiple brick and mortars, to a mixture of the two, to now a completely online model supported by real travel professionals around the world.

      Customers can do everything online, but when it comes to planning your once a year vacation that you’ve saved up all year for, many realize the value of a professional who can help you before, during and after you take your vacation. We hear dozens of horror stories of families who relied on Uncle Ned to book their vacation, only to have a big problem overseas with no one to call.

      For us – Business is not only thriving, it’s accelerating rapidly.

      David

       
    • Drew Meyers

      “anything an agent can do I can do better: just give me a decent Internet connection.”

      I strongly disagree with this statement. That would be the same as someone saying, “anything a seo expert can do I can do better: just give me a decent Internet connection.” Which is total BS. If you’re willing to spend 20, 30, 40 hours learning it all…sure. But that’s simply not realistic.

       
    • Adam Johnson

      Just having a read of the top 2013 articles and came across this. While valid arguments are made by all, I’m inclined to support Danny’s comments for two reasons, one expounded upon, the other not.

      True the travel agent has a shelf life that will sustain them into the future, but as others have already alluded to, the quality and quantity is eroding and this will mark their demise. Travel agent salaries are deplorable. School leavers and graduates have better things to do in the age of information than pursuing a career in retail tele sales. While it’s still possible to find a good travel agent, (you might already have one), on average they last about two years before reality sets in. They could be good at their job, but they’re time in the industry is unreliable.

      Brand marketers drive consumer-direct traffic which then receives affirmation through reviews. Ultra high end consumers travel increasingly on the recommendations of peers. A travel agent can not offer a better depth of advice than the myriad of bonafide reviews. It used to be that every affluent traveller with ample disposable income had a friend who “knows a guy”. Increasingly it’s a website they’ve been referred to supported by positive reviews. They may not have time to research themselves, but they are more than ready to lend an ear to a recommendation from a trustworthy peer who knows them and is more well-travelled and demand-savvy than the poorly experienced and (notably) poorly equipped travel agent.

      There is some spirited support for travel agents here. Desperation lends strength. You’re only immortal for a limited time. A few do the job well, but most are very unorganized, even more don’t like their jobs very much. And while the purely online industry is not capable of ‘caring’ in the traditional sense, it’s immune to and entirely better than using an agent who just doesn’t.

       
  19. Ladislav Hatyina

    :) nice/sentimental! The question is in deed, how long till “travel tech really gets it”, till it gets “the deep sense of soul seraching”… Not long any more!
    Well writte though!

     
    • Tom Smith

      We are not dead. Travel Agents provide a valuable service. You just have to realize the value and the value for your travel dollar. If you don’t ….hey forget it.

       
 
 

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