Automation does not have all the answers for travelers. At least, not yet.
It may not be what it once was, but the Travel Agent job is still around and will likely be around for some time. I also predict that it won’t be completely extinct by 2030 either, and there’s a group of folks travel professionals everywhere should thank today and into the future for this.
If you’re wondering who’s in the group, it’s not just travel-agent-loving Baby Boomers. The group encompasses a variety of generations with buying power, and we can classify them as The Selective Travelers.
While it’s true that anyone can get online and book almost every aspect of their own travel these days, self-service travel websites simply don’t offer the experience that the people in the “selective traveler” group are looking for.
To explain why they’ll make a future for travel professionals possible, first we’re going to talk about who the people are that make up this group. Next we’re going to cover the kind of experience they want, and finally, how working with the right travel professional will continue to ease their minds and make their vacation dreams come through.
Who Are The Selective Travelers?
The Luxury Travelers
The luxury traveler wants the best the world has to offer and they enjoy all of the details that luxury experiences involve. From the quality of hotel room linens to food, to how they’ll travel, they enjoy the attention to detail and extra effort put into the service they’ll receive.
The Customer Experience Focused Traveler
Not a luxury traveler per se, this type simply is not satisfied by dealing with a computer when it comes to booking arrangements. They need the reassurance from another human being that their booking is confirmed, everything is OK, and like being able to ask questions of someone that’s involved with their vacation spot instead of asking someone in a call center 7,000 miles away.
The A La Carte Traveler
Ordering their vacation online piece by piece is just not practical.
This traveler is not looking for a package deal, and they have their reasons. Maybe their desired destination is a little less than common. Or maybe they want to experience a destination on their own terms, and not in a cookie cutter fashion. They could piecemeal their vacation plans, but they’d rather have someone put it together for them like a beautifully crafted quilt.
The Elite Traveler
Like the Luxury Traveler but on a surpassing level not meant for the masses, the Elite Traveler doesn’t go to the places normal people go. That means booking on Expedia is out of the question, and it’s not because they are lazy, but because there are certain things they just don’t do for themselves, including making arrangements or booking travel.
Why The Travel Profession Should Be Kept Alive
The world of travel is a wonderful place both for the passionate professional and leisure traveler.
Traveling as part of work allows the professional to do what they love and get paid for it, and at the same time, their customer will reap the benefits of receiving personalized, firsthand insight into the locations they’re intrigued by.
The reality is we’re not talking about the travel call center agent jobs (although these jobs, when performed with care, make a difference, too) but we’re speaking about people who are Advisors to travel customers. Those that do what they do as because they love it and because it’s a way of life.
The travel profession also opens the door for people that want to work remotely or work from home. Many travel agents are entrepreneurial, or are work at home moms, are retirees, or even full-time employees looking to supplement their income.
Travel Advisors can advise travelers of cultural anomalies they may not expect prior to arriving at their destination, help with formalities like paperwork and prepare for other issues that arise with travel like customs or visa processes, or provide appropriate warnings when necessary to avoid travel nightmares.
Planning is something they definitely do better than the layman.
The average person can spend time poring through site after site trying to find the best options, only to realize they lost the best possible one because they kept hunting when they should have booked.
On the DIY travel booking sites, there’s always the threat that “XX” number of people are also looking at the same deal, and there are only “XX” number of flights, rooms, or whatever left at the price. That kind of pressure is nervewracking to me and I think it’s overkill to apply for something that should be associated with leisure. I’m sure there are others that find this kind of marketing and shopping experience to be anxiety-inducing as well.
Personally, I love to travel, so I want shopping for it, booking, and the whole process to be a joy – or at least quick and painless.
Also, I respect other people’s livelihoods and respect my own time. I’m not a travel professional by any means and I don’t like hunting all over the internet for something simple like plane tickets or a hotel room to save a few bucks. I also like to speak to a human that reassures me that they will be there to ensure everything goes a planned.
Getting the best service is more important to me than getting the best deal – I fall into the bucket of the “Customer Experience Focused Traveler”.
Because of this, I normally only use automated travel sites to window shop. I can get overwhelmed after I’ve seen 7-10 options, so I hop off and call the airline or hotel with the best value for the price. This may sound like I’m just using those other sites, but if I don’t do it this way, smoke starts coming out of my ears.
Furthermore, once I’ve had a good experience more than a few times, I hunt minimally for other options and end up with go-to brands when I have a travel need.
I’ll wrap this up by saying that I haven’t been on a real vacation for a VERY LONG TIME. My travel has been for work and to visit friends or family, so I haven’t needed to use a real travel professional to help me put together a stellar vacation, yet.
There are usually fees involved; they can be as low as about $100 dollars or as high as $1000s depending on what kind of trip you’re after and who will be arranging it for you.
I’m not saying how much I’ll be ready to spend when I do go on a real vacation, but I can say this- there will be some things I will leave up to a professional.
How To Preserve The Travel Profession Long-Term
I started this article saying automation doesn’t have all the answers. I’ll end it saying that the travel agency industry does need to give itself a makeover.
Sometimes their websites, their information delivery, or other elements of travel agent presentation come across as outdated. Also, becoming more active online and on social media, like in the case of most businesses, is usually helpful.
A lot of travel professionals have many, many years invested in their careers already and may not feel the need to update because they have well-established clientele or don’t need new business. But by doing so, they will open doors for and usher in the new generation.
With the right marketing, value propositions, and targeting, I believe that even the new, stereotypically more frugal and unconventional generation of traveler, will find value in the expertise that true travel professionals have to offer.
The travel industry career hasn’t completely died yet, and it’s up to the people that love it most to pave the way for it to continue to survive.