For those among us who have the time and means to travel, do you still book through a travel agent or do you book online?
If you still book through a travel agent, I wouldn’t be surprised – this year’s NATAS fair attracted upwards of 50,000 people and generated double digit millions in travel booking receipts. So contrary to the common perception that the internet would decimate the travel agent business, the travel agent is not dead (in Singapore at least), in fact he’s alive and kicking. Will the internet eventually ruin him though? Is it already?
At the recent Wired Travel Asia conference, I heard how online bookings are now mainstream – for corporate travel for instance, more than 6 billion in corporate travel bookings are done online and online bookings now comprise 60% of the market, versus 40% on paper. Driving this change is the convenience, cost and control that online offers, plus there’s more value and integration opportunities as well.
And then Robin Yap, regional director Asia of Insight Vacations -- who’s probably the travel agent’s best friend – stepped up to speak, and his talk went against pretty much all else that was said before. According to him, not only has the internet not killed the travel agent, the travel agent has managed to use and turn the internet to his advantage, embracing technology in order to reach out to even more consumers. It might be that online bookings win in the area of corporate travel, but in terms of personal holidays, the travel agent remains undefeated, especially when you consider that consumer behaviour is different in Asia. It might be culture, but many Asians still prefer talking to a human being who can tell them in five minutes the weather conditions in the country they’re going, which places they can go, and what to look out for. In short, travel agents provide the human touch which online can’t, which is important when you consider that buying a travel product is a rational, as well as emotional experience for the consumer. And then of course there’s cost: sometimes, travel agents can offer better and cheaper package deals than online options, as I found out earlier this year when planning a trip to Bangkok. That’s not to say though that online travel bookings are bad or that they’re are going the way of the dinosaur – far from it. Debbie’s parents recently went on a trip to Europe and booked everything online, which saved them heaps of money. As with most things, there are different situations which are better served with different tools and this is one case. So instead of prophesising that the internet will do away with travel agents, I think it should be seen that both can exist together, to serve different needs, market segments and functions. What do you think?