The travel industry is constantly evolving. New destinations come in and out of popularity, new technology makes different kinds of travel possible, and the types of companies that serve travelers change as well. Innovative firms are even creating new travel methodologies like the “remote year” that blends work and travel for remote workers. Business owners are scrambling to think of ways to leverage partnerships with these firms to be a part of the experiences they create.
Travel agencies were once the only way to efficiently book travel, until the rise of self-service online options enabling consumers to research, plan, and book their own trips. A recent resurgence in the popularity of travel agencies marks a shift in consumer preference, back to the small businesses that used to help people explore abroad. Euromonitor International research estimates that global online sales for travel agencies reached $246 billion in 2015, a 19 percent increase from the previous year.
Part of that growth has been driven by new companies that are coming up with exciting ways to leverage today’s self-service technologies alongside local expertise and trip support. This combination is designed to help remedy some of the shortcomings that have plagued online booking experiences. Research from Statista found that over half of users that booked travel through agencies said their experiences were better than ones they have planned on their own.
Benefits of Using a Travel Agent
Zach Smith, founder and CEO of Anywhere, a travel agency that leverages local onsite experts as well as progressive technology solutions to offer custom travel experiences, thinks that the recent shift can be explained, in part, by consumer’s desire for curated experiences.
“The rise of review websites and top-ten lists online has caused a glut of common experiences that are often simply the biggest activities, or the most sponsored at a given destination,” Smith shares, “We leverage local experts to help us craft experiences that match each client’s’ travel style, as well as the local culture and beauty.”
Review sites place the responsibility on users to sift through endless options with no customization aside from search filters. The result is a million opinions based on millions of experiences, none of which truly educates those who are researching how to plan their next trip. Agencies are able to cut through the noise based on local partnerships and experience rather than unverified reviews.
In addition to adding more work for the individual travel planner, third party websites fail to offer any security or assistance while abroad. They also create issues with the various companies they book with, as the contract is between the traveler and the third party site, not the traveler and the company delivering the service.
Most travelers have probably experienced a third party issue like a rental car reservation that went wrong, or know friends who showed up to a hotel booked through a discount site, only to find their reservation did not exist. If you have used any of these services, it’s likely that this has happened to you as well!
This may be one of the biggest reasons travelers are looking for modernized travel agencies to help them book trips. Consumers that have used sites that leverage automation to make reservations quickly find there is minimal accountability when something goes wrong.
Smith explains, “The only kind of ‘AI’ that our customer wants in their travel experience is ‘Accountable Intelligence’. Having someone who is accountable for any issues means they also have an advocate that can prevent travel disruptions.” By providing a safety net for travelers, travel agencies help resolve issues quickly rather than leaving the customer to figure it out for themselves.
Returning to R&R
Travelers need to consider what their goals are when it comes to the trips they plan. When we think of vacation, we usually think of turning our focus away from strategy and work to relaxation. The opposite is the case for self-service travel however, as the traveler has to create itineraries, navigate language barriers and book reservations all on their own.
For those that want to immerse themselves in local culture, and place accountability on someone else, a modern agency may be a great option. For business owners in the travel industry, the best way to capitalize on this trend is by making the execution of trips stress-free.
Research indicates that digital travel sales will increase to an impressive $755.94 billion in revenue by 2019. For agencies looking to take customer share back from third party sites and self-service options, the key is creating personalized experiences, ones that the traveler might not be able to create on their own. As the industry continues to change entrepreneurs and small business owners need to find ways to blend human expertise and technology to create more options for consumers.
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