Saturday, 30 January 2010

Death of a Dream Salesman

Last week, while enjoying some much needed retail therapy, I happened to pass by an office - stark, empty, totally void of life, except for the one solitary human life form behind the desk, playing around on a mobile phone, clearly trying to stay conscious in the face of no customers. I was tempted to walk through the door and watch her eyes light up like a million fireworks but I decided that would be fantastically cruel, so I walked past. I kinda felt bad for her though. Then I saw an article on Yahoo this morning about the Top 9 shrinking jobs and guess who was at #7. My girl in the empty office.

7. Travel Agents

The internet now makes it possible for the public to schedule their own trips. While there are still many travel agents, incentives once offered by airlines, hotels and car rental companies make the occupation less profitable. Today's travel agents often book long or complicated trips, while the weekend getaway or quick business travel is scheduled individually online.
The same thing ran through my mind as I passed by the empty office last week because honestly, with the world at our fingertips now, who still uses travel agents? I do feel bad about it cause I have the most lovely travel agent but usually when she sees me now, it is because I just wanted to say hello, and not so much to give her business. I mean, I have not used a travel agent in a long time and I travel at least twice a year (work responsibilities and money limitations have kept me in bondage).

But how easy it is to log in to British Airways or Caribbean Airlines and book your ticket to freedom, scour through TripAdvisor and Frommer's looking for hotels, tours, experiences? Once you have a pc, an internet connection and maybe a printer, if your experience does not include mobile ticketing, you're set. Quite frankly I don't have the time to run down to a travel agent's office and getting to my beloved agent on a weekday is near impossible cause it then means having to leave work early, speed down the highway, negotiate a parking spot and beat it to her office before she closes. WHY? When I can simply look for a cheap flight online, book it, get my eticket, without leaving my desk!

And there are so many online promotions that lie outside the travel agency, who once upon a time, would rule the specials. I guess maybe the older folks, would be loyal to travel agents. Despite everything I tell her, my mother still uses our travel agent. The relationships that we have built with the people linger and still, they see the travel agent as that link in the event anything goes wrong or they need a quick change.

Now if they start using the social media tools available to give their businesses a much needed boost, then that's another story. For example, some travel agents operate solely out of their offices with no web presence whatsoever, like my girl mentioned before. FAIL. Others have websites but they aren't updated regularly enough to keep the savvy traveller interested. FAIL. Some don't understand that many people are on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and that these are great ways to offer specials and drive traffic to your website. FAIL. With airlines and hotels increasingly using social media to get closer to customers, without the middle man (that's you Mr Travel Agent), travel agents need to start getting creative about how they keep this business and keep you interested in using them, as opposed to going to the source. The travel agents still, in my estimation, have a strong customer service element on their side, which they need to use to their advantage while going 2.0.

Like anyone else, travel agents need to get with it because gone are the days when I would come sit in your office and open a travel magazine, close my eyes and randomly choose a destination. With so much information and resources out there, travel agents can no longer be content to sit in an empty office, hoping and praying that someone walks in. They have to make me want to walk in - be it through their physical office door or through the sexy virtual landscape that I encourage them all to develop if they intend to survive.


If we follow the logic in that article, then restaurants are doomed, too. After all, we can all prepare our own meals.

The point media observers like Powers miss is that, while STOREFRONT travel agencies are closing, thousands of HOME-BASED travel agencies are opening. And many of those are started by people who closed their storefronts!

And it's that same Internet (the one that's supposed to be driving them out of business) that's allowing travel agents to make good money, from home, WITHOUT the high overhead and hassles of having a walk-in, storefront location.

Too bad reporters don't do journalism anymore.

Well, when I still had enough money to travel, I used my travel agent because we decided to travel usually last minute and it was actually cheaper for me to book with a travel agent because they block the cheaper seats and so I still got decent prices through them and because i was always working my travel agent made all my arrangements. He even had authorization for my credit card so i did not even have to think about anything just double check.
I think they come in handy when you going to a place for the first time so you can safely get to a decents place and then explore from there. I do not trust internet reviews about restaurants and hotel because they tend to be absed by the hotel and restaurant owners. So yor travel agent i a human that can tell you that another human stayed at that place and it was decent.
But it is true that once you know your destination it is a lot cheaper and convinient to book online yourself. The problem comes when shit hit the fan there is no human that you deal with that you can brow beat into action. For example Condor lost my sitcase when I came to Italy and I am here almost a year and they have not given me 50 cents. there is no phone nber to call only an email address that does not answer my mail. If I had book via a travel agenet I cold css him way and shame him into action, now I jst have to accept their inaction and move on

Kelly, I do agree with you. I think some of the TAs where I live are still bound to physical offices, but you're right, with the technology available and the social networking tools, they can make good money from home. As I said, the relationships they have built and continue to build through strong customer service still beats back dealing with electronic bookings. I see my own agent getting frustrated, but I don't think she recognises the potential for her if she goes 2.0.

And trust me, I cook my own meals but I am a loyalist to a menu. lol.

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments and questions!

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More