Redefining the Travel Agent

It used to be a few questions, a few brochures, than a handshake and a check would procure one a travel vacation. Planning it necessitated a short drive down main street to the local travel agent’s office, or at worst, a phone call to such a place and person. Now, the brick and mortar vacation specialists are relics of history, fragments of our collective memory. In their place, the virtual storefront, the OTA, the online travel agent has taken hold. And that online travel agent, is us.

How many of us have spent minutes or hours (and collectively, days) comparing rates and procuring vacations online? Sadly, there used to be an entire industry devoted to this task- the neighborhood travel agent who would sit behind their ‘state of the art’ green screen computer and hack incessantly at a loud keyboard to produce a printed itinerary for us that seemed like black magic with all its special code numbers and symbols.

Forecasted for 2012, there will be over 117 million people researching their travel online, with over 98 million of them actually booking online. And that’s just the beginning.

The travel industry is one of the few businesses that the internet, and new technology, has completely changed from the ground up. What used to be an incredibly tedious task-comparing rates from several different properties in any given area (much less, different geographic areas…) has become as effortless as the simple click of a mouse. So many comparison tech websites arose, that comparison-comparison sites are born; sites that compare the sites that compare. Now it is possible that a 5 year old can find the cheapest 4 star resort to stay at in Puerto Vallarta for the weekend of June 15th, 2013. And that same 5 year, if given a credit card number, can actually book the trip. How does this make the old travel agent feel, (if they are) still holed up in their storefront on main street with sun faded pictures of Waikiki in their windows?

With internet travel reservations representing almost a third of worldwide volume by this December, it’s no wonder that those old travel agents that haven’t hopped on the technology train will be left sitting at the station. How have they adapted?

Most have acquired virtual storefronts, trading in their main street brick and mortar digs for a virtual store. This affords them a much bigger audience, and gives them a place where they can still share their travel knowledge expertise. Others have joined online travel agencies or OTA shops.

No one can fully predict what the future holds for the hospitality industry, but one thing is certain, we will all continue to hold our secondary jobs of travel agents as long as the internet, and new technology, continues to evolve.