Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Stretching the matrix

I attended a media roundtable lunch briefing today by travel facilitator company Abacus, and while there, took the opportunity to clarify with the experts on a previous post I had done before that bugged me.

That entry (Travel agents are not dinosaurs) was about making travel bookings through online vs physical travel agents and there were some interesting issues raised in the comments to the blog that I wanted to air during the lunch to get deeper insights – in those comments, some straddled the middle ground while others were adamant that travel agents, to quote one response, “are so dead”.

Well not quite – it isn’t as simple as that and apart from that comment being a very general sweeping statement, there are, as in every situation, different issues to consider. According to Don Birch, president and CEO of Abacus, it really depends on the nature of your travel and the differences in services available at the moment. If you’re after a point A-to-point B destination, online’s more suitable. This is good for huge countries like India where it’s huge and has big infrastructure. But in smaller countries like Taiwan, Korea and Singapore, even with the level of comfort that we have in using e-commerce and technology, the “propensity to see and touch” is much greater, hence the role of travel agents. Kenneth Low VP for South Asia said although the next generation may prefer a different way to purchase, travel fairs still have its place – in fact, travel agencies are coming up with more shows built around NATAS, and these are growing well too.

It also depends on the travel booking service you’re after, and there’re three kinds – those offered by low cost carriers, the online travel agents like Zuji, and the travel agent. According to Don, people can and do buy across all three channels, and all three modes can coexist together – the fundamental question is, as the nature of the travel industry changes, how do I make myself more relevant, bearing in mind that travel is an emotional decision, and some feel more comfortable dealing with a person than an online travel site? There’s no silver bullet answer and it depends on circumstance, but taking into consideration that the nature of travel in our part of the woods is different by and large, the travel agent role will still be around.

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