Tourism and the Internet – Has Online Killed the Travel Agent?

Enter the Internet

It seems that as the internet has taken over the world in many areas of business, it makes complete sense to totally dominate and over take the market of the traditional travel agent. Is this happening, has it happened and what of the future for travel agents and the consumer alike?

Many industry professionals are asking these questions as they all attempt to predict the future in this ever-expanding and fast-moving world of Digital and Social Media.

Will the likes of Trip Advisor and Facebook replace travel professionals as the prices get to a level that cannot sustain a commercial business in tourism?

Well I certainly hope not. If this happens there will be no winners; the consumer may think they are saving a quick buck in the short-term but the reality is that their holiday experience will be most certainly reduced.

This is a complex problem, and is merely the tip of an enormous iceberg.

What did we used to do?

In days gone past, pre the wealth of instant knowledge available on just about anything on the internet, the traveler had to go to a traditional travel professional (a travel agent). This professional would quiz their client on what they wanted out of their holiday experience, the budgetary restraints and the personal expectations of their client.

Of course the client had to pay a premium to the agent for this advice, or did they! Well no, they didn’t; the wholesalers would pay the travel agent the commission and everyone would be better off. It was a complete win/win situation. The consumer prevails, the business operator prevails and of course capitalism continues to thrive.

Well hasn’t all of that changed; for some crazy reason (and maybe myself included) we all think we are experts and don’t need advice from anyone. Better still, as we are all experts, we believe that it is imperative that we tell everyone how important we are and how much we know.

Enter Trip Advisor and the like

Again, due to some amazing misconception we believe that we are all travel experts, we all know a good steak from a bad steak, a good restaurant from a bad restaurant, a good hotel from a bad hotel, and so it goes on. Well let me tell you! We are wrong! We don’t! OK, maybe some of us do, yes that’s right, industry professionals with years and years of on the job training, researching and first hand experiencing the industry.

Let me use Mr Matt Preston as an example, if you don’t know who he is then I suggest you crawl out from under your rock. Anyway, Matt is re-nowned as one of the world’s leading food critics; what he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing. What’s my point? I hear you say. Well, Matt is paid a ridiculous amount of money for an experienced, objective and overall well qualified viewpoint. Now do you see my point? So those of you who spend hours typing into Trip Advisor and the like sharing the world of your limited wisdom maybe should stop and think, “do I really know what I am talking about”, “am I qualified to give my opinion” and does the world “really care about my opinion”.

Anyway, my rant is over. I hope my point got across. In short the internet is destroying customer experience as we are all dumbing down, saving a quick buck while happily destroying an industry.

Well don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact it’s quite the opposite. More on that later.

Enter the Stock Market

Let me explain a similar situation that started in the early 90’s. Stockbrokers had this same fear; would eTrade destroy their business; well it certainly looked like it. But no, it didn’t, in fact it increased the need for brokers. Well how can this be you ask. Simple, the internet made the stock market more accessible.

In 1987 only 8% of the Australian population invested in shares, I challenge you to find more than a small handful of people these days that don’t own shares.

So why did this happen? Well the internet made the market more accessible, more people bought shares, and of course more people lost money. So what did they do, give up investing in the market? No, they sought advice, hence more stockbrokers were needed.

I imagine most of you see my point now.

So what Next?

The internet has infiltrated the travel industry in ways that we would never have thought of, what started with Wotif.com providing a portal for last-minute inventory soak up has expanded to dozens of last-minute sites; all major wholesalers operate their own last-minute sites, there are third-party booking agencies popping up everywhere, internet marketers and affiliates are jumping on the bandwagon too, and it seems everyone who is a bit IT savvy are on this burgeoning travel boom.

“So what’s the problem” I hear you say. We can get cheap flights (online) we can get cheap accommodation (online) we can get cheap tours (online) and we can even get coupons for meals (online). Spreets sends out discounts that make your hair curl daily.

So what’s the problem! Well simple, no one is making any money. Accommodation providers aren’t making money so their standard of product is dropping, after all who is going to maintain the product with no money coming in, the tour operators have to cut corners to pay wages, the customer misses out on the quality of product they deserve, the restaurants struggle to pay landlords and wages so obviously the standard of their product reduces (I won’t even start on farmers and other primary producers) and of course the airlines. Well of course if they are cutting costs (as petrol is going through the roof) they too must reduce product, scary isn’t it.

OK, well it’s not all bad, remember our friends in the Stockbroking industry?

What will happen now? Well the industry has just about self imploded and is no doubt at the bottom of the ocean; so to speak, what will re-float it? That’s easy; tourists!

Re-enter the Travel Professional

I hear nearly daily horror stories of flights gone wrong, incorrect travel dates, “I couldn’t get the room I wanted”, “I couldn’t get onto the tour” etc. So the traditional Industry professionals, “mum and dad” travel agents, are coming back in force.

Like my good friends at Platinum Travel Corporation in Surrey Hills Melbourne, they have a loyal database of clients that they SERVICE, yes service. This is something foreign to most of you, but the new age of internet did that, don’t worry it’s not your fault.

So the agent; well the agents business is already turning the corner, it’s like turning a battleship, but it is improving. The traditional travel agents are improving their client bases, getting more and more clients daily. Why, because the internet has made travel easy; we are no longer scared to be away from home or jump on a plane for 3 hours or more, we are happy to travel. This has happened because somewhere along the line recently we all got a “great deal”.

So we all want to travel more! But we are also time poor and most of us do realize that spending hours on Trip Advisor listening to unqualified (and more often than not, fake) opinions is not the best use of our time, nor is it the most fun.

What’s the answer

So, the answer is easy. Call an independent travel agent and get their advice, ideas and suggestions. Independent agents don’t have to deal with any particular product they can choose whomever they like. They will give you honest and accurate information. If they don’t know it firsthand they will ask someone who does; someone who knows the unbiased facts. Will this all cost more? Well of course, did you think quality and service is for free. After all we are a capitalist society and needs the wheels of commerce to turn for us all to survive.

How much more? Well actually not much, and in many instances you will be very surprised at how cheap it may just be. They will know the best deals and offers going on at any particular time. They will know the weather as well as economic or political unrest in certain regions.

Don’t forget the travel agent has a strong motivation for you to have an amazing holiday experience; your custom! They want to deal with you again and again, but more than that, they want you to tell all of your friends and colleagues how much help the travel agent was, how easy your trip was and how much fun you had.

So to summarize, has the travel agent died? Well not yet. The internet has certainly dealt them a monumental blow, but a blow that can be recovered from all the same. The travel industry has expanded, the internet has opened doors that none of us have seen through before. So as the market place has grown so too has the consumer wanting a holiday.

So get onto your travel agent now and organize your next holiday. You won’t regret it, it won’t cost a great deal more and it will be completely stress free.

For a list of licensed travel agents in Australia be sure to look at the AFTA website www.afta.com.au

Guy Besley has had a wealth of experience in the Australian tourism industry; from his initial investment in a holiday unit in Port Douglas 15 years ago, through to owning 10 management rights complexes and now his business is a 3rd party booking agency.

Guy has covered all areas of tourism, from wholesale to retail, unit owner, management rights owner and of course tourist. Have a look at his website for more information about his services http://www.LatitudeTravelServices.com.au

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