The internet revolution of the 90’s coincided with the advent of the first online travel agencies. Initially there was a lot of curiosity but due to lack of confidence, growth was slow. In the next five years, online travel space starting filling up with the likes of Expedia and Travelocity, even our homegrown MMT debuted in 2000 in the USA and later ignited the online booking boom in India.
As in other innovations the US market pioneered the shift from Offline travel bookings to Online. There were over 124000 Travel Agents and over 34000 Travel Agencies in the USA in the late 1990’s compared to the trimmed down figure of a little over 70,000 Travel Agents and 13,000 Travel Agencies by 2013. This showed the disruptive effects of the OTA’s and Travel Experts sounded the death knell of Travel Agencies.
It is true that most travelers feel that online bookings provide a very wide choice, are cheaper and efficient, especially the business travelers. Yet in a recent survey only 20 percent feel their online experience matches their in-person experience, more so for a customer’s booking a multi destination holiday.
The biggest surprise for the travel market came from a study in the US, it was found that 22% of Americans making $50,000 or more booked travel through an agent in 2015, up from 14% in 2014. The travels and hospitality marketing firm MMGY also found that in 2015, 18% of travelers worked with an adviser, a 50% jump from the previous year. This number is said to rise in the subsequent years. (USA Today)
“Amidst all these changes, bricks-and-mortar travel agents remain a favoured option for booking overseas holidays, offering a level of personal service and in-depth knowledge that online sources can’t beat. And this potentially holds the key to staying competitive in the rapidly evolving travel and tourism market”. Roy Morgan Research
The traveler today wants curated ideas for their particular tastes and interests. So they connect to experts, Travel Agents.., relying on their expertise to suggest the best holiday for the best price, and all those other details the DIY would spend a few long days to discover and then realize … Discovered Wrong….!
“People don’t go to advisers for information anymore. They go for clarity and curation; they need someone to distill the abundance of information available to them. What stresses people today, isn’t the lack of information. … It’s not knowing if they are asking the right questions.” Matthew D. Upchurch, chairman and chief executive of Virtuoso
Today the millennial’s and their previous generation in the 50’s, which are also the most committed to travel, is willing to give up a little control for good advice, fewer hassles and human interaction.
It’s critical that travel providers understand each customer not as a marketing segment, but as an individual so that they can deliver personalized offers. Here the online are at a disadvantage because even after detailed profiling the human expectation cannot be fully prophesied. Therefore after the initial euphoria of lower prices and infinite choices, personalized service is keeping the brick and mortar industry in the race. So the future travel agents not only need to create travel itineraries but travel stories which the online or DIY tools, even with AI, can only aspire to do. Unlike in the case of online bookings the Travel Agents job does not end at booking an itinerary but also helping the customer realize IT i.e the on-vaction experience.
Travel Agents in India only get, on an average, 10-12% repeat customers. To keep pace with customer expectation today and in the future the Travel Agent needs to create an ecosyetem where all stake holders who help in an enabling experience are connected. So whether its is the Taxi driver, the Hotel, Activity provider or the Restaurant and Shops need to collectively and interconnectedly work towards creating an unforgettable story for the vacationer. Additionally this eco-system should proactively smoothen the bumps before even the customer knows and for this technology needs to be an integral part of the holiday experience.
Many mobile apps for a Travel Agency have been developed in the last couple of years that help the customer in providing destination information with recommendation according to the customer profile. But the new, just launched The Travelexic Eco-System goes way beyond anything in the market now. This system not only provides all holiday information but also keeps the Travel Agent and other stake holders in continuous connect helping the customer solve problems before they arise. It is probably the best app for travel in India.
The future market will be dominated by online Hotel and Flight Bookings especially for business travel but taking a holiday is not about connecting data points on your laptop/mobile phone but is about creating an experiential journey and a personal story.
The human touch is there to stay…