As the owner of a small independent travel agency, I am frequently asked why people should bother with an agent, when they can book online.
The answer is simple – convenience. You can mow your own lawn, or if you don’t have the time, you can pay someone else for their service, and have it done for you. It is the same with travel. There are a plethora of online sites available, not to mention the array of opinions offered by travellers on everything from food stalls to airline reward schemes. All of this information can be overwhelming, which is where the agent comes in. A good travel agent will take the time to get to know their client, and will then sift through their sources for solutions that are relevant to the client.
While there are still many traditional travel agents, there is a growing trend of Independent Agents, such as myself. An independent will still have a contract with a larger, more traditional consortium which enables us to issue tickets, and gain access to negotiated rates. The appeal lies in the fact that we are free to source our own suppliers, and are not constrained by group targets, or preferential arrangements. As many of us are home-based we don’t carry large overheads, enabling us to be more competitive. We go out of our way to find reliable partners that place an emphasis on quality, service and price.
It is not unusual for me to move from booking a bargain basement backpackers hostel in Sao Paulo, to business class seats and five star hotels in the space of an hour. As a client you have the convenience of dealing directly with the owner of the business. This is the flexibility that is on offer when dealing with an independent agent.
It is worth noting that online sales are nowhere near as pervasive as many people seem to think. The US leads the field in moving online, yet statistics quoted by American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) senior VP, Paul M. Ruden paint a different picture. He points out that in the year ending 2012, 64% of the market in air travel was sold by agents. Another proponent of the value brought by agents is former US Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton. In an address to the Global ASTA Conference in Miami, Clinton called the work done by agents ‘indispensible’ and added that she feels agents deserve more respect for their work. She singled out personal attention, immediate response and the feeling of being looked after as being of particular interest. Norwegian Cruise Lines CEO, Kevin Sheehan is on record for noting that online cruise sales are ‘trivial’. On a local level, agents are seeing the return of increasing numbers of clients who had previously turned to online bookings.
While an independent agency such as GoBeyond Travel is able to provide efficient and cost effective solutions to your travel needs, we have noticed that the modern client does come to us having done a lot more research. The days of vague requests for a holiday are history. Clients now come through with a clearer idea of what they require, and agents are more creative with their quotes, offering more cutting edge products. Some travellers will always be content to book online, but there is clear evidence that agents have evolved to meet the demands of modern travellers, and continue to provide a valuable service.