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Online travel agents? They’re nothing but algorithms!

April 12, 2017 Headline News 1 Comment Email Email

More heat has been added to the current debate over the advantages of flesh-and-blood travel agents versus robot booking systems.

Mobile Travel Agents’ co-managing director, Roy Merricks, said so-called online travel agents or OTAs should perhaps be more aptly described as online travel algorithms.

Merricks has added his voice to the growing number of travel agents who object to being placed in the same category as OTAs, which in some cases are just booking engines run from computers. Travellers who face inconvenience or worse on their travels overseas can expect little help from a computer.

Merricks views warnings about OTAs making inroads into travel agents’ positions as a “furphy”.

Speaking from the company’s national head office on the Gold Coast, Merricks asked whether OTAs such as Webjet and similar organisations should even be considered de facto travel agents or travel advisers.

“Any OTA promoting itself as a travel agent or travel advisor could be construed as ‘potentially misleading,’” Merricks said.

“OTAs don’t deliver the products or complete services provided by a credentialed national agency, such as MTA, with true connections and support for clients on the ground globally.”

Merricks said that while OTAs originally had specialised in either flights or hotel reservations, over the years they had generally added to that base to include other land content designed to broaden their appeal.

“The misnomer is they are effectively promoting themselves as an online version of a traditional travel agent – without a shop – and therefore suggesting they are more readily available,” he said.

“Nothing is further from the truth and it is, in my opinion, potentially misleading when OTAs promote themselves as a travel agent or travel adviser in the sense of the words understood by consumers.

“At the end of the day the travel distribution system, travel agents and travel advisers are alive and growing well.

“OTAs should perhaps be more aptly described as Online Travel Algorithms – let’s see them for what they really are.”

Similar sentiments were expressed after the Australian Financial Review ran a recent story in which Webjet managing director John Guscic said “the underlying role of the traditional travel agent is arguably in decline”.

TravelManagers’ chairman Barry Mayo took issue, disputing that the role of agents was declining and pointing out that people had been sounding the death knell of the traditional bricks-and-mortar travel agent ever since the arrival of the internet.

Since Mayo spoke, the European Commission issued a damning report on OTAs following one of the most comprehensive surveys of online travel sites ever conducted. See: Online travel sites hopelessly unreliable: official report

Data from the Roy Morgan Holiday Tracker survey released last month showed that online-only operator,, had knocked Flight Centre out of the top slot for the first time in many years as Australia’s “most widely used travel agent”.

Here again, real agents took umbrage. AgentGerko, a frequent correspondent with Global Travel Media, commented: “I really object to being referred to as a travel agent. It is a computer that makes bookings and nothing more. It does not advise or assist people, as a real travel agent does. It’s like comparing Amazon with your local book shop.”

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Peter says:

    More delusions.

    Traditional travel agents are not going to disappear.

    But to think that they have not been negatively impacted by OTAs and will not continue to be impacted by OTAs and metas exarch and mega aggregators is to live on another planet.

    And the online players that have been delinquent in their disclosure and hidden pricing policies are only repeating many of the delinquent practices of travel agents for about 50 years. But finally the competition authorities are catching up with them. The scandal is: “What took them so long”.

    The current constant denial of a happening thing is delusional to say the least.

    It is evolutional. It is the relentless impact of “the Internet of things”.

    But maybe the people who are spouting and reading and agreeing with such rubbish as set out in this article are feeling warm and fuzzy in not been realistic.

    P.S. And the best of the online operators have much better follow up and support mechanisms for customers in midst of travel than 99 percent of traditional travel agents. The customers are not talking to computers but live support people. So how about getting to know what your competitors actually do before mouthing off.

    I could be critical of OTAs in a million ways but at least I do not resort to fantasy about the traditional travel agency world.

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