Mark Murphy | April 25, 2012 11:45 PM ET
The Future for Travel Agents
“Why You Need a Travel Agent” is the title of an article written back in January on Forbes.com. It reinforced yet again why travel agents are not only back but also more important than ever. That was followed up on April 22 by a New York Times article, “Are Travel Agents Back?” which explained why agents are back (if they ever really left). The most recent column, featured on April 23 on Time magazine’s website, had another familiar title: “Travel Agents Make a Return Trip.”
The consistent theme in all these articles is that consumers are rediscovering the value of travel agents in helping them sort through the myriad information that is served up through today’s search engines. The Time article features this paragraph: “The recent success has been fueled by a new breed of travel agent: representatives who are in tune with consumer demands for speedy service, personal attention and custom-tailored itineraries. Today, agents are constantly connected with their clients through e-mail, Twitter and text message, blog their own personal travel anecdotes and post photos online. But at the same time, they offer the human interaction that online review and booking sites can’t, and can help create niche, experiential itineraries and secure deals that travelers would have difficulty putting together independently, such as after-hour tours, flight upgrades or rooms in sold-out hotels.”
Those travel agents who are alive and well today have done a great job with this type of customer by delivering great, unique service. This is known as the “high touch” aspect of travel planning. But these same travel agents live in the dark when it comes to the technology that makes it quick and easy for their clients to access and book a simple transaction, such as a hotel stay. Indeed, most travel agent websites provide only the most rudimentary booking tools in the form of an affiliate booking link, and not much else, typically to a supplier that the consumer would need the high-touch aspect to book anyway.
The real future of travel distribution comes down to a single word -- hybrid. The travel agent of the future needs the technology and tools to help a consumer make a simple transaction, but also the knowledge to step in with the personal touch when more complicated planning is required. The aspect of being able to serve the client 24/7 will drive travel distribution in the years ahead. Technology built for travel agents’ specific needs will drive this change. Agents who embrace it will thrive, while others will lose out to those who see the opportunity and put themselves in a position to take advantage.
Let’s take hotels, for instance. Travel agents do not book the vast majority of hotels these days, especially city stays. This is despite the fact that many of the travelers who stay in these properties are indeed travel agent users when it comes to other categories. Why is this? Well, it comes down to access and convenience. Most travel agents provide neither, in the case of hotels.
You need to make sure your business is equipped to handle the future of travel distribution. Indeed, that’s why I’d recommend you visit Agent Studio, the travel agent website solution that includes integrated booking technology, including more than 144,000 hotels that pay 10 percent commission on every transaction. That’s the kind of technology solution you need to meet the new demands of travel distribution.
Mark Murphy is president and CEO of Travalliance Media, parent of TravelPulse.com, Agent@Home magazine, Vacation Agent magazine, Travel Agent Academy, Virtual Travel Events and Agent Studio.
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