Long live traditional travel agents
Reams have been written about the decline of the traditional model of travel agencies and the simultaneous flourish of dot-com ventures. The tide has turned with the sudden closure of UK’s Lowcostholidays (which was never really based out of the UK, but in Spain – but that’s another story), and people are now suspicious of all dot-com ventures.
This then is the opportune moment for me to pledge allegiance to traditional travel agencies: As a frequent traveller, I, for one, will continue to get my holidays booked by a human being (if only to blame him when something goes wrong!).
Here, I map a typical middle-aged leisure traveller’s journey with a human travel agency, in an attempt to show how the few extra dirhams you pay as agent’s fee, go a really long way in the bigger picture.
It’s that day when you finally get the approval for your annual leave and call your spouse to share the great news. In the aftermath of the celebration, you ring your travel agent up – this will most likely be someone you have known for a while. It could even be someone who your friend has referred you to or an agent who has reached out to you through an emailer, an advertisement, direct contact, mall kiosk or even an outlet you may have walked past.
After taking note of the details of the travelling party, dates and preferences, the travel agent calls back with a detailed plan, with hotels, flights, transfers, tours, special considerations made for family members of different age groups, insurance, names of people who will receive you at the different points of the journey, meal preferences, seating preferences, guides, etc. But wait, your wife or daughter wants a particular itinerary changed, and so you call the agent back and of course, they are happy to make the changes, no problem at all.
A day before you travel, your agent calls you up and wishes you bon voyage. This also serves as a reminder for last-minute packers like me to hastily pack their passports and other essentials.
Oh no, your flight has been cancelled? Or your room doesn’t have the view of the Eiffel Tower? Or you need a last-minute reservation at a particularly busy Michelin-starred restaurant in London? Simply WhatsApp your agent and he will take the stress out of the situation for you, while you concentrate on what you paid for – having a stress-free holiday.
When you return from your trip, your agent should get in touch with you (without disturbing you) for your invaluable feedback, which can then be used to better your future travel experiences. Agents, you have the advantage of direct contact with travellers, make that count. Don’t miss this very important step of establishing a connection with your client.
Many people these days go for the option of booking their holidays themselves with a dot com company. In light of recent events, it is my hope that these ‘independent’ holidaymakers will choose an OTA that actually delivers on its promise of a holiday and does not go bust with their hard-earned vacation budget. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is!
There was a time when I had the luxury of time and planned every vacation on my own. Here’s a map of that (really stressful and time-taking) journey.
You enter Google.com’s search bar and open a Pandora’s Box of choices.
You look up airline tickets on aggregation sites and funnel down to specific websites based on the best rates available. Typically, you spend a good few hours chasing the best deal and are taken through several layers of validation, until the last page where you need to ‘confirm’ to go ahead with the booking. Only, when you do that you are face with, 'Sorry this ticket that you have been wildly chasing because it is the cheapest thing on the internet is not available any more. Please try again later.'
But you are a fighter, you chase and nail the best deal - only to find out your connecting flight is very tight and from a different airport altogether, plus you need a visa to enter the country. Who can help you? Surely, the organisation that was happy to take your money will be happy to intervene on your behalf?
You call your dot com after several dozen minutes of ‘wait, we are serving another customer’ only to be told ‘but we have mentioned all conditions and you signed up for it.’
What began as a holiday plan, has really thrown you in the deep end. And, what’s worse, there’s no one to turn to when things go wrong.
• This, of course, is just my personal view of things. Beg to differ? I am keen to hear from you: [email protected]
By Rashi Sen