We are pleased to bring you The Travel
Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"
TRAVEL AGENCIES: PERSPECTIVES ON THE FUTURE
Life is all about change. From birth to death we are
constantly changing. From infancy to childhood, through adolescence to
adulthood, the aging process and then the inevitable! Change is life’s
only constant. Of importance is how we react to change. Do we complain, do
we resist the change? Or do we embrace it and adapt and see what
opportunities come with the change and how we can benefit. Many people
have attended business and personal development seminars over the years
and are familiar with the following comment: If you are doing business
today the same way as you were yesterday you will soon be obsolete. This
is indeed true for travel agencies.
During the past decade there has been rampant change in
the travel industry. Travel agencies in particular have long resisted
change. The great majority have become entrenched in their methods, their
systems and their way of thinking. They have reacted, complained and
resisted the changes and have been slow to adapt and change their way of
doing business. I call this “status quo retention”. Not only have many
agencies retained the status quo, but customers, who themselves operate in
a changing environment and adapt to their changes, have resisted changes
in the way agencies do business and have reacted negatively or slowly to
changes introduced by agencies as they attempt to adapt to their changing
Business as usual is a thing of the past. The
successful travel agency of tomorrow will be very different to the
successful travel agency of yesterday. Here are a few areas in which
change is essential, inevitable and mandatory for agency survival.
Many countries require travel agents to undertake formal
training, engage in regular and continuing education and even licensing.
In Trinidad & Tobago there are no statutory requirements to operating a
travel agency as opposed to any other business. If you wish to be “IATA
approved” there are minimum requirements for accreditation. Once these
criteria are met there is no need or requirement for any other formal
The lack of formal and ongoing training implies lack of
quality control. If agents were more consistently trained there would most
likely be an overall improved appreciation for the services of travel
agents. Regrettably only a small percentage of travel agency owners have
consistently placed emphasis on on-going training for their staff in the
areas of technical skills, customer service, technology and keeping
abreast of global trends
In addition the education of customers is necessary.
Customers need to be educated as to role and services travel agents render
when providing them with solutions to their travel needs and problems.
Agencies need to educate their customers as to the changes taking place in
their industry: not only on how the changes affect the agency, but more
importantly how these changes will affect them, the customer. Education
will be critical in ensuring the ability to continue to render
professional service to them.
The concept of the multi-purpose agency being all things
to all people is no longer valid. With the development of the internet and
the convenient direct access to all kinds of travel information travelers
will expect more from a travel agent than they formerly did.
Travel agencies will need to specialize in one of
several ways. They may specialize by type of travel (e.g.: leisure -
cruises, all-inclusive vacations) or by destination (e.g. China
specialist) or by type of traveler (e.g.: lifestyle) or perhaps
specializing and selling one or two preferred partner suppliers.
Specialization and education are synonymous. An agency
may offer a range of specializations, individual agents being the experts
in a specialized sub-field of knowledge!
New Approaches to the Market
The independent travel agency needs to change and evolve
as the world around it changes and evolves. They need to develop new and
creative ideas and services to offer their customers. There is a large
percentage of the public whose perception of the travel agency is only to
make a flight reservation and issue the ticket. Professional travel
agencies offer so much more to their customers! They provide travel
consulting services and advice.
The internet is a 24/7 service and enables agencies to
sell to clients anywhere and anytime. There is need to harness the
internet to enhance traditional activities and services. There is need to
give customers new ways of interacting with and contacting their
The travel agency of the future will need to offer
“one-to-one connection” with the customer. As the pace of life increases,
service, and in particular, speed and quality of service will be
paramount. Technology will allow agencies to render personalized service
efficiently. For too long travel agencies have been viewed as, and have
viewed themselves as, “airline centric”. There is need to become “customer
centric”. Technology will enable agencies to provide “customer centric”
The writer recently attended an e-Trends Technology
Conference in Santo Domingo held by Sabre Inc, a leading industry supplier
of computerized reservation systems. Attendees were advised of the
challenges and opportunities for the future. Life in the next ten years
will be very different. One constant: more change, more technology, more
opportunities, more possibilities.
There is absolutely no doubt that it is getting harder
and harder for travel agencies to survive. It appears that few airlines
and few travelers appreciate travel agencies. Our service is taken for
granted. Globally many travel agencies have closed their doors over the
last few years, however thousands have continued to survive and thrive.
Agencies that embrace and adapt to change stand a greater chance of
survival than those that do not. Success will depend on having a learning
organization where everyone is a learner and people learn from each other.
Learning in turn enables change which is continuous. Learning is an
Below are a few quotations given by Edouard LaFontant
of the Leadership Dynamics Institute at the Sabre Conference which are
valid not only for the travel industry but for life in general.