Are Travel Agents the Future?

31 Jul

Travel agents will continue to evolve into niche players in the tourism industry. They will be most successful where they embrace specific types of travel (i.e. those seeking exotic adventures in the less-traveled regions of the world) and specific customer groups with high demand for travel assistance (i.e. businesses, or the elderly).

Robert Buckman’s post today on Fast Company’s Expert Blogs (“Innovation: Tired of DIY Travel Bookings?”), in response to a recent New York Times Article (“Happy Returns for Travel Agents”), analyzes the surprising continued success of traditional bricks and mortar travel agents, in light of the strong trend in DIY travel bookings seen in the last few years at sites like Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity. Buckman rightly predicts not only the continued existence of traditional travel agents, but describes them as becoming more successful as they adopt to a niche.

But travel agents have found a definite niche among travelers who are too time-pressed or impatient to deal with the vagaries of the Internet. Why not turn that chore over to the expert?

DIYism is great if you are not up against the clock and are persistent in resolving problems that inevitably crop up during a trip. But if you’re on the road and you need a solution quick, there’s no substitute for an experienced travel agent who has seen it all before.

TripologyWhere Buckman fails to take his analysis a step further, is to point to emerging startup businesses who are tailor made this this precise niche-targeting in mind. For instance, Tripology, a site which was recently covered in depth by VentureBeat last week after it raised a round of funding led by Ascend Venture Group, targets travelers with exotic destinations in mind. The articles by the NY Times and Buckman’s analysis provide the evidence that a niche play can be successful. VentureBeat points out the wisdom of Tripology’s particular strategy.

The problem for adventuresome consumers is that the best specialty travel agents are not always easy to find. The problem for specialty travel agents is that finding the adventuresome consumers is even harder. Sites like Specialty Travel and Travel Hub list specialty travel agencies, but the listings on those sites requires digging and guesswork, and is somewhat cumbersome.

Tripology addresses this: It asks intrepid travelers what they want to do on their trip and automatically finds three to four travel agents who know how to make that happen. For the consumer, finding the agents is free. For the travel agents, the qualified leads come for $5 dollars a pop.

Are travel agents here to stay, as Buckman predicts? Those which customize their service and target a niche (even a very large niche, as American Express Travel has done for corporate travelers) will be the true winners.

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