Dear Tammy: Are travel agents even needed anymore? I don’t want to sound like I’m having a pity party, but I keep hearing about this customer and that customer who are booking their travel reservations online. Are we becoming as obsolete to our industry as Blockbuster became to the entertainment industry?
Tammy: The answer to your question is, unequivocally, no. I’m still here and my business is thriving and I know many, many successful travel agents as well. We are not becoming obsolete and let me tell you a few reasons why:
Research time: Plain and simple, people are busy. They don’t mind looking up the cute cat video that’s trending or the scores of their favorite sports teams, but researching a travel destination takes much more time. Search for “travel to the Caribbean,” for example, and someone can be sitting at their computer for hours sorting out all of the options and prices. It is overwhelming. Travelers want someone to sort through all of this stuff for them and pick out their best options. That’s what travel agents do.
Problematic websites: If they have tried to book their own reservations, many travelers have already experienced problems. Maybe they didn’t read the fine print and couldn’t get their money back on a canceled reservation or maybe they booked at a resort that wasn’t up to standards. They might have even booked with an online travel agent who no longer exists and wasn’t really legit to begin with. Either way, travelers want their hard-earned vacation money protected. That’s what travel agents do.
Uncertainty: You know that too-good-to-be-true travel package they saw online? Well, it was. Borrowing a line from Forrest Gump (with a slight change), “Booking travel arrangements online is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” It’s true. Unless the traveler has been to this destination before, or knows someone who has, they do not know what to expect. Travelers want to talk to agents who are very familiar with resorts and destinations to provide first-hand knowledge and recommendations.
Lack of security: No matter the reason, many travelers don’t trust websites. They do not want to put their information on the web from their own computer. Instead, having travel agents do the work for them provides some peace of mind.
Customer service: Ask Siri to find you the hottest travel destination and she will pull up a random list of vacation spots. OK, that might give a traveler a great vacation idea, but then go ahead and ask her to fix your travel reservations, get you a discount or tell you about the newest resort in Mexico and you’ll hear, “I’m sorry I didn’t understand that.” The online travel agents work the same way. They don’t customer service the way a living, breathing travel agent can. We build relationships with our clients and provide the best customer service that a traveler needs.
Don’t whine the next time you hear about someone using the Internet to book a vacation. Instead, good travel agents will do what they can to turn this into an opportunity. Let the traveler know what you do and, if they need help, you are there.