The travel agent of the future

The travel agent is here to stay! This is the main message in a recent Skift report that looks into the role of ‘The Travel Agent of the Future’.

Also ASATA has examined the future of the travel agents in South Africa today and in the years to come in its research ‘The 21st Century Travel Agent’ and came up with nine recommendations which you can read here.

The rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) and DIY travel initially led to a dramatic halving of the travel agency workforce, but this decline has now levelled off, according to the Skift Report. The reason? Travel agent have started stepping up to the plate and have adapted to the changing travel industry landscape.

Even though travel search and booking looks completely different today than it did just years ago, the travel agent still has an important role to play as the intersection between high-tech and high-touch is now a key battle ground for travel brands the world over, both Skift and ASATA found. 

How can travel agents leverage personalisation?

The harsh reality is that travellers know how to do most travel transactions online. The good news is that they’ll still turn to their travel agents, but they expect unique experiences tailored to their priorities. They want the travel agent to give them offers built on their preferences.

Today’s travellers expect to be seen as individuals and want to receive information and offers built on their preferences, delivered in a timely manner to the device of their choice. ASATA’s research into the 21st Century Travel Agent shows how the travel agent can adapt to this ‘new’ traveller by becoming more customer-centric and focus on services that meet the customer’s priorities.

Where will revenue be coming from?

For a long time, travel agents have been relying on revenue from travel suppliers in the form of commission and override commission payments. The result was that travel agents focused their business around the requirements of the supplier instead of the customer.

But this has started to change. As suppliers are increasingly withdrawing their commissions, travel agents have indicated they view themselves primarily as representatives of the customer instead of a distribution channel for suppliers. The customer’s interests have also become their main concern. However, travel agents are still struggling to understand how they can monetise additional value they create for the traveller.

The truth is that until travel agents understand their customers’ personal, business and economic contexts as fully as possible, they will be unable to help travellers improve their end-to-end travel experience, help corporate travel buyers make good travel-related business decisions or generate travel-related service fees at appropriate margins.

How will technology be arming travel agents for the future?

Until now, travel agents have responded defensively to the online and mobile technologies. Constrained by their historical physical retail store operating model, travel agents see themselves as being in competition with online travel booking engines and travel service providers for the travel booking transaction. This needs to change.

The Connected Traveller will move from channel to channel, expecting the same offers, prices and service whatever channel they choose. Travel Agents could leverage technology to pursue an ‘omni-channel’ strategy that delivers a personalised, 24/7 experience to the leisure traveller from the start of the travel process to the end.

Technology and mobile communication will allow travel agents to generate additional revenue from new offers that meet the needs of the travellers. Travel agents will also be able to use technology to promote and market their services via social media as well as use technologies to access detailed product and destination information.

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