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The Travel Column 2002-10-31

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We are pleased to bring you The Travel Column, written fortnightly for "The Trinidad Guardian"


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 environment.

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 training.

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 customers.


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” travel solutions.

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 investment!

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.

bullet“Pessimistic people NEVER reach old age” – Edouard LaFontant
bullet“Those who say this or that can’t be done should stay out of the way of those who are doing it” – Michael Johnson
bullet“The Future has many names: For the Weak – Unattainable, For the Meek – Unknown, but For the Brave – Opportunity” – Victor Hugo
bullet“The best way to predict the future is to invent it” – Edouard LaFontant

At The Travel Centre we believe that “If you’re not riding the wave of change …. You’ll find yourself beneath it.” We embrace change and the challenges it brings … abundant opportunities. We are optimistic and are striving to invent the future!

Catherine de Gannes-Martin, Managing Director
October 31, 2002


Previous Travel Columns

bulletThe Travel Column 2002-10-17
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-10-3
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-9-19
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-9-5
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-22
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-8-8
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-25
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-7-11
bulletThe Travel Column 2002-6-27

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The Travel Centre Limited
16 Damian Street 
Woodbrook, Trinidad, West Indies
Phone: (868) 622-0112 or (868) 622-AMEX
Fax: (868) 622 0894

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