We all thought the internet was going to make things easier – but it hasn’t. As it grows it gets harder and harder to navigate through all the results that come up on your screen. Just think how the internet has grown. In 1995 there were 16 million users around the world. At that stage that was 0.4% of the world population. Fast forward to today – can you believe that there is an astounding 3,885 million users making up 51% of the world’s population. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/emarketing.htm)
The interesting thing is that 20 years ago many said the day of the travel agent was gone and to a certain extent many of the travel products that travel agents used to offer are now much easier to book online. Flights are usually best booked directly on the airline’s website rather than third party online travel agencies. A war has been brewing between the airlines and the online travel agencies because, frankly, the airlines don’t want to be controlled by third parties in this manner. Think about it – if you go onto expedia you get options from all the airlines. If you go to American Airlines direct, for example, you are only going to get AA flights – but perhaps you will get the best pricing that way.
People are surprised when they walk into our agency for a flight and are told that we do not offer an “air only” service. Of course, we do airfare but we do this in conjunction with one of the many customised itineraries or cruises that we offer.
Just recently I booked flights to South America with United Airlines. I am a travel agent. I booked my flights directly with United Airlines on their website. When I was in the middle of the booking process checking out economy class tickets I was offered the opportunity to buy a “bundle” for premium economy upgrade. I was curious – I looked at some of the third-party websites and no such option existed. Hah! United Airlines had outsmarted Expedia and Friends by offering something direct to the customer.
There is also the huge growth of what I like to think of as bogus websites. Let’s say you are looking up pricing for a cruise. Incidentally if you just put cruises into google you will get over 3 million results … good luck with that! But you know which cruise line you want so you just go into google and type, for example, ABC Cruises. You try it – put into google the name of your favourite cruise line – it could be Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Oceania – whatever. I put in one of these and got over ONE MILLION RESULTS. Holy cow!
Pity the poor consumer who has to go through all of that. And just when he or she thinks that they have the genuine website and they click they realise that they have gone to a third-party website who has somehow used the name to cannibalise it into a website of their own. Admittedly, cruise lines are trying hard to stamp out this practice. Most of them have strict guidelines on the naming of websites containing their names. It is not surprising then when people are shocked to learn that they have booked with an online agency when they thought they were booking with the cruise line directly.
And you know… it is not just the booking of the travel … that’s just the beginning. Once you are booked you have questions and you can’t speak to the computer. So that’s when you need a human …. Unless you are happy to spend an hour or two looking through the FAQ and still being puzzled and not even sure if you are interpreting the answers properly.
Honestly, I have lost count of the number of people who phone up or walk into the agency wanting help with unexpected schedule changes, visa information for flights they have already booked, questions about dress code and transfer information on the cruise that they booked with an online agency.
I really think that there are just some things that technologies cannot do. Example, if we do have a schedule change for a customer on a flight we don’t just accept the first thing that the airline offers. We check out all the options and see if it is in the customer’s best interest – not the airline’s. That takes time, phone calls and research. By a human. That’s why I laughed out loud when I read this statement by the new CEO of Expedia.
“Okerstrom outlined a future where leisure travelers could begin to benefit from technologies already in use by Expedia’s corporate arm, Egencia. A family facing a flight cancellation could automatically receive notice with new flight and/or hotel options. The solution is not far off from becoming reality, the CEO said.” (http://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Travel-Agent-Issues/Expedia-CEO-Technology-will-win-the-day-in-travel)