Onsite: 29th NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference

NEW YORK-The role of travel agents has changed and they need to adapt in order to roll with the times--two sentiments shared by industry executives and experts at the 29th annual New York University Hospitality Industry Investment Conference Monday in Manhattan. "Their role has shifted dramatically," said Gerald Lawless, CEO of Jumeirah International, citing his company's heightened level of direct-guest bookings. Lawless added that Jumeirah has reduced allocating inventory to wholesalers, due in part to increased traffic and bookings direct from its hotel web sites. While the role of travel agents may have lessened due to higher consumer-based booking activity, Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, said travel agents are still, and can be more, of an important factor in selling hotels. "The pool of travelers is going to get bigger," he said, "so there is room for all constituents to be part of it. Agents can do that." He did offer a plea: "They need to be more proactive," he said, noting that not once has he ever been approached by a travel agent. Lalia Rach, associate dean and HVS International chair of the Preston Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, proposed a solution. "Agents need to reposition," she said. "Become experts on time and come after consumers." Time was an important theme: Travelers have less of it, and agents can capitalize by handling busy travelers' leisure time. "Some people," IHG's Cosslett said, "just don't have the time to book themselves."

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