The Business of Travel
Reviving Travel Agencies
by Patty Toppa
As in every other industry, travel has had some big changes in the last two decades, which ultimately caused the close of many “brick and mortar” travel agencies. Those that did survive had to create a new business model. The biggest issue in the 1990’s was the decrease in airline commissions; and in 2001 – a couple of months after 9/11 – airlines took the opportunity to stop paying commissions to travel agencies altogether. Agencies were forced to institute a service fee.
With the current issues of airlines cutting schedules, constantly changing airfares, and charging extra for everything from luggage to pillows to peanuts, it’s a wonder people get to their destination without having a nervous breakdown. You would think that simplicity would be the best course of action however the airlines have woven a web of very complex rules that can make a travel agent’s head spin – let alone the poor consumer who just wants to go and visit family. Some good news is some of the start-up airlines (Southwest and JetBlue) have made great strides in providing service without the many issues of the standard airlines.
Without going much further into airline issues, a qualified travel consultant with GDS (global distribution system) can help with air ticketing in many ways that you may not think about. Basically, an agent can see all flights with all carriers for every day – not just those that an online agency wants you to choose – which is very important for the business traveler. One would need to weigh the options.
Online agencies were another battle for small agencies (and still are) and those agencies that did not embrace the change are more than likely not to be in business today. Those of us that are still around not only had to make changes but had to find creative ways to sell travel all while fighting the direct selling practices of the cruise lines and tour companies. All these changes – while good for the airlines and cruise lines – have put the consumer in charge of their own travel arrangements, which for some was fine but for many it caused confusion and anxiety.
Other Services Everyone who purchases an airline ticket must do their online check-in 24 hours prior to flying. Similarly, everyone who is getting ready to cruise also must do the cruise lines ‘online check-in’ to get their boarding pass. We in our agency help our clients through the process and in many cases do it for them. It’s called service and we are happy to do it, since these folks did purchase their travel through our agency. We certainly want to make the experience as smooth as possible.
The expertise of the travel consultant can help a customer with: choosing the right cruise itinerary, finding the best value (not always the cheapest), and helping make decisions on the correct air itinerary that will best fit their needs. For instance, choosing the right location for the customer’s cruise stateroom might affect their total experience; the traveler may not have thought about how it might affect them, but it’s one area that travel agents are well-versed at since we are doing this day in and day out.
When and Why
‘When should you use a travel agent?’ ALWAYS! (Just Kidding.) A basic rule is . . . anytime you are traveling outside of the country or have anything but a simple roundtrip you should consult a qualified air ticketing agency (there are travel agents that only sell cruises and tours). Not to mention, the face-to-face contact with an experienced person with whom you can have a conversation about your wishes and what your options are is a great value.
I would like to point out that a travel consultant will know about issues whether they themselves experienced it or not. In our office we happen to have many agents that specialize in various forms of travel – airline ticketing, international travel, cruises, destination specialists, etc., most in more than a few. If a client has an issue, we are all aware of it, how it came to be and how it was resolved. It also gives us a heads up on how that particular travel company handled an issue, which is very important to know.
Patty Toppa is a travel writer and the sales and marketing manager with Gadabout Travel in Melbourne and Sebastian.