YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen them. Those offices at the strip mall with large posters of tropical beaches in the window. Inside, there are a couple of desks, a display case full of travel brochures and travel agents. According to a recently released Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) report, these may be going the way of the dodo.
The report, Total Tourism Survey: The Industry Speaks, claims that travel agents, long the gatekeepers of travel and price information, are being replaced by online booking engines that provide hotel and travel services, connecting anyone anywhere.
“Travel agents and global distribution system operators now have to radically alter their business models,” the report says.
In an effort to reduce expenses, the Indian government is considering a proposal to replace foreign tourist offices with virtual offices. “In the present era of ICT the same tasks can be handled by a virtual office,” a government official said.
A Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) report in India says travel agents there now have to accept a reduced commission of 5 percent, down from 9 percent previously. “It’s only a matter of time before it is completely wiped out.”
Apichart Sanary, president of the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), estimates direct online reservation in Thailand is now about 40 percent of the total business transacted, an increase of 10 percent compared to five years ago.
Most experienced and well-traveled customers are increasingly relying on travel websites to make reservations when all they need is a flight ticket and accommodation. International travel websites are also now distributing travel packages via the Internet. In addition, many airlines are now giving incentives for travelers to book online, such as offering frequent flier miles.
Some still think that the human travel agent is still needed. “The reservation websites have never been able to replace traditional travel agents over the past 10 years,” John Watson, CEO of a travel agency told the Bangkok Post, “and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think they ever will.”
He believes that direct contact with a person is still important to travelers. “Travelers who are not cost-conscious want more than just making a reservation,” he said. “They want details on how to make their trips as pleasurable as possible.”
He thinks a marriage of the new technology and the traditional travel agency is the way to go. “Agents can add value to their operations by using the Internet technology,” he said. Industry analysts seem to agree, pointing out that travel agents need to evolve if they are to remain a viable part of the industry. They need to start offering any and every available service a traveler requires and become a travel advisor charging a fee for the service, rather than earning a commission.
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