It’s no secret that the travel agency industry has seen massive disruption in recent years. The do-it-yourself corporate travel culture has been encouraged by free online booking and search platforms like Airbnb, Skyscanner and Uber.
Some even regard the industry as old-hat, lacking any real value in a marketplace full of empowered consumers.
However, as we explored in our in-depth look at the Travel Agency Industry: Past Present and Future, the demand for agents persists.
Can the enduring need for a travel agency’s services really be put down to simply the personal touch they provide?
Today’s DIY Travellers
Corporate travellers, theoretically, can organise most of their itinerary quite effectively without the assistance of an agent or a travel manager.
They just can’t do so as accurately, as quickly, as economically or with as little fuss as travel agents can.
And when they try to do so, they can encounter enough problems to detract from the focus of the trip entirely. Nevertheless, today’s business travellers are booking their own accommodation through Airbnb, their own transport through Uber, and their flight itineraries with the assistance of search tools like Skyscanner.
So why would these travellers feel they need to enlist the help of a travel agent to achieve what they can do independently, and largely for free?
Yesterday’s Travel Agents
Traditionally, the average traveller wouldn’t dare organise the booking of flights, accommodation and transport in faraway cities by themselves.
Corporate travel was regarded as a daunting prospect, and the facilitation of which was well and truly left to the experts.
It was the role of the travel agent to hold traveller’s hands, guiding them through this web of unimaginable complexity and onto the path of a smoothly-run overseas experience.
Today, however, there are countless online platforms that can hold traveller’s hands for free, at all times of the day. A traveller organising a multi-city business trip is now empowered to do so on their own accord, with the likes of Skyscanner.
They just don’t realise the amount of heavy lifting they assume or the cost-saving expertise they forgo when they do.
What Do Travel Agents Sell Today?
It’s often argued that travel agents still rely on the attraction of hand-holding to win business today. And for the most part, this is true.
Research conducted by students of Sydney’s University of Technology, in collaboration with scholars from Austria and Spain, found that personalised service remained the drawcard for travel agents competing with online booking platforms.
“The internet provides a powerful environment for the creation of virtual representations of tourism destinations,” the report reads.
“However, the results of the study show that social interaction with travel agents, their expertise and the possibility to save time on search can be of even higher importance.”
Yet booking platforms like Airbnb provide some of the same humanised element relied on by travel agents. Travellers communicate with hosts, sometimes stay in adjoining rooms, and often receive their local recommendations, advice and even friendship.
Technology and Travel Agents
To understand the current value offering of travel agents, we must understand the digitalisation of their industry.
Travel agents sell a personalised service, but this is now bolstered by their mastery of powerful management software needed to deliver it.
Clients don’t want to pay agents to use technology they can access for free, they want to pay for the knowledge that their itinerary and security is better than anything they could’ve achieved alone.