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Agent fury over Webjet ad obscures encouraging facts

January 7, 2016 Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A new 30-second television commercial by Australian online travel agent Webjet has infuriated agents and may have turned off a few members of the public.

The ad depicts two women, one packing to go on holiday and the other asking how she booked. In short, the exchange is calculated to make online booking seem better value than dealing with agents.

The ad raised a fair bit of anger on Webjet’s Facebook page.

“I will never use a company that resorts to slandering other companies in its adverts,” wrote Alex Mawby. “I regularly use travel agents to book flights and always find them very friendly and helpful and I’m not about to stop because of a very poorly thought out advertising campaign.”

“This is going to backfire on you bigtime…” wrote another critic.

Commercials are seldom impartial. When it comes to facts, agents have a lot going for them.

A survey by consumer group Choice last year revealed booking through a travel agent to be a better option than booking online for those who wish to avoid problems when arranging travel or while travelling.

Seven out of 10 Australians run into difficulties when travelling or preparing to travel, the survey revealed. Over a quarter of those problems concern booking online – with hidden fees topping the list of peeves. See: Agents a better bet as 70% of Aussies hit travel problems

More recently, in the Paris terrorist attacks in November, travel agents contacted affected clients to adjust travel arrangements, keep them advised regarding airline announcements, insurance company advisory notices and other details. Travellers who booked online were caught unawares.

Likewise, during a sudden Lufthansa strike in September, travel agents working round the clock managed to get their clients to their destinations with little to no disruption. Travellers who had booked with OTAs, or direct with airlines, were left sitting at European airports, stranded and disgruntled.

The same phenomenon has been noted during weather-related, and volcano-related, flight disruptions.

Webjet, however, speaks of a shift towards booking international flights online.

The company’s managing director, John Guscic, told the Sydney Morning Herald that international bookings were no longer too complicated to book online and consumers were realising that.

Webjet has forecast 20% growth in earnings this financial year, before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation, to AUD 33.5 million. The company’s shares rose in value by over 90% in the 2015 calendar year.

While only 12% of Webjet’s bookings are for international travel, international represents 34% of its annual transaction values.

Guscic told the Herald that Webjet’s ability to increase its international bookings by 35% last financial year (a rate about seven times greater than the overall market) shows it is gaining share, probably at the expense of bricks-and-mortar travel agents such as Flight Centre and helloworld.

Written by Peter Needham

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