Why People Are Turning Back to Travel Agents
Families and Vacation Seekers who utilize MELODYFARMS TRAVEL book their travel the old-fashioned way. They tell us where they want to go and what they need when they arrive, and leave it to us to make it happen.
Travel Agent’s business has been booming recently, in part because some people who’ve been booking their own trips on the Internet are returning to talking to Agents. Folks would just push their enter buttons on some of the websites and that is it – it’s final!! There is no one to question, no one to ask for help, and when it comes to spending money, people are starting to turn back to Travel Agents because people care – a computer website does not!
For some travelers, do-it-yourself booking is losing its luster. A study by Forrester Research found that in the first three months of this year, 28% of leisure travelers in the U.S. who booked their trips online said they’d be interested in going to a good traditional travel agent. That’s up from 23% in 2008. Another Forrester report finds that the number of leisure travelers who enjoyed using the Web to plan and book their vacations dropped to 46% last year, down from 53% in 2007.
The findings reflect a growing frustration with websites that fail to simplify an increasingly complicated travel process or to meet a vacationer’s specific needs, some analysts and travelers argue.
“We believe it’s a function of consumers’ increasing desire to get the best value as well as the increasing amount of complexity associated with planning and booking a trip,” says Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst for Forrester Research. “Planning and booking a vacation should be fun. Instead, most travel websites deliver a very clinical experience and a very intimidating experience, and one that is about as much fun as walking through quicksand. It’s just not where it should be.”
In addition to getting clients special rates, upgrades and perks, a traditional travel agent can help passengers avoid the headache of figuring out varying rates and restrictions on their own. Plus they can take action when a trip goes wrong, be it an oversold hotel or a natural disaster such as the volcanic eruption in Iceland that spewed an ash cloud that left thousands of fliers stranded throughout Europe in April.
“A lot of people are finding that travel has become more complicated than ever and that they need … the assistance of professionals that are going to understand,” says Paul Ruden, senior vice president for legal and industry affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents.
Websites are experiencing great business – but lack any personal interchange!
Travel websites are doing quite well. Online booking of leisure travel in the U.S. is projected to rise from $80 billion this year to $86.6 billion in 2011 and to $110.7 billion by 2014, with everything from tours to summer rentals becoming available for purchase on the Web, according to Forrester Research.
Harteveldt says there are numerous advantages to booking online. “It’s open 24/7,” he says. “You have access to an almost unlimited amount of information. If you have the time, if you know what you want, or even if you don’t, you can explore to your heart’s content. … So it’s not that the Internet is all bad.”
However, he says, such sites may not match other Web-based areas of business in ease of use. “There’s a lot of risk if you make a mistake,” he says. “You could have purchased a non-refundable ticket and, depending on when you discover that mistake, you may be out money.”
When do-it-yourself won’t do
Traveler Ken Kushnir, 62, says he conducts many transactions online, but booking a vacation is no longer one of them.
He veered away from traditional travel agents for a short while, “but then after maneuvering around the Internet trying to get some stuff done, I figured it just wasn’t worth it for any of our vacations or trips that were a little bit more complicated than just buzzing down to Los Angeles.”
Kushnir, who lives in Healdsburg, Calif., and works in telecommunications, says that he has dealt with broken links, pages that don’t load correctly and travel sites that don’t accommodate specific needs, like bringing along a pet or making sure he gets a hotel room on the ground floor when he’s had back problems.
Still, traditional travel agents have been disappearing. At the end of October, there were 15,087 travel agencies, including corporate travel departments and some online travel agencies, selling air travel through ARC, an airline-owned firm that provides financial services to the travel industry. That’s down from 27,719 in December 2001.
“Certainly the Internet ability to book your airplane tickets and hotels contributed to it, but the economy certainly was a factor,” Ruden says. And he says that an end to the commissions paid to travel agents by airlines in 2002 was a significant reason for many travel agents shutting their doors.
Travel agents have clout
Many travelers do prefer to book online.
“I enjoy doing the research, and unless the travel agent is top notch, they don’t know a lot about the location, hotels, etc.,” says Scott Hudson, who works in financial services and lives in Providence “I don’t want to pay someone to read me a hotel description from a website.”
Others switch back and forth, making their own reservations for shorter jaunts or business trips but using traditional travel agents for cruises or longer, more complicated journeys.
Two weeks ago, one travel agent got an e-mail from a client who was on her honeymoon in Costa Rica.
“They’d paid for the royal service with the butler, and when they got to the hotel it was oversold and they put them into a standard king room,” she says. Burr immediately called the tour operator, and word eventually reached the hotel’s manager.
“By the end of the evening they were in the top-of-the-line room, even more than what they paid for, and that would have never happened if they were on their own or booking on the web.”
We recently published a story that was on CNN to which a honeymoon couple arrived in Jamaica to begin their new life only to find that the online booking engine made a mistake and they didn’t have a room. The worst part was there were no rooms available at any of the decent resorts in the area – they have to stay in a real low class motel. The real irony was that they arrived on a Saturday evening, having booked their honeymoon on Travelocity. When they called Travelocity from the resort on Saturday evening, they were told that they had to call back Monday between 8 am – 5 pm to talk with customer service – – –
If they would have booked with me, the mistake would probably not have happened, and I would have resolved it for them that evening. So, folks, the end result is we are there for you if and when you might have a problem that needs a HUMAN to help fix it right then.