OFFLINE is the new online.
The forecasted death of travel agents FAILS to come true.
In 1997, we bought land and built a building for our travel agency.
By 1998, came the introduction of the internet, and consumer’s ability to buy products online. Shortly after, the airlines quit paying commissions to travel agencies, encouraging customers to buy direct on their websites. We began recreating the industry as we knew it. Virtually every resource was at the world’s fingertip, in a click of a key. Next came the devastation of 9/11, and then the stock market crashed.
Many predicted the elimination of live travel agents, who would eventually be replaced by robots, sophisticated algorithms, and by something called the Superhighway. Too Bad, but we lost many of our very knowledgeable senior agents who believed the predictions, and couldn’t bear to try and keep up with the technical changes.
You see, live travel agents deliver service that online travel agents have never been able to replicate much less replace, despite endless claims to the contrary. The fact is, websites that feature travel bookings don’t deliver on the most basic expectation of a travel buyer: offering the best options based on price, schedule and preferred vendor.
Travel technology leaders powering Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc, is pretty advanced ecommerce stuff. Their strategy invests in margin logic and multi-level algorithms to get you to see, click and buy what they want you to buy, not what you wanted to buy.
But this is where the oil meets the water, literally – when the next volcano explodes and your shoes stay glued to the ground, stuck in whatever far-flung limbo you happen to be in, no computer is going to proactively re-book you or find you a hotel so you can avoid curling up on the airport carpet, hoping someday to find a way home. Our smart travelers, understand the value of a service fee, to have a professional overseeing your hard earned vacation dollars.
A travel agent, a live body, can actually locate, on their map, the hole where you are marooned, which of your flights is cancelled, what hotel you can slip over to for a comfortable night’s sleep, and a provide you a plan of what you can expect next.
I know that you generation X & Y’s think that travel sites are how you book trips. You spend hours and hours researching thru a colossal amount of online detail that goes round and round, and really never gives you what you wanted in a reasonable period of time. What is reasonable? You are probably spending 6-10 hours trying to figure out what a travel professional can tell you in 10- 30 minutes. I am so skeptical about the invisible hand of travel websites driving consumer behavior with their tricks.
The June 2009 Consumer Travel Report has indicated that online travel traffic saw fewer than half of online searchers turning into buyers. Right, it is all so confusing, and how can you trust the invisible website. I am part of a group of people who really appreciate live travel agents, and I don’t feel they are replaceable.
The best way to book a vacation is to use a professional travel agent. I pay someone to do my taxes too, because it’s worthwhile to pay a professional to do something I can’t do, and be assured of quality results. Get into a seasoned, well educated travel agent, and create a longtime relationship of trust. It is important to buy local, while traveling worldwide.
Remember Warren Buffett saying “Price is what you pay; and value is what you get.
Toby Nash, Cruise & Travel Masters