Evolv­ing role of the travel agent

In this time of grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of OTAs and on­line book­ing medi­ums, a travel agent still holds ground ow­ing to their ef­fi­cient task man­age­ment and per­sonal touch to make sure trav­ellers have a has­sle-free ex­pe­ri­ence.

Travel Talk - Middle East - - GUEST COLUMN -

The travel busi­ness, like any other, has wit­nessed dras­tic changes over the years, thanks to glob­al­iza­tion and the dawn of the In­ter­net. From is­su­ing pa­per tick­ets to e-tick­ets, deal­ing in cash to on­line pay­ments, a travel agent has also evolved from be­ing a sim­ple ticket serv­ing agent to be­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated travel con­sul­tant. In re­cent years, the aug­men­ta­tion of smart­phones has changed the way travel is booked, mak­ing many be­lieve that the job of a travel agent has be­come re­dun­dant.

A travel agent is def­i­nitely faced with many grave chal­lenges such as more on­line por­tals com­ing on­board, air­lines pro­mot­ing their fares on­line, peo­ple pur­chas­ing through credit cards; the cash flow does de­crease and the re­tail busi­ness has re­duced for ev­ery travel agency. The corporates go to three or four agen­cies at a time rather than just one, they go directly to the air­line and do the deal on their own and then they give it to agents, so the busi­ness is seg­re­gated and the com­pe­ti­tion is very high.

How­ever, the trust, advice and guid­ance from a sea­soned travel agent plays a piv­otal role. At the end of the day, a trav­eller wants to feel se­cure, safe and en­sure that he or she will not be de­ceived. Busi­ness and leisure trav­ellers still seek the advice and guid­ance of a travel agent to avoid last minute hic­cups. A tra­di­tional travel agent still holds great rel­e­vance be­cause leisure and busi­ness trav­ellers or corporates need their re­quire­ments to be taken care of with­out any er­ror. A busi­ness or cor­po­rate trav­eller def­i­nitely needs his or her boarding passes and itin­er­ary on time and get reg­u­lar alerts. The Corporates by giv­ing advice, telling them the con­nect­ing time, the trans­fer change, ter­mi­nal change. These things some­times get hid­den when you go through OTAs. For a leisure trav­eller or fam­ily group, a tra­di­tional travel agent will make sure that be­sides the reg­u­lar air tick­et­ing and ho­tels, all your spe­cific re­quire­ments in that des­ti­na­tion such as trans­fers, sight­see­ing, food, ar­range for a trans­la­tor or guide, etc. or any other spe­cial needs are met. To­day’s travel agent has to be­come a con­sul­tant to any type of trav­eller. For big des­ti­na­tion wed­dings, MICE events, fam­ily va­ca­tions or busi­ness meet­ings; a tra­di­tional travel agent is the best choice.

Tech­nol­ogy un­doubt­edly plays a piv­otal role in our lives but for it to work better you need the ser­vices of a hu­man be­ing who would be able to guide and as­sist.

I agree the re­tail busi­ness of en­sur­ing that your ticket is con­firmed / pur­chased in an eas­ier process over the in­ter­net or on­line book­ing por­tal, but how far can they help in case of last minute emer­gency can­cel­la­tions? We are ap­proached at many times by our cus­tomers /clients who have pur­chased the tick­ets on­line/di­rect web­sites, whereby they are help­less to such cases when the flights gets can­celled and left with no al­ter­na­tives( re­book­ing’s/ re­funds) to re­solve the same.

We do ad­vise them in such in­ci­dents that if it was ini­tially pur­chased with the tra­di­tional agent, we would al­ways pro­vide them with an al­ter­na­tive with re­fund/ re-is­sues etc..

Sim­i­larly, if a trav­eller can­cels book­ing at the last mo­ment due to an un­avoid­able sit­u­a­tion and ends up los­ing money up on can­cel­la­tion, but if the same thing comes to a tra­di­tional travel agent, we have the ne­go­ti­at­ing power with our sup­pli­ers to help our trav­ellers out by pro­vid­ing the gen­uin­ity and proof, for a waiver etc... No mat­ter how se­ri­ous the rea­son you have to can­cel, with OTAs you have to pay a can­cel­la­tion be­cause you aren’t able to con­vey to them that there is a gen­uine rea­son.

In the UAE, we are still de­pen­dent on the travel agents. When you go to the West, the cul­ture is dif­fer­ent things have changed, they don’t ex­actly have time to sit and dis­cuss with a travel agent, but this part of the world you still have your im­por­tance. A few tra­di­tional travel agents will re­main and be the pre­ferred agents in the re­gion by “go­ing the ex­tra mile” and reach­ing out to the Cus­tomers which will def­i­nitely be our win­ning mantra!

For leisure trav­ellers or fam­ily groups, a tra­di­tional travel agent will make sure that be­sides reg­u­lar air tick­et­ing and ho­tels, all spe­cific re­quire­ments in that des­ti­na­tion such as trans­fers, sight­see­ing, meals, etc. needs are met

( The views ex­pressed are solely of the au­thor. The pub­li­ca­tion may or may not subscribe to the same.)

Sindhu Shaji

Head of Busi­ness Op­er­a­tions, Nasser Air Travel and Ship­ping Agen­cies Dubai

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