by Karen Galles
In both the leisure and corporate travel markets, travel planners today aren’t short on options for ways to research, plan and purchase their trips. Traditional travel agencies have held a place in travelers’ hearts, phone books (and browser bookmarks), and even policies for as long as they’ve been providing their services. Let’s explore what’s going to keep them a travel customer favorite in the year ahead.
The Big Picture
Increasing competition from online travel agency (OTA) and supplier-direct channels have made it necessary for traditional brick-and-mortar agencies to introduce new, mostly online, services and fine-tune their target markets. Many have re-vamped their business models entirely in order to capitalize off of opportunities ushered in by consumers’ digital preferences—and they’re thriving.
Basing their assessment on findings from IBISWorld’s Travel Agencies in the US: Market Research Report, AMP and Blitz explore the emergence of this “new type of travel agency” in Targeting Moments Of Need In the New Travel Landscape. They expect that steady economic growth will boost the travel industry’s prospects over the next five years and identify four trends that will increase demand for travel agents:
- OTAs that serve endless choices, not solutions.
- The possibility for better, more personalized recommendations powered by big data and artificial intelligence (AI).
- A new generation of travelers who have come of age on mobile devices.
- The ongoing premium placed on ‘authenticity’.
While it’s clear that technology is playing a starring role in shaking up consumer preferences and behaviors, it’s the first and fourth trends that speak to what might be a traditional travel agency’s ace in the hole: the delivery of personal, personalized and authentic solutions.
Travel agents have the expertise and experience to design a truly customized trip for travelers in a way that goes beyond identifying unique experiences and finding the right price points. While recommendations from friends and online reviews can help a trip planner decide on a destination, travel agents can usually provide information and advice at the point of purchase. In many cases, travel agents have “been there” and have enjoyed the experiences they’re selling. Plus, they’re industry insiders with connections to suppliers, so they have unparalleled level of access to insights and special deals that can make for an exceptional holiday.
Simplicity Through Expertise
Consider these findings from the AMP/Blitz study:
- When it comes to booking, 79% of individuals surveyed want customization and ease
- 56% of those surveyed have used a travel agent in the past, citing deals, time-savings, and expert advice as the best reasons to do so
- Frequent travelers value an agent’s expertise and ability to save time
- Infrequent travelers value an agent’s ability to save money and stress.
Every customer is looking for something a little different, so travel agencies should identify what each customer values and “sell” the ROI based on what’s most important to them. But travelers’ requirements for ease, convenience, savings, and customization can all be met by a travel agency—thanks to their marketplace and process expertise and their ability to simplify the booking experience. Traditional travel agencies are adept at helping customers dot the I’s and cross the T’s, especially in international travel, where legal and health documentation is required.
Expertise also plays a hand in planning more complex adventures. In addition to personal service, cruises and multigenerational travel are identified as the 3 Opportunities for Today’s Traditional Travel Agency because people tend to have more questions and specifications while booking these types of trips. And in corporate travel, expertise is opening doors for travel agencies in the MICE market, according to the article Memo to Travel Agents: Don’t Overlook Meetings Travel For Growth on TravelMarketReport.com. The authors explore a largely untapped opportunity for travel agencies to help companies manage and plan their events—for the same reasons leisure travelers value agents: they know how to navigate the planning process better than in-house admin or marketing teams.
For more on the MICE market, see Technology Shakes Up the MICE Industry.
The Best of Both Worlds?
Interestingly, OTAs are introducing functionality like virtual assistants to provide customers with a level of service that’s almost like working with a real, live person. (Read Q&A: Artificial Intelligence in the Travel Industry for insights.)
On the other hand, traditional travel agencies are offering customers more self-service functionality to make their experience more like that of an OTA. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot—yet that’s different for every travel planner, for each and every trip they plan.
Working with a traditional travel agency usually covers the bases, as customers can take advantage of both personal service and self-service, depending on their support needs. Travel planners who know this—particularly those who are made aware of their travel agency’s online tools—are likely to stay loyal their agent, unless they want to “go it alone.” This demonstrates the importance of marketing a travel agency’s value prop, and letting customers and potential customers know that there are different ways to work with them.
Even in the everything-online travel shopping marketplace, there’s still room for the personalized—and personal—services of living, breathing travel agents, whether or not they’re “accessed” online. In the year ahead, holidaymakers will continue to turn to both traditional travel agencies and OTAs (not to mention supplier sites, social media, review sites, etc.) for trip inspiration and planning and booking tools. And we will continue to provide you with insights into the workings of travel consumers’ ever-changing preferences.