The New York Times and USA Today have just reported what we've known all along: Know-ledgable agents with strong customer service have no need to fear the Internet.
Two recent articles ("Happy Returns for Travel Agents," The New York Times, July 3, 2007; and "The Ever-Changing Role of the Travel Agent," USA Today, June 22, 2007) tell of people confused by the massive quantities of information on the Internet and the excessive amount of time it takes to sort through it all; the frustration they experience when something goes wrong during a trip and having no one to call to fix it; and of complex international travel that simply takes too much in-depth knowledge to handle on their own.
Knowledge is Key
In The New York Times article, Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research is quoted as saying that although the amount of travel booked on the Internet is high and increasing, "as the airline centers have scaled back their call centers and it's harder to get help from travel providers themselves, finding a travel agent who is knowledgable and takes the burden off a customer is more valuable than ever."
Echoing that statement in the same article is Jack Mannix, president and chief executive of the Ensemble Travel Group, who says, "There's a hugh amount of data on the Internet, but there's a knowledge base between someone's ears that just can't be replicated, regardless of how much research you do."
Supporting the claim that knowledge is key is what USA Today calls "the rise of the specialist." The article's theory is that the many simple trips a generalist travel agent used to handle are now being booked online by the consumer, whereas more complex travel arrangements require agents specializing in far-flug destinations (which are becoming more popular) and other types of travel that can be opaque to the novice.
What Role Do Home-Based Agents Play in This Changing Landscape?
The USA Today article starts out with a snapshot of a home-based agent, Lorrie Magar of BCD Travel, who works from her Kansas City-area home office. She is used as an example of the route many agencies are taking in employing home-based agents.
The point is made that with today's technology, agents can have all the tools necessary to do their jobs without having to go to a corporate office, and that a home-based agent often has the higher level of concentration and therefore productivity that Magar discusses.
What neither article mentions is the role host agencies play. To have the high level of technology and marketing support home-based agents need, the host agency's place cannot be discounted.
Anastasia (Stasha) Mills Managing Editor [email protected] 212-895-8251