The Travel Industry: Past, Present and Future
The tourism industry has undergone some of the most profound changes in modern business, and only three examples are needed to break the pre-existing status quo: Uber, Airbnb, and Skyscanner.
These three platforms have transformed the way we organise national and international travel. They did not really come about without notice and reflect a broader change in the way consumers meet their travel needs when they want to.
However, the travel agency model persists, and those who see their digitalization as an opportunity rather than a threat are flourishing.
Travellers who make their own trips
Whether it is for business or pleasure, travelers who directly organize and book their trips have become the norm.
For travel agencies, solutions like Airbnb represent consumers who take full control of what had traditionally been “left to the experts”. Why ask a travel agent for help when you can find and book an affordable, safe and well located room on your own?
Online hotel booking did not start with Airbnb, but its human-to-human value offering has challenged the personalized service travel agents have relied on to attract business so far.
And it’s not just in accommodation that agencies feel threatened. Booking a flight has never been easier than it is today. Using online tools like Skyscanner, consumers can search for deals, calculate stopovers and book itineraries with multiple flight segments from the comfort of their living room.
These technologies have given consumers more freedom than ever before, yet, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility. These same consumers have recognized that their flight offers may not be the best, that their Airbnb hosts are not the most hospitable, and that their itineraries are not the easiest to navigate.
Travelers who don’t use travel agencies also recognize that organizing any trip can be a real headache, as well as a significant time investment. And when a business traveler is stranded in Jakarta with a cancelled flight, in a hotel room in a building that doesn’t even look like one and involves an unexpected 35-hour layover, this headache turns into a migraine.
Travel Agents Today
The agents and travel agencies they work for know this well. They know that their professional services are still needed, despite the fact that every three days a new travel software is launched that is the latest and greatest thing for organizing trips by yourself.
So what is the added value to selling a travel agency – is it simply to eliminate the inevitable human error associated with “do-it-yourself” bookings?
Travel agents have always taken advantage of personal service as an added value to their sales. They work with you, the traveler, to create a trip that suits your wishes and needs. They also use their existing personal contacts with suppliers, hotels and airlines to put together a service package for you.
However, as mentioned above, booking a room through a platform like Airbnb can be an even more personalized experience. Travelers deal directly with the room owner, who often occupies the house with them and acts as a host during their stay. This presents a set of limitations and potential problems, however, the personal service remains.
Travel Agencies and Technology
In our overview of how the travel agent profession is changing, we discuss how the highly specialized role now requires an agile and technological mind to master. Using the best available technology, travel agents have proven their worth to CFOs in facilitating positive and profitable business travel for their employees.
The benefits of technology for travel agents are no less profound. Today, travel agents know that to compete with the digitization of consumer travel, they need to evolve the technology they use.
Optimized travel management platforms allow agents to eliminate the hesitation generated by online self-booking tools, and any traveler who wants to find the most optimal and economical way to get from A to B understands this. It is the responsibility of travel agents to communicate this point of differentiation clearly and with data or examples to support it.
For corporate travelers, the help of an agent is absolutely necessary. It’s no secret how complex business travel can be, especially when unexpected changes are made to itineraries and strict corporate travel policies have to be adhered to.