When in doubt, consult a specialist
ARE cashed-up holiday-makers fleeing internet booking sites and returning to traditional bricksand-mortar travel agents? Apparently so, according to new research from Tourism Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
‘‘The time-poor luxury customer, seeking to avoid the increasing volume and noise in the online space, will look to personalised service that tailors the best products around their needs,’’ according to PwC’s Distribution 2020: Situational Analysis report, which was commissioned by Tourism Australia to better understand how travel is booked. As the PwC report states: ‘‘The role of agents and tour operators is still absolutely critical.’’
Specialists such as the Goldman Travel Corporation seem to be particularly in favour. Managing director David Goldman says he likes putting the ‘‘magic topping’’ on the itineraries of his wealthy clients. ‘‘We give them add-ons like free breakfasts, room upgrades and perhaps a bespoke tour when they are cruising.’’ Goldman advises that ‘‘follow-ups are done to make sure they are looked after . . . [the clients] want someone monitoring their trip from start to finish’’.
Luxury travel specialist Claudia Rossi Hudson, managing director of Sydney’s long-established Mary Rossi Travel, says wealthy travellers often need a good project manager, particularly when they are putting together a long and complex itinerary. ‘‘Travel agents [can] save clients masses of time in the planning process and potentially a lot of money,’’ she says. ‘‘Just as importantly, they end up with a more efficient itinerary.’’
For example, Mary Rossi Travel clients visiting St Petersburg are invited to take private tours of the Hermitage Museum to avoid the long queues. ‘‘If [clients] have a particular interest in, say, Rembrandt, then we will tell their guide so they can go direct to the Rembrandt exhibition. And for something very special we can organise a dinner at a private palace in St Petersburg.’’
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury says that despite the popularity of online booking sites, the number of travel agents has remained unchanged at about 4000 retail locations across Australia for the past five years.
‘‘To Google your way to an itinerary is difficult,’’ Westbury says. ‘‘A lot of premium luxury products are not inventoried on the web.’’ He adds that anyone seeking a multi-carrier itinerary will also have trouble booking online because airline websites don’t sell other carriers’ seats.