Amid all of the wreckage of the economic scene, there has of late been some good news for travel agents. The 2009 Yankelovich Travel Monitor recently reported that 62 percent of consumers who used a travel agent indicated their agent was “extremely influential” or “very influential” in their choice of vacation products. CNN last week ran an article entitled Are travel agents making a comeback? wherein it was noted that some travelers who historically used the internet for their travel bookings were shifting back to a brick-and-mortar travel agent model. Tales of the perils of booking online are not new – in fact there are sites devoted to the horror stories. What’s new is the tone of the recent articles that are not just indicating that self booking is both time consuming and dangerous, but also that using a traditional travel agent is a better alternative.
They are playing our song.
Before we spend over-much time congratulating ourselves, let’s do some hard self-analysis. It is a worthwhile undertaking to determine the reasons consumers first turned to the internet as a source of their travel planning. What did the average consumer find on the internet that they were not receiving from traditional travel agents? What can travel professionals now do to win the hearts and minds of a public stung by the problems inherent in the self-booking process?
Online booking engines are accessible, they empower the consumer and they promise value. That’s it. Right there are the three reasons people use online resources. That, and the fact that the largest of the online companies have spent combined billions of dollars since the late 1990’s shaping public perception. Now that consumers appear ready to give the traditional travel agent another shot at their business, what are you going to do about it?
This is a competitive world, folks. I can guarantee you that the good people at Travelocity are reading the Yankelovich report and spending countless hours on it – not in coming up with a defense but acknowledging their weaknesses and planning how to fix their deficiencies and win back the public. The big online agencies know they have problems, so they are working hard to repair their image and make up for any shortcomings.
What are you going to do about it?
I suggest you make yourself accessible, you empower the consumer and you deliver value. While you are at it, do your part to shape public perception on the value of the traditional travel agent.
How accessible are you? What are your hours? Are you available on weekends? After hours? Do you have a website? I mean a real website with compelling content, not something that your brother-in-law built for you. Do you empower your clients? Do you demystify travel for your clients? Do you provide access to information that makes consumers feel knowledgeable and informed? Can you convey the concept of value to your clients without confusing it with the concept of price? Does your community know you are there? Are you marketing diligently, honing your craft, continually striving to be better at what you do?
This would be a good time for the industry to step forward and campaign a bit. We may be on the verge of another tipping point, this time in our favor, an opportunity to gain momentum from a hiatus in public opinion. It would be a good time for agencies to get together in local communities to cooperatively market. It would be a good time for industry organizations to assist with grassroots marketing efforts. It would be a good time to re-evaluate our business methodologies and ensure they are up to the competitive standards and practices of true professionals.
So in your own world, in your own travel practice, associations, communities and offices, what are you going to do about it?