With today’s world of internet booking the place of the travel agent in the average person’s holiday plans has become somewhat redundant, but why? What features have led to the fall in the use of the travel agent, and what can be done to save this industry from total eclipse?
The first reason for the decline of the travel agent is that the air travel companies truly hate agents. The main issue is that air companies since 2001 haven’t been able to afford the five percent taken by a travel agent. This is a misconception however as the cost encountered by an air company to take a direct booking probably exceeds that five percent anyway. The main reason is that the airlines want the travel agent taken out of the booking equation as they are able to give expert advice on how to lessen airfares. This is the crux of the issue for airlines.
A good travel agent will not only be able to find the best deals on airfares but perform a lot of tasks that are related to your air travel. They can negotiate priority seating and boarding and act as a representative should anything happen to go wrong and sometimes find discounted tickets. The airlines to do not appreciate these kinds of services provided by a good agent as they actively work to lose them money and pursue a better deal for travellers.
Unfortunately for the average travel agent they receive a great deal of bad press; seemingly everyone is gunning for the travel agent. It is usually part of the ‘shoot the messenger’ syndrome that affects many of us when we are angry. The agent is usually the firs person who gets it in the neck when something goes wrong, it is rarely the airline who receives the abuse, even though many of the time it is their mistake or action that has caused the problem.
Unfortunately for the travel agent, the majority of people have no clue how the industry works; for instance the prices of airfares can change many times in a minute dependent upon demand. Then customers are surprised when prices for the same trip itinerary vary wildly from one agency to another. Simply it is not he agent’s fault; it is the airline that changes the prices and once again the ‘shoot the messenger’ effect occurs.
It is not only customers who lay blame upon the travel agent; often suppliers are just as willing to pass the buck. Hoteliers and airline operatives will readily blame the agent if anything does go wrong that is not directly related to them. Often it is the case that the problem is in their sphere of influence but the option to pass on the compliant to the party who are not present, usually the agent, is the easier course of action.
So what can the average agent do to solve these problems? First and foremost a formal training program must be implemented to increase quality control in the industry generally. That way the number of bad agents would be reduced and the industry would benefit immensely. It would also mean that the knowledge base for agents would be increased meaning they could advise customers more efficiently and help them find the ideal package for their holiday.
The other option for the high street agent is to specialize in certain holiday types. An all encompassing approach is no longer viable and agents should instead focus either on a specific location, for instance, Australia or focus on a type of holiday such as adventure trips. By consulting on specific issues it is possible to make oneself an authority on an area and become an indispensable resource.
Most travel agencies are at a crossroads in terms of development, in the current quagmire of disrespect that affects most agents it is only through proactive measures that survival will be guaranteed. The best way forward is to become an expert in a chosen field and provide customers with information that is hard to find elsewhere. By doing this the agency industry should be able to survive and compete with the increase in internet and self created holiday bookings.