It is clear that over the past several years, the brick and mortar travel agencies were hit hard financially as clients rushed to the perceived convenience of booking with the huge online travel agencies (OTA’s).
But that convenience has not always lead to pleasant journeys, and the perceived price savings have simply not materialized in most cases.
In Canada, in particular, the prices for all-inclusive tour departures cannot be advertised online for anything other than the listed price of the trip as set out by these companies.
This totally leveled the field for the local agencies across the country that work hard to provide a personal service to their clients.
While I don’t have the Canadian figures, ASTA, the United States trade association that represents the travel agent community in that country, reported that over 50% of all their member agencies reported increases in clients, transactions and revenues over the previous year, with profits expected to grow 12% for the current year.
In a research study published by the firm MMGY Global called Portrait of American Travelers, they reported that the bookings on OTA sites and dropped dramatically from 84% to 58%.
There is no need to take up a collection for the changing fortunes of these online giants. In 2014 they still managed to rack up over $150 billion in revenues.
And the shift to brick and mortar agencies, while real, is still changing at a very low rate considering the number of agencies splitting the new found business.
But the question remains, why is there a change in the way people view online bookings?
In a recent article in Forbes magazine, writer Doug Gollan suggests that at first there is an excitement to doing it yourself online, being your own travel agent.
But time and effort wane enthusiasm after a while, and like the wisdom of not being your own lawyer or accounting professional, travelers learn that it may be better to consult with a real professional.
According to Gollan there have also been thousands of complaints about OTA’s to Better Business Bureaus throughout the States, to the degree that the US Congress has begun drafting bills offering consumers better protection.
According to a 2014 Google study “most leisure travelers are undecided about specific brands when they start planning a trip. Only 23 percent were set on a particular airline. For cruises it was 25 percent, and only 16 percent were set on a specific provider for hotels and vacations packages.
A separate Google study in the United Kingdom revealed that it took 32 visits to 10 different websites to book an airline ticket.”
I doubt that a Canadian study would conclude anything dramatically different.
So the end of the travel agency era as we knew it may not be as close at hand as some have predicted.
There is no question that reduced commissions have impacted travel agency bottom lines, but most professional agencies have started adding personal service fees, with little if any pushback from their clients.
Which brings me back to ASTA and some of their conclusions as to the benefits the travel agent brings to the consumer that has helped move people, however slowly, away from booking with online travel agencies.
A travel agent’s job is on the line with every trip. Travel agents have a boss to answer to, and they are a real person clients can speak with to work things out.
Travel agents have been doing the job for years and know all the ins and outs. Instead of deciding where to go based on anonymous comments on a website, speak to someone who does this for a living and knows what they’re talking about.
3. More for your money.
When booking an expensive trip, travelers want to see everything and experience the best a city has to offer. A travel agent can ensure travelers dollars go a long way—and make sure they don’t miss that amazing restaurant down the street, or the special event going on the day they’re in town.
4. Setting an Itinerary.
While some people enjoy “just winging it,” a travel agent can give a clear-cut schedule of what will be happening on a day-to-day basis, and keep clear records of everything that is included in the trip.
A travel agent can help map out exactly how much a trip will cost, so there are no surprises. Does that excursion on Monday include lunch, for example, or do you have to buy your own? Does it pay to take the drinks package on the cruise ship, or pay for the excursions in advance? A travel agent can guide you and save you money.
Things happen. A travel agent can offer insurance in a number of ways, from guaranteeing that the hotel is safe and the company running the excursion won’t rob a traveler, to actually advising on which insurance policies are needed, from trip cancellation to medical emergencies.
At the touch of travel agents’ fingertips they have resources a traveler simply does not. Yes, we have the internet, but there is so much still left unknown, especially in places that are undiscovered.
Let’s face it, we all want to be a little bit different. A travel agent knows the new destinations and the new places in them. Through their partners, they also often get freebies for their customers that range from a free drink to an exclusive admission to a hot event.
9. Time savings.
Spending hours and weeks researching the perfect trip can take up a ton of time during a busy work week. A travel agent will spend a little time getting to know their clients and what they are looking for, and then put together an entire vacation customized for them.
Can’t book a room at a place you really want? Had a last minute addition to a trip but all the rooms are booked? Travel agents spend years developing long-term relationships, and travel companies understand how important their repeat business is. Travel agents have leverage with most hotel companies and resorts, and they are more likely to get what they want than a single consumer.