Travel Agents need to “embrace technology” for their businesses to prosper but it will never replace face-to-face selling as their biggest asset.
That was the message of industry figures during a session at World Travel Market London entitled “The Rise of the Travel Agency”, who predicted high street agents would be “around for years” despite the advance of tech-based competitors.
John Lombari, owner of Abbot Travel, said: “We sell face-to-face. We are sales people that sell travel. Your technology must back that up. If you move 100% to IT, then it’s a race to the bottom and whoever is the cheapest.
“Travel agents will still be around for years to come. People still want that human contact and we still have a lot of young kids booking with us because they still want to use cash.
“The skill of the agent is to obtain a fair price for a good product. You have got to give quality service and value for money. The skill is in finding those clients.”
Brian Young, managing director Europe, the Middle East and Africa, for G Adventures, added: “Agents have played a huge part in our growth. Some of the itineraries are quite complex – you need to get to the start point and link up with the tours.”
G Adventures sells 70% of its tours through third parties with the remaining 30% booked online.
Young continued: “If it’s simple, then clients will book it themselves, but the minute it involves lots of different things, that’s where the travel agents have a big part to play.”
Young said agents could use technology to help them “own the customer” by making themselves easily available to their clients through online platforms, as well as providing video and other content for mobile devices. “You can’t beat face-to-face, but IT can help to improve customer service from the back office,” he said.
James Marchant, senior business development manager at easyJet, said while the majority of bookings were made directly through its website, customers with more complex requirements often wanted to use agents.