Travel and the Skeptical Public
There is no question that the internet has changed the travel business. Online airplane reservations and electronic tickets combined with the loss of the commission structure has taken a primary travel function away from traditional travel agents and automated the service. People can shop for hotel and car reservations on their own, on the web. Consumers can book vacation arrangements and cruises with a mouse and a keyboard.
And they can also get badly burned. It seems that the anonymity of the web has spawned unscrupulous business operators in every industry and the travel business is no exception. Travel has had its share of stories about unfulfilled promises due to airline strikes and cruise line bankruptcies. In fact, insurance companies now routinely offer travel insurance that covers a consumer’s loss if a trip that has been paid for fails to materialize. Add fraudulent travel websites to the mix and the result is an entire industry that is suspect in the public’s eye.
An Opportunity for the Independent Travel Agent
All of this can work to an honest travel agent’s advantage. Oddly enough, the way that a travel agent can capitalize on public use of the internet for travel and public distrust of travel businesses in general is to utilize – the internet.
The web is a made-to-order medium for advertising vacation packages. Photos of beautiful, historic and exotic locales combined with visual or audio descriptions are tremendous sales tools; there is no reason why an independent travel agent can’t use the same tools that Carnival Cruises or Expedia uses. The technology is simple, the software well established. An independent agent can apply all of the sales technique found in the enormous, faceless travel sites.
The additional service that an independent agent can supply is personal service. It is fair to speculate that with the advent of “help lines” for websites functioning around the clock with overseas operators, perhaps a customer shopping for travel arrangements will place more faith in a travel service that has phone availability during business hours only. Certainly an 800 number is desirable, but a number with the agent’s local area code will lend an air of credibility to the transaction. Real personal contact has become important in the faceless, nameless world of the web – an independent travel agent can provide that.
The Independent Travel Agent – Guaranteed to be Genuine
The problem is so widespread that there is an entire website devoted to travel fraud at http://www.fraud.org/tips/internet/travelfraud.htm. Many of the situations for which this site provides warnings can be put to rest by an independent travel agent offering personal service. Someone who books an expensive vacation is going to want confirmation on reservations, reassurance on bookings and details on the destination site. An independent agent can provide those things; perhaps most importantly an independent travel agent can have the same voice provide additional information every time a customer calls.
The net result, so to speak, is a travel site that provides the sizzle of online advertising, the convenience of online contact and the reassurance of personal customer support. An independent agent doesn’t necessarily have to compete with the “online specials” and other gimmicks found on major travel sites. The security provided by personal service will make the price worthwhile. An independent travel agent can make the internet an extension of the traditional personal service, rather than a replacement for it.