human talking
1485 days ago
 

Six reasons why travel technology fails and agents do not

NB: This is a guest post by Murray Harold, a homeworking business travel agent from Buckinghamshire, UK.

I recently read a travel website’s splurge about a system designed to fill vacant seats. It allows the integration of low cost and legacy airlines, which gives agents, consortia (who are made up of, I guess, agents) and airlines to offer “more” cheaper fares.

Looking deeper into the site’s information I found that the people involved had notable backgrounds in finance, technology and most other disciplines.

And yes, a person with “20 years travel industry experience”. Dig deeper. “After learning the ropes…” Ah! After that, one had spent most their time with airlines, GDS systems, projects, etc.

That may be travel-related but it is not travel. If someone has really spent 20 years “in travel”, we agents understand that as 20 years at the coalface – on the counter, headset on and glued to the green-screen. That’s 20 years travel experience.

Granted, we do have some clever technology these days.

In fact, some of it I find very helpful in making day-to-day bookings – Google Earth, for example, or Expedia.

The former is great for looking up hotels, relative to where my client is going for an appointment , while the latter saves an awful lot of time searching consolidated fares, trying to guess routings as well as providing a useful reassurance if a fare on a particular itinerary just does not feel right.

human talking

But there are a few things travel technology has missed, and here are some of them:

1. Websites cannot distinguish between “cheap” and “best value”.

There is a major difference. I often see cheap fares presented for itineraries that I have to develop. What I have to do, though, is to weigh up the consequences of that cheap fare and present this to the client.

Long layovers may be involved, the trip may last 26 hours rather than 11 or there may be tenuous connections. A website’s consideration is based on price alone.

My consideration is based on: “Given that my client may have to pay $2,000, how can I make sure that every $1 of that $2,000 gives the maximum possible return for my client?

2. Websites do not understand the client.

It is now easy enough to go on to a pudding – sorry, metasearch – website and pull up a selection of itineraries. The client can then choose for themselves what they want.

The thing is, the client does not, very often, know what they are letting themselves in for.

There have been many instances when I have been called by my client who has booked their own flights only to be asked to find them something which does not involve airline X or airline Y, and “no more sitting around for hours”, and “what’s all this with not getting any lunch?”

A wry smile (good job it’s on the telephone) lightens the face. A good travel agent knows what their client will put up with and what they won’t. A website does not.

3. Websites are not pro-active.

So websites do not offer best value, just raw price, and websites do not understand the client. Together, this means they cannot be pro-active.

They cannot go back to a client and say: “Look, you are going here and here – you have a client there, which could be included far cheaper.”

A website cannot say: “You want to go here, here and here, but you would be better off doing two separate trips”

They cannot say: “I suggest you put that trip off a week if you can, it’s half term.” Yes, the client may have to go, but understanding a client and achieving best value, is a matter of working in a trusted partnership with the client.

Certainly agents figured out a long time ago that simply being an order taker is no good at all.

Websites, starting with a great knowledge of technology though little of travel, seem to think that being an order taker (which is basically all they can ever be) is a good idea.

4. Websites cannot look into the whites of the eyes.

A recent itinerary carried two warnings: one about not completing booking until all elements were in place and the other saying you should allow enough time to change aircraft.

Both these statements frighten me. The thing is, with any small print, you can write it down, you can read it out – but can you communicate it?

You can put big red boxes around it, you can make it flash… but can you communicate it?

Which bits of the small print are relevant – really relevant – to what has been booked?

Sure, all of it is relevant but as George Orwell may have said: “All small print is relevant, but some small print is more relevant than others”.

One asset an agent has, which cannot be taken away, is that the agent can use his or her skill to read an itinerary, understand it, analyse any real issues and then communicate this to the client.

They can look into the eyes of the client and (or on the phone, pause to get a reaction) and make sure the information has sunk in.

5. Business travel does not work.

Travel websites are very good at simple point-to-point tickets. Indeed, some agents even encourage people to do the very simple stuff online – the agent cannot add value to the booking and the fuss is not worth the reward.

When it comes to anything more complex, however, things are different.

Business travel, in particular, features other things which web-based travel bookings cannot cope with – instant changes, the booking made from the back of a taxi, a departure lounge, time snatched from between meetings.

The client does not have access to their credit card, for example, just wants to “hold” a seat for a short while, can’t access the internet, can access the internet but can’t remember the logon or does not the time to go through endless point and click bits.

The big thing about website-based business travel is simply this – why should they bother?

Firms pay their executives a salary to land them multi million dollar deals – not to play about trying to re-book flights.

6. Conventions.

This really worries me. As soon as one starts going from A to C, rather than B, or from A to B to C to…. then we are in a totally different ball game to standard outbound and inbound travel.

In order to make multi-stop travel work, there are two principles, without which no-one would be going anywhere.

These are the ability to interline and the agreements with regard to Minimum Connecting Times (MCT) – and the two are not mutually exclusive.

Earlier, I mentioned the difference between reading and communicating and the “why?” question – an executive worries about his own problems and is, furthermore, not paid to deal with the vagaries of how travel fits together.

Interlining is the ability to fit more than one airline onto one ticket and MCTs specify the amount of time that has to be allowed to effect a connection.

The MCT does not apply to non-interline tickets and it certainly does not apply when low cost airlines are involved.

This gets interesting when websites talk about the ability to integrate low cost and legacy airlines.

You cannot integrate low cost and legacy airlines. Period. Any attempt to do so is fraught with danger.

How long do you allow? How do you get the message across without, again, as mentioned earlier, seeing the whites of the eyes to establish that what is involved, has sunk in?

If I am using a low cost, legacy connection I allow an overnight stay – or about 4 hours at least connecting time – and that’s without changing airports.

Further I repeat, ad nauseam, what the passenger is letting themselves in for and that on their head be it.

Websites take no responsibility here. Yet to me, as an agent, that is fundamentally wrong. My client is responsible for making the big deal, my responsibility is to make sure my client is at the right office at the right time.

If I am not sure he or she will be on schedule then I have failed in my function.

Yet websites blithely trumpet how they have achieved this legacy/low cost integration – and I have seen some connections that offer little more than the MCT on some low cost/ legacy connections – but do not “communicate” the dangers and pitfalls.

Worse, they make it very hard to contact someone of things go pear-shaped. And they do. Often.

Conclusion

Technology has grasped travel. Technology has taken the raw elements and taken a lot of time and effort to integrate more and more technology into travel.

Yet technology seems to have a rather tenuous grasp on the practicalities of how real travel works.

There is only a small financial margin involved and, so, technology does not wish to grasp the nettle of responsibility that comes with taking this and that feed and mashing up the two, to produce yet another curiously-named dot com.

Having to deal with issues takes the shine away. It means having staff and offices; it means having people who understand the fares’ manuals, the conventions.

True, some operations do have this facility – though they charge heavily for it.

Some websites don’t really need this sort of backup as their product is simple and straightforward (though who do you contact at the low cost carriers office when the hotel you added on has not been booked, or the car is not available – and it’s 3am and it’s cold).

So, where can you find this proper service? I think you know the answer to that one.

NB: This is a guest post by Murray Harold, a homeworking business travel agent from Buckinghamshire, UK.

 
 
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  1. hashem habbal

    it true and agents has been suffering from suppliers turning thier backs to them, airlines and hotels are cutting the middle man (the agent) and counting on technology alone.

     
  2. Leah

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  3. diablo3

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  4. Murray Harrold

    I did not decry anyone as not having travel industry experience, just because they had not been on the counter, I indicated what travel agents understand as being “in travel” and that many have a relatively short period at the sharp end and then get involved in other aspects, in the rather tenous belief that they fully “understand” coal face travel. Totally different. Dan then goes on to mention trips which he finds easy to book online – but then again, Dan, you would. You have experience of the industry.

    Web is not always cheaper. Not by a long chalk. Many websites are more-or-less the same as an agent… you either have access to consolidated fares or your don’t. It doesn’t matter if you are Joe Bloggs Travel or Expedia, the fares are the same. Joe Bloggs Travel, if they do any amount of business travel, are probably a member of a consortia such as Advantage or may be, say, an AMEX agency… either way, they can offer the same fares as the big online agencies. It’s all about mark-up and big online agencies have to mark up a fare just as much as anyone else – and I have seen markups far greater than what I put on.

    As to a diminishing client base, this is, of course, true. That is not, however always in the client’s interest. Indeed, it could be argued that airlines are only too aware of this and take full, advantage of it. It’s not that agents are redundant, it’s that airlines make a big effort to promote the perception that agents are redundant because the last thing they want is people booking flights, who know what they are doing. As airlines do some rather sneaky stuff in certain areas it is rather ironic that the agent client base may be shrinking at exactly the time when clients need agents more than ever. Many companies, though, are coming back to agents specifically to save money. Letting a large, say, salesforce loose on the interent with the company credit card it not a good way of saving money. Agents police their clients travel policy; agents have moved on yet it seems that techy’s, esepcially, need to update their rather asinine view of what (business) travel agents actually do these days. (But that may be because their experience of front line stuff is, ermmm…)

    Amazon are not quite in the same business – a intangible object, say a book or a kettle – is a book or a kettle… it may be raw price that is the buy sequence driver or it may be convienience. A three or more sector itinerary is a different matter. For example, I still go to a book shop if I want advice on my specific field – English History, 1700 to… (Yeah, I know, but English History 1700 to about 1914 is a hobby of mine) Thanks to Amazon and other ilk, it has taken me a long time to find a good, knowledgeable bookseller and I nurture that person. I can’t get that from Amazon who have a more “If it ain’t on the shelf, Guv…” approach. I buy what I want, not what Amazon (or others) want to sell me and I rather resent their emails offering me this and that because their CRM system thinks I might like it. For many it no doubt may be, there massive sales evidence that, it’s just that, for me, they are invariably wrong.

    This gets back to the fundamental principle of this horrible “cheap” word. “Cheap” can be a very expensive way of buying air travel. Agents are quite happy to let websites (perhaps should we call websites “simple travel booking facilities”) promote “cheap”; what we agents look to do is twofold: Firstly, to add value to a booking (and if we can’t then let the client – or advise the client – to book it themselves online IF they choose or are able to do so and secondly (and this is the point people keep missing) agents aim to provide best value – and that is a stonk of a long way from cheap.

     
  5. Murray Harrold

    I did decry anyone as not having travel industry experience, just because they had not been on the counter, I indicated what travel agents understand as being “in travel” and that many have a relatively short period at the sharp end and then get involved in other aspects, in the rather tenous belief that they fully “understand” coal face travel. Totally different. Dan then goes on to mention trips which he finds easy to book online – but then again, Dan, you would. You have experience of the industry.

    Web is not always cheaper. Not by a long chalk. Many websites are more-or-less the same as an agent… you either have access to consolidated fares or your don’t. It doesn’t matter if you are Joe Bloggs Travel or Expedia, the fares are the same. Joe Bloggs Travel, if they do any amount of business travel, are probably a member of a consortia such as Advantage or may be, say, an AMEX agency… either way, they can offer the same fares as the big online agencies. It’s all about mark-up and big online agencies have to mark up a fare just as much as anyone else – and I have seen markups far greater than what I put on.

    As to a diminishing client base, this is, of course, true. That is not, however always in the client’s interest. Indeed, it could be argued that airlines are only too aware of this and take full, advantage of it. It’s not that agents are redundant, it’s that airlines make a big effort to promote the perception that agents are redundant because the last thing they want is people booking flights, who know what they are doing. As airlines do some rather sneaky stuff in certain areas it is rather ironic that the agent client base may be shrinking at exactly the time when clients need agents more than ever. Many companies, though, are coming back to agents specifically to save money. Letting a large, say, salesforce loose on the interent with the company credit card it not a good way of saving money. Agents police their clients travel policy; agents have moved on yet it seems that techy’s, esepcially, need to update their rather asinine view of what (business) travel agents actually do these days. (But that may be because their experience of front line stuff is, ermmm…)

    Amazon are not quite in the same business – a intangible object, say a book or a kettle – is a book or a kettle… it may be raw price that is the buy sequence driver or it may be convienience. A three or more sector itinerary is a different matter. For example, I still go to a book shop if I want advice on my specific field – English History, 1700 to… (Yeah, I know, but English History 1700 to about 1914 is a hobby of mine) Thanks to Amazon and other ilk, it has taken me a long time to find a good, knowledgeable bookseller and I nurture that person. I can’t get that from Amazon who have a more “If it ain’t on the shelf, Guv…” approach. I buy what I want, not what Amazon (or others) want to sell me and I rather resent their emails offering me this and that because their CRM system thinks I might like it. For many it no doubt may be, there massive sales evidence that, it’s just that, for me, they are invariably wrong.

    This gets back to the fundamental principle of this horrible “cheap” word. “Cheap” can be a very expensive way of buying air travel. Agents are quite happy to let websites (perhaps should we call websites “simple travel booking facilities”) promote “cheap”; what we agents look to do is twofold: Firstly, to add value to a booking (and if we can’t then let the client – or advise the client – to book it themselves online IF they choose or are able to do so and secondly (and this is the point people keep missing) agents aim to provide best value – and that is a stonk of a long way from cheap.

     
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  8. Dan

    So the only valid travel industry experience is sitting behind an agency counter? Please! I worked for an airline for 2 years, for a major travel management company for 11 years (four of those as a travel agent), and for a large travel technology company for 20 years, most of those in travel agency automation. You better believe that I have 33 years of travel INDUSTRY experience. What I don’t have is 33 years of travel AGENCY experience, but you know what? There’s a great deal more to this industry than the counter!

    Then your entire argument is based on a huge misconception: Travel technology would only be failing if its current goal were to replace an experienced travel agent. Instead, today’s technology is designed to allow certain users (such as travelers) to handle relatively simple travel arrangements, or to assist experienced users (such as travel agents) in making arrangements of any complexity. Just the fact that you have a green screen as opposed to an OAG is a triumph of technology. Is that technology failing? Do you want the books back, then?

    But travel technology is not limited to what is specifically made for travel agents. Today, running hotels, car rental agencies, cruise lines, ferry services, trains, and so on would all be unthinkable without some level of automation (and therefore technology). And yes, all this is part of the travel industry.

    If you were an artist, your article might have been titled, “Six reasons why the paint brush fails, but the painter doesn’t.” The point is, just as painters would fail if they were limited to finger painting, today’s travel agents would fail without the technology.

    Dan

     
    • JESS Kalinowsky

      Travel is like anything else, the better the professional handling it for you, the better experience one will have on the trip. During the Iceland euruption a few months ago, people who bought online simply could not get timely customer service, the key to a client relationship. Our clients were handled in minutes! We got lots of referrals from our clients for other travelers who had bought online. We helped them, for a fee, and made them clients forever! Try booking a multi-leg international trip on ANY of the online booking engines! Just not possible! Try getting a special hotel, or any unique venue in some out of the way town, does not work! The net is only good for very basic simple domestic roundtrip fares, with no detail required. “Travelers” know the value of a Professional Travel Consultant!

       
      • Dan

        Jess, booking multi-leg international itineraries is something I (and most of my European friends) do routinely, either through Opodo, Expedia, or via an airline web site. For example, it’s a no-brainer to book, say, a Frankfurt to Minneapolis trip via Chicago, or a Paris to Raleigh trip via New York. Piece of cake! Intra-EUropean (but still international) itineraries are even simpler. There is still a demand for good travel agents, but that demand is shrinking rapidly as technology makes it possible for more and more people to fill the vast majority of their travel needs from the comfort of their home.

        Travel has become a commodity, and for most people, avoiding the travel agent is not only a matter of cost: it is also a matter of convenience. Except for situations such as the proverbial once-in-a-lifetime trip and similar events, travel is not about an experience any more. I believe the growth of on-line B2C bookings shows this conclusively.

        For a cruise, I’ll gladly turn to a knowledgeable travel agent, but for air travel? Hardly necessary! With airport delays, asinine security regulations, and crowded cabins, air travel has become a royal pain in the you-know-what. Being there is fun, getting there is a hassle. In many cases, sitting at my own computer to book the flights is the least stressful part of taking a trip these days.

        The handwriting is on the wall, and if I were a travel agent, I would certainly give it a lot of thought. There are only so many volcanic eruptions, and no matter how good you are, you cant’t put your clients on flights that are not operating. And: peple take dozens of airplanes for every cruise they book. You do the math.

        Dan

         
    • Graham

      @Dan- That was the same point that got my back up as well. I worked for 3 years in b2b travel wholesale with agents and I could tell about 10000 stories if you had the time.

      There were some agents who were awesome, I couldn’t believe how far they would go for their customers and the things they would do, but they were rare. Most would pull out that “20 years in travel” saying when they didn’t get their way, mostly when they wanted to get something that was physically impossible (Alcohol on a tour during Ramadan in Dubai, for example) – Great.

      I think the entire post paints an interesting picture when you take a step back and look at the type of customers we are talking about. We have travellers who do not understand a layover or what airlines are terrible, don’t research holidays, do not leverage social networks and businesses travellers whose diva-like tendencies force their employers to fork over buckets full of cash just so they dont pick up their phone and make a booking.

      All these profiles are prefect for travel agents, but how long will they be around? Consumers are getting smarter and companies cannot afford to spend like they used to on business travel.

      But I did like the comment about encouraging passengers to book their own trips if its simple. With airlines cutting commissions for domestic flights, I couldn’t see why an agent would bother either. Airlines know that they have access to the same customers, why pay someone else to market their product?

      I am not trying to pick on agents here, this is not limited to travel. Look what netflix did to blockbuster and what Amazon does to book stores. I agree with others that agents need to evolve, they no longer hold all the cards (aka legacy booking systems) when passengers have the same abilities.

      Anyway, just my 2 cents. I don’t think agents are finished, but I do believe their client base is shrinking. The competition that will come when there is too little work for too many agents should drive the best to the top and show us what the agents of the future will look like.

      PS. Check out flight Centre in Australia- now aggressively pushing their online booking portal. Now THAT is saying something.

       
  9. Mikal

    totally agreeing with both views! Am I likely to say this? I am! This is not a travel-specific symptom; I think it has to do with today’s world. The magic term is “self service”. In our travel world abbreviations are referred as SSR (US) and over here as OBT etc. Well, regardless of the domain travel or non-travel; I have the impression that “self-service” is a vicious circle and a weakness for the consumer since business ABC is delegating its (former) responsibilities and selling (worst case) or offering (best case) it as a “service”. But one could argue the other way! On the other hand doesn’t that fit in the hype of DIY (as Charline mentioned) and ‘apps-for-everything’ or is the mentality not there yet?

     
  10. Lisa

    Another great company started by a travel agent is http://www.compete4yourseat.com
    Nothing can compare to working with a live travel agent, they can help you find the most economical direct route and save you money at the same time. They can help you when your flight is delayed or cancelled and they can get you from point A to point B with a lot less hassle then an automated system. Travel agents are still a wealth of information and will always be an essential part of travel.

     
  11. Ryan

    Great article…thanks!!! Agreed on almost every point!

     
  12. Dennis Schaal

    Dennis Schaal

    Charline: Every major travel website has CRM capabilities and they spend a lot of money on it.

     
    • Martijn Moret

      Very limited still, Dennis! Please name an example of a travel website that asks me whether I prefer stop-overs or direct flights, driving further or flying earlier, small airports, planes with WIFI, where I am leaving from (address, not airport), where I am going to (address, not airport), budget hotel near final destination or city center hotel, sms or call upon delay,etc, etc.

      When it comes down to automated accrual of points, keeping the preference of meal and seat, that is usually in.

      There is a long way to go!

       
  13. Charline

    This make me thinking, when some 20 or 30 years ago, when you where going to gaz station, a man was there to fill your tank and clean your windshield.. Now, this is do it yourself !

    Same for travelers, general trends are for DIY… Where is the service ? …

     
    • Murray Harrold

      Ah! That’s the simple stuff… 20 or 30 years ago, you may have spent the weekend tuning the old twin Webbers… now your not supposed to touch anything under the bonnett (erm…sorry, hood)

       
  14. Martijn Moret

    Great posting, albeit that I saw numerous with the same angle 10 years ago. The world has changed, the customer has changed, and therefore the travel agent needs to change.

    Technology will indeed never (?) be able to take over the brain power of an agent, however:

    - there are so many travel and staying options that the traveller can find out all information by him/herself, at his/her own pace, own time
    - by taking control the traveller is no longer subject to potential biased advice for accommodation or travel options
    - customer too can use the tools you have mentioned with all the more pleasure

    Furthermore you say lowcost / legacy mixing is no go, but if you understand the risks it might just bring a lot of value.

    The bottom line is that the customer is able to decide how much time to invest, and whether or not to oursource travel planning and booking completely.

    Travel agents should therefore turn their business model and focus more on how to take away the hassle while providing extremely good service in a creative way.

    That kind of service will also come at a cost and travel agents should be transparent about this. If there is value for the customers good service will be bought.

    Simply stating that a human is better than technology is not the way, and many agents have vanished because of that mindset.

     
    • Murray Harrold

      Fundamental issue: The internet is a wonderful thing… it will answer any question. Thing is… Have you asked the *right* question…

       
    • Murray Harrold

      Not wholly against Legacy to low cost or vica versa. I am saying that it is fraught with danger on two levels – mechanical – how long do you allow and – communicative – how can you really, really be sure the client has grasped the responsibility? Over the years, I have often heard people saying “It might be in the small print… but you did not highlight that bit of the small print” Human Beings are highly selective about what they choose to hear and mentally process. It is a flight and… a flight… and the second could not give a rancid roadkilled rodent that the first flight was late/ delayed/ turned right when it should have turned left…

       
  15. Joe Buhler

    Two simple facts: Travel agents who were order takers – and many were in the past – have been replaced by websites, travel councellors providing value are still in business.
    Technology is not the solution but a tool.

     
  16. Dennis Schaal

    Murray: “Websites do not understand the client”…Hmmm. I am sure you are going to get great pushback here given the increasing sophistication of CRM systems, which supposedly know a traveler’s frequent flyer status, meal preferences, seating preferences, favorite destinations etc.

    Very interesting piece, though.

     
    • Charline

      Well, we are not there yet Dennis.

      The only one who can be capable of doing CRM and client marketing is really Google, knowing the huge amount of information they collect on your back : they know what you search using Google search engine, they record and link it to your account, they know where you are, they know what you do, somestimes they know your private mail (gmail content and Google apps) etc.. They even know your friend and your contacts, your agenda if you use the agenda feature … ! This is quite incredible.

      But apart from Google, do you know other travel sites that can do CRM ? Unless you are a returning client, which is not often the case.

      Charline

       
    • Murray Harrold

      Yes, but these come into play AFTER booking – knowing the client comes into play before! I might have an AF card that knows all about me…but I am going to the USA and (for example) I can’t abide Delta…. (say… nothing wrong with Delta)

       
    • JESS Kalinowsky

      There is not a website on the planet that can give detailed info many clients request, best sightseeing trips, best local restaurants, best time of year to travel for the best value, and a zillion more! Most of the Online Travel Agencies [OTA's] or booking engines can give raw info, but they simply do not have the knowledge of a Professional Travel Consultant. I know little details about destinations that the programmers at the OTA’s simply are not aware even exist. If a client is taking a multi-leg trip, with cars, chauffeurs, tours, sightseeing, cruise, restaurant and shopping tips to see, AND to avoid, the OTA’s just simply do not hold a candle to PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE! If one is investing thousands of dollars for a trip, they are very foolish to leave it up to OTA’s! 99 out of 100 clients will go back to their Professional Travel Consultant the first time they lose serious money because they did not read the ‘fine print’ on OTA’s sites! AND worse! customer reviews of hotels or services are frightening! because they are so subjective of non-professionals. Like selecting a good Attorney, CPA, Realtor, or any other Professional, one should select a good Professional Travel Consultant, JESS Kalinowsky 25+ years experience, way before OTA’s existed! 133 destinations around the world, and counting!

       
  17. Tweets that mention Six reasons why travel technology fails and agents do not | Tnooz -- Topsy.com

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rhona Gilmour, roundtheworldflights, CruiseLineFans.com, RosanaThomasi, Jay Gray and others. Jay Gray said: Luddite? RT @kevinlukemay: Outrageously provocative as ever…6 reasons why travel technology fails and agents do not http://bit.ly/cA2OU0 [...]

     
    • Dan

      No, Murray, I did not go on to mention that I find it easy to book on-line. What I did mention is that I “AND most of my European friends”, the vast majority of whom never worked in the travel industry, find it easy to book on-line. Do you really think that the millions of people who book travel on the Internet have all, at some point, held jobs as travel agents?

      True, the web is not always cheaper, but it very nearly always is. The average business trip has between two and four air segments, the average leisure trip even fewer. This is well within the realm of what is possible to do on the web for the majority of people. But the price of the actual journey is not the only thing to consider here. If I want to give such a trip to a travel agent, I have to go to the agency first. I may then have to wait for an available agent, explain what I want, in most cases pay a service charge (since airlines no longer pay commissions), and then return home. This begs the question of how much my time is worth and how much of it should be included when comparing agency vs. on-line cost.

      I could just phone my agency, of course. When? At eleven o’clock at night when it may be convenient for me to book my trip? Or during their busy time when I’m likely to get one of those “all our agents are temporarily busy” messages that keep assuring me how important my call is? Whereas the argument could be made that face to face is preferable to on-line, I’d certainly rather deal with a computer than with an agent by phone. I’m in control that way.

      For business travel, it may still be different, but in that case, it’s the travel management services an agency provides to a company that keeps the business in the agency, not the complexity of booking travel on the web. Things will undoubtedly change in the business area, too. Ah, but travel management is complex, agents say, you need experience to service the client. Ten or fifteen years ago, much the same argument was made to “prove” that automation could never replace an experienced leisure travel professional. Well, in many ways it has. As technology evolves, the same thing is bound to happen to business travel. Travel agents can choose to find their particular niche and attempt to survive, or eventually go the way of elevator operators (yes, there used to be such a thing).

      It may be worth mentioning in passing that the Internet is making agent experience more and more superfluous. For example, travelers can consult Google Maps to see where exactly the hotel they are interested in is located. They can read the opinions written by other travelers about the hotel they are considering. They can get tips from communities that are attempting to promote tourism by advertising the kind of activities possible in their vicinity. All this used to be information provided by travel agents. Nowadays, people can get better information from a wider variety of sources on-line, and they do.

      Whether the web is or isn’t in the clients’ interest is not for you, Murray, to decree; it’s for the market to decide, and for all practical purposes, the market has made up its mind. This is not just an opinion: it is a fact corroborated by figures that are accessible to anyone who cares to look. The dramatic increase in on-line bookings and the dwindling number of independent travel agencies tell the story in sufficient clarity.

      Years ago, when I worked as a travel agent, travel was marketed and sold as a service. Fares indeed used to be the same, and so the only way agencies could compete was on service. Those days are long gone. Contrary to what you say, fares are not the same everywhere. There are several reasons for this. OLTAs purchase bulk space, for instance, something Joe Blogg Travel doesn’t do. Then there is the fact that the yield management of the airlines has gotten a great deal more aggressive. It is not uncommon to see fares on the web change every few minutes. The fares in the GDS are almost always more stable, but rarely the cheapest. In addition, there is this huge can of worms called “ancillary fees” that airlines are adding to their web sites and the GDS are scrambling to manage. Travel sure is not what it used to be!

      There have been three major game changers. The first was airline deregulation, the second the Internet, and the third the rise of low-cost point-to-point carriers. In various ways, these three things have fundamentally changed the nature of the business. Travel has ceased to be a service and is now being marketed as a commodity. As more and more people become web-savvy, there will be less and less demand for travel agents. I, too, deplore the victory of what is cheap over what is good value, especially given that “cheap” is often merely a perception created by clever marketing. But who can look at Ryanair and claim that “cheap” (in the worst possible sense of the word) doesn’t work? I don’t like it any more than you do, but there it is.

      Finally, I am delighted that you have found a book seller who meets your needs. However, you don’t seem to understand the principle that makes Amazon successful. It is based on two things: for all practical purposes, Amazon has an unlimited amount of “shelf space” as well as an incredibly large number of “walk-ins”. The way these two things combine to form a basis for success in described in “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More”. There’s a Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail) or you can read the book — it’s available on Amazon :-)

      Incidentally, the emails Amazon sends out are based on what you browse and what you purchase. If you establish a browsing history of titles that cover your area of interest, Amazon will eventually suggest titles that should be of interest to you, and that you can, of course, order from your favorite book seller. For an even simpler solution, merely opt out and you will never again receive an email from Amazon suggesting items for you to consider. Another neat quick win brought to you by technology.

      Dan

       
  18. Charline

    I totally agree, and it ‘s a chance that web sites do not completely replace the travel agent. In some cases it might happen, not always.

    Web sites can also help travel agents and customers, like the one I am working for, http://www.cosidays.com, an e-travel market place. Same kind exists in the US with Tripology or Zicasso.

    This helps clients to get in touch with Travel agents that can answer to specific needs, and helps travel agents to find their next client..

    So, it happens sometimes the web can gather the best of the two worlds, no ?

    ;-)

     
 
 

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