We have been associated with travel companies in various countries and have seen them surviving and growing through fierce competition from OTAs and non-OTAs both. This brings a key question to our mind, what makes your customers come back to you and where do the travel agents fit in the current scenario. We have tried to analyze and below are some interesting observations.
People don't change their travel agent just because they have options. They like the familiar faces to discuss their new vacation and they are just comfortable to call up directly if they need something else. Its true that people compare, get quotes from multiple companies including OTAs but they still trust the voice of their local agent.
Your local agent can give the service that online portals cannot. Online portals make money in volume and cannot afford to give any extra service. Even their call centers are so flooded with calls, its not possible to give that extra service without monetizing their call centers!
In case of any troubles, your local agents are always approachable, a call away. Any troubles like ticket cancellation, wrong hotel vouchers, passport missing, medical emergencies - literally anything can happen while you are on a tour in a different country! Having somebody to rely on, to fall back on is also one of the main reasons people still prefer their local travel agency.
Availability of Options
Based on our experience, travel agents can provide more options for air tickets through their GDS booking system. Online portals, due to technical reasons or whatever cannot always suggest you the best possible route or mixed combination of flights. Some of the portals are great, but hey, the agents too use many of those portals parallely to give you the best deal available. Many of these portals are B2B, that means only agents can access availability and book through those portals! A good agent can always match the deal you are getting on some xyz portal.
It's true that younger generation like to explore through various options using apps, portals etc. However, they too at some point get stuck and confused with all the options and look for an easy way out - which is to dump the tedious job on the agent! Older people anyway prefer to talk to the real person before they can book and make payment. Hence, understand who your customer is, where do they come from, what they are looking for and then you know better how to serve them.
Planning, designing and execution
People all over the world will not go to a travel agent to book a hotel or a flight for their weekend getaway, however, when it comes to planning a long vacation not everybody has time or patience to do it themselves. After all, searching an entire new place/country with options for experiences, hotels, places to visit, travel options and try to fit everything in your budget and get the best deals is not an easy thing to do. Especially not when there are too many opinions in the family 🙂 This is the area where most travel boutiques are thriving. They no longer are agents but call themselves travel consultants or designers and that is for a reason. In fact, we know many agents who prefer their customers do the air ticketing themselves online. Agents do not get much doing ticketing plus there is lot of headache of searching, booking, changing, cancellation etc.
Whatever business it may be, you should always know who your customers are, where they come from, and most importantly why they come to you and why they keep coming back to you. Especially in the travel industry where everything is so dynamic with so many options available for customers to choose from.