Before the Internet, the most efficient way for people to book vacations was through travel agents. And according to a recent survey by travel marketing company MMGY Global, that trend is making a big comeback thanks to travelers who want to find a more immersive experience.
We asked our own travel professionals their take on the state of the travel agency, and they reached the same consensus: Travel agents still matter.
Even if you’re not a travel agent, technology lets you book your own vacations at will. And during the Internet boom of the late 1990s, new online booking opportunities made it difficult for travel agents to stay relevant.
“The Internet was new and fun at the time,” Global Connections, Inc., Vice President Cathy Wunder said, “but travel was one of the hardest hit industries. No one, not even airlines, felt like they needed travel agents.”
In its 20-year history, Global Connections has never gone away from its agents. That dedication to customer service has set the company apart in the travel industry.
Putting Hidden Knowledge to Use
Without knowing what a travel agent knows, then you probably don’t understand why you would want to enlist their aid. Everybody knows there’s a lot of moving parts to planning a trip: transportation, airfare, lodging, scheduling and more. With so many options, it’s impossible for the general public to know where to find the best deals and what parameters to consider before booking a trip.
Colleges don’t provide education for travel agents like they used to, but Cathy was glad to go through travel school when computers were only just starting to become relevant. She remembers a time when she had to know every airport code (LAX for Los Angeles International, LGA for LaGuardia) and when she could tell customers about every stop they could make on a road trip.
“The advantage of learning in that era was that you didn’t learn shortcuts,” Cathy said. “You knew geography better, you knew the map better.”
And since many travel agents were (and still are) commission-based, there wasn’t a lot incentive for a travel professional to find deals for the consumer. That’s where Global Connections shines: As a membership travel company, every agent’s interests are for the best deal to the member.
Many travel agencies charged fees to stay in business while the Global Connections travel agency, included in membership fees, was just another perk for members.
The Remedy for Information Overload
Anyone can go on Expedia or Priceline right now and easily find the cheapest flight from here to Paris on any given date. But even with so much information at your fingertips, most people don’t know why the prices are the way they are. Variables include days of the week, travel season, number of vacancies and so on. This is where a travel agent was so useful before the Internet and how they can even find a better deal in the age of electronics.
“We were always trying to help our members,” Cathy said. “An agent would tell them another way to save a buck. For example, we’d say, ‘You know, if you left a day earlier, before noon, you could save 100 dollars.’”
In addition, online vacation planning gives travelers access to an overwhelming supply of information. As our longtime travel agent Elfie C. points out, people like to have a personal connection with someone and ease the burdens of organizing a trip.
“Travelers are overwhelmed by the amount of research that goes into an individual trip with so many options,” Elfie said. “The travel agent can make suggestions, eliminate expensive mistakes and handle all arrangements, often in a more cost-effective way by planning it correctly in the right sequence.”
Global Connections knows the value of travel agents and they are a key benefit the we offer to our members. Even if you never use the agency, at least you know a live person is a phone call away.
In the golden age of digital self-service, that might be one of the best comforts a company can provide.