Travelers say they make less booking mistakes, have a better vacation experience, and get more for their money when they use a travel agent. In response, Avion Travel Network has launched a platform to help travelers and travel agents connect on a personal level. After being in the works for over a year, the result is a top notch online directory, allowing travel agents to post profiles that include videos, photo albums, blog articles, customer reviews, and more. “Travelers can use the directory to find travel agents and book vacations better than they would book on their own,” says Aubrey Williams, company President.
After more than a decade of losing ground to major online booking sites, traditional travel agents are getting back in the game. While the number of retail travel agency locations has sharply declined in recent years, the number of small business and independent agencies has increased. Key performance indicators for this line of business have been in the green. Surprisingly, even millennials are using travel agents more. Industry researcher MMGY Global reports the percentage of this age group preferring travel agents for booking vacations increased from 9% in 2014 to 13% in 2015. That represents only one sector in the overall travel agent recovery.
Williams cites consumer frustration with online booking sites as a key driver of this shift. “Travelers have a love-hate relationship with travel booking sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, and others,” says Williams. Online self-booking is still an immensely popular method of getting from point A to point B, but consumer reluctance is building for several reasons.
Why are consumers frustrated with online travel booking sites?
Consumers are feeling duped by the branding game, as they start to realize all the major booking sites are owned by only a few companies. This could explain why the same exact price might be found on multiple sites, despite each company claiming to offer the lowest fares.
Price trickery still lingers in the minds of consumers. It’s been less than five years since regulations were passed to protect consumers from the price games played by most of the online booking sites. Before the new regulations, what first appeared to be a $400 airline ticket often had another $50 or more tacked on at checkout.
Many travelers still see glaring limitations in the customer service offered by online booking companies. While their call center agents can help with basic web navigation, they usually can’t provide information far beyond what a visitor to their site can already see. Today’s travelers demand more knowledge on destinations and overall vacation value, which a traditional travel agency is better-positioned to provide.
Lastly, many users are finding online travel booking sites intimidating. Many people find these sites to be a confusing mess of options, with prices and information moving all about. It’s hardly a convenient experience for busy professionals, much less older travelers who don’t care much for the internet anyway.
The re-emergence of travel agents is also fueled by their incredible ability to master their niche. For example, a good Cuba travel agent has probably experienced Cuba firsthand. These travel professionals are in a unique position to discuss a deep level of detail with their clients. Niche categories might include Disney travel agents, cruise travel agents – the list goes on and on. Some of the best travel agents often serve a particular niche.
Only time will tell how this success story plays out, but as of 2016, many travelers are going back to basics, seeing travel agents as the best way to book their trips and vacations. Avion Travel Network is helping consumers find travel professionals and the expertise they need, especially for complex bookings.