Today’s travel agent is more akin to an advisor or consultant than the booking agent of the past.
If you wanted to travel say to the mountain village of Chefchaouen, Morocco, in the Riff Mountains (enjoy the blue houses and weavers), then wanted to spend a few nights in Tunisia’s Sidi Bou Said before heading for some Sahara Desert camping, which online sites would you use?
The smart thing would be to visit a travel agent with in-depth North African experience.
Are there any left? Certainly Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, the big online travel agents, almost put the old-fashioned travel agent out of business. And the storefront agencies that used to exist have morphed into home-based businesses, many started by the unemployed, tapping into their circle of friends and families.
But, American Society of Travel Agents president, Nina Meyer was quoted as basically saying the “woe is me days” for travel agents are over.
And as Reuters recently reported, the pendulum has swung back, and business for the beleaguered travel agent is picking up. In fact agencies made 95 billion in sales last year, and American Express Travel says that bookings through agents are up an impressive 12% from last year.
Interestingly Generation Y consumers seem to use offline travel agents the most, with this late 20s cohort increasingly going into the travel agency business-and creating client bases from their own group and circles.
Travel, the argument goes, is so much more than booking tickets and packages, a function online travel agents are generally, if often confusingly, good at.
But travel agents can provide the personal attention and service, cut through red tape and answer questions, and it’s these functions that can make or break a trip.
Travel agents like Florida-based CruiseOne point out that consumers are overloaded with travel information and are eager for someone to help sort out the data and provide answers and guidance.
In short, travelers are way more likely to trust an experienced human travel agent than Internet ones, especially when it comes to complex travel and special needs.
Today’s agent, not unlike financial advisors, charges a service fee which can be set ($250.00 for a weeklong itinerary; more for complex travel) or a sliding-scale fee structure.
That’s not to say online, Internet-based travel agencies are suffering. They’re not. But they still can’t get into a travelers head and heart and hold hands.
In an increasingly busy and complex world, and travel is nothing if not complex, having a travel agent can be reassuring, time saving and personal, and, when necessary, a strong advocate for the traveler.