Travellers are turning back to flesh-and-blood travel agents big time, according to studies in the US – and a new online platform is exploiting the trend.
USA Today noted recently that “the life raft for an increasing number of travellers these days is a friendly, flesh-and-blood travel agent”.
The publication conceded that travel agent ranks had been significantly reduced. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates about 70,000 full-time travel agents are trading in the US today, compared with a high of 124,000 in 2000.
GoingExpert, a web-based platform which connects travellers to agents who have been to the destinations concerned, says that travellers are spoilt for choice to such an extent that “they are finding it difficult to research, compare, and review the multitude of travel planning options available to them.
“Prices and packages change at the blink of an eye which compounds the time they are spending planning a holiday. As a result, travellers are turning back to travel agents for their hands on service and industry knowledge.”
A statement from GoingExpert asks: “Have you ever noticed how online travel agents, the big online booking sites, recommend one-stop travel shopping: hotel, rental car, and tour packages all in one click?
“These deals usually come with cheap flights, but certainly not the routes you’d choose yourself, often with multiple layovers or through cities you’d never choose to stop and sightsee.
“Some years ago, last minute was the time to book to get cheap deals on flights and hotels and weekend getaways. You could literally click a best price on flight on a Friday afternoon and be on your way at a respectable time the next day. But the buy-and-fly magic has ceased to exist; now your sweet spot is about six weeks or 42 days prior to departure.
“You also used to be able to get service from the big sites when holiday planning, but now it’s really just point A to point B booking and seeing the same sights as everyone else when you get there. During those early days the storefront travel agent, who would painstakingly plan your travel itinerary, diminished making way for the automated booking systems. But that is changing.”
According to GoingExpert research, bookings with travel agents for outbound holiday travel decreased over eight years in the US from 2007 (71%) to 2015 (52%).
Travel agents lost business to the new online booking platforms due to:
- A self-serve move toward booking point A to point B flights
- New direct booking platforms for hotels & cruises came out of the woodwork
- A proliferation of ‘Packaged Holidays’ flooded the market
- Perceived financial saving
- Perceived time saving
That online growth has slowed gradually since 2010 as the traveller became spoilt for choice. It seems like a strange reason for it to decrease but the reality is that the traveller is getting swamped with the overload of destination information on the internet, and being time poor they are moving back to booking with travel agents for good reason.
- Travellers want flexibility and choice, more than a packaged tour will provide
- They are time-poor and frustrated with the time taken researching websites
- A couple of positive travel reviews don’t mean they match the travellers needs
- Travellers are confused due to continually changing flight prices and packages
- They want more out of the destination, they want local knowledge
The need for knowledgeable Travel Agents is increasing at about 4% per year, according to GoingExpert.
“They’re not just seeking advice from someone who can open a brochure, or read a travel site screen, they want to know that the travel agent has “been-there”, they want the local knowledge.
“Travel agents, and there are still plenty of them around, have all of the industry booking tools at their fingertips so they can find the best routes and prices in an instance, saving money on flights, hotels and giving the traveller a far better experience than any package holiday will provide.
“What’s even more valuable is they are there to support the traveller should anything go wrong while they are away, no matter how small it may be. That’s peace of mind.”
Going.Expert describes itself as a new free service travel platform that connects travellers with “been-there” travel agents. It is currently recruiting agents for the task and seems to be based primarily in the US.
According to the site :”Travellers are flocking to this new easy-to-use database of real-live travel agents who have actually been to the destinations the traveller is going to. Going Expert doesn’t sell travel and doesn’t compare prices; they simply match the traveller’s destination with any of the thousands of real-live travel agents on Going Expert directly and instantly connecting them so they can tap into their expertise, pricing advantage and destination local knowledge.”
Edited by Peter Needham