Travel agents are a dying breed, we’re told. The Internet has democratized travel, allowing all of us to do our own research on our preferred destination.
Aggregators such as Expedia and Webjet have taken this one step further, essentially taking over the role of the travel agent by gathering flight, car hire and hotel deals from different companies on the one platform. These sites make it easy to compare airlines, whether that is on price or other factors such as duration, stops and arrival time. Essentially, they have taken over the role of the travel agent.
US President Barack Obama apparently agrees with this. In August 2011, in an address to a town hall meeting in Atkinson, Illinois, Obama said:
One of the challenges in terms of rebuilding our economy is businesses have gotten so efficient that—when was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using the ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online? A lot of jobs that used to be out there requiring people now have become automated.
Whilst Obama’s words may be true – there are only 10,000 travel agencies in the US now, compared to 32,000 in 1998 – smart travel agencies have managed to adapt to the changing climate. In Australia, one of the largest travel agencies, Flight Centre, has built its own flight aggregator service at flightcentre.com.au. However, as of 2011 Flight Centre were still doing 95 per cent of their business over the counter, according to spokesman Haydn Long. In the Sydney Morning Herald article, Long argued that travel agents in Australia are better off than their American counterparts because “Americans travel differently. They go to the Caribbean or the other side of the country. They aren’t very adventurous travellers. Australians are going to the UK or Asia. It’s much more complicated.”
Personally, I’ve used travel agents whenever I’ve travelled internationally. I went to my local STA branch to book a flight to Paris last year, and they found me a reasonably decent airfare on a very good airline. Whilst I didn’t use them to book any accommodation, preferring to do my own research, my agent was great in organising my Eurail pass. In contrast, when my family went on safari to Botswana, we booked absolutely everything through our agent, including all our internal transport. The trip went off without incident.
Whilst researching my destination and planning my itinerary is one of my favourite parts of travelling, many people have neither the Internet-savvy nor the time do this this. For some destinations, it’s impossible. Plus, it’s always good to talk over your travel plans with an expert.
Do you use travel agents ? If not, how do you plan your holidays?