Airbnb, Skyscanner, Uber. Three little words that have driven major disruption in the travel industry in recent years.
Travel agents have seen some of the most profound changes in modern business as new platforms have changed how travellers book domestic and international travel.
However, they didn’t emerge overnight or in isolation, reflecting a wider trend towards empowered consumers getting what they want, when they want it.
Yet demand for the travel agency model persists. And travel agencies who see digitalisation of their industry as an opportunity and empower themselves with the best ‘tools of the trade’ — and communicate their expertise and experience to those considering the D.I.Y. approach — continue to flourish.
Travellers are increasingly booking and organising their own flights, accommodation and transport. They can find and book Airbnb without leaving the couch, and online tools like Skyscanner allow them to search for deals, gauge layovers, and book complicated itineraries.
For travel agents, the likes of Airbnb represent consumers taking control of what was previously ‘left to the experts’. So why would today’s traveller enlist the services of a travel agent when they can find and book an affordable, well-located room?
Most would-be ‘do-it-yourselfers’ understand that organising any trip can be a major headache. These same empowered consumers recognise that perhaps their flight deals aren’t the best, their Airbnb hosts aren’t the most accommodating, and their preferred itineraries not the easiest to navigate.
And when business travellers become stranded in an overseas airport with a cancelled flight, a hotel room in a building that doesn’t seem to exist or an unexpected layover of 35 hours, they wish they had made different choices.
Today's travel agents
So what, then, is a travel agent’s selling point? Is it simply removing the inevitable human error associated with do-it-yourself bookings?
Travel agencies have always leveraged personal service as a selling point for their business, and personalised service still remains a drawcard for travel agents competing with online booking.
Travel agents collaborate with travellers to satisfy individual preferences and can leverage personal relationships with suppliers, like hotels and airlines, to deliver a better travel experience.
“If [travellers] book themselves, they’re just a credit card number. I make a point of knowing the general manager of the hotel where they might be staying,” says Anne Scully of McCabe World Travel. “I usually call the GM the night before one of my clients arrives and see if they might be upgraded. If they book with a good agent, they’re known on arrival.”
Opportunity is a two-way street
In our comprehensive look at how the travel management profession is changing, we showed how this specialised role now demands an agile and technological mind.
While technology has empowered consumers, travel agents today know that to compete with the digitalisation of consumer travel, the technology they employ also needs to evolve.
It’s no secret how complex business travel can be, especially when navigating unexpected changes to itineraries and strict corporate travel policies.
For corporate travellers, choosing not to enlist the help of an agent or a travel manager really isn’t a choice at all.
While consumers may have been empowered to achieve some of what agents can, they won’t be able to do so as quickly, as economically and accurately — and they’ll miss out on the benefits of those personal relationships with suppliers.
Streamlined travel management platforms allow agents to remove the guesswork of free online booking tools, and travel agents with access to a powerful management tool can offer a service that simply can’t be matched by the do-it-yourself approach.
Travel management software can empower your travel agency. Travelport Locomote is an end-to-end corporate travel system with a range of workflows and features that navigate the entire travel process in one powerful platform.
Travelport Locomote provides better travel experiences, more travel choice and improved travel intelligence.
To see how, book a personalised 15-minute online demonstration of Travelport Locomote’s corporate travel platform today.