Evolving role of the travel agent

In this time of growing popularity of OTAs and online booking mediums, a travel agent still holds ground owing to their efficient task management and personal touch to make sure travellers have a hassle-free experience.

The travel business, like any other, has witnessed drastic changes over the years, thanks to globalization and the dawn of the Internet. From issuing paper tickets to e-tickets, dealing in cash to online payments, a travel agent has also evolved from being a simple ticket serving agent to being a more sophisticated travel consultant. In recent years, the augmentation of smartphones has changed the way travel is booked, making many believe that the job of a travel agent has become redundant.

A travel agent is definitely faced with many grave challenges such as more online portals coming onboard, airlines promoting their fares online, people purchasing through credit cards; the cash flow does decrease and the retail business has reduced for every travel agency. The corporates go to three or four agencies at a time rather than just one, they go directly to the airline and do the deal on their own and then they give it to agents, so the business is segregated and the competition is very high.

However, the trust, advice and guidance from a seasoned travel agent plays a pivotal role. At the end of the day, a traveller wants to feel secure, safe and ensure that he or she will not be deceived. Business and leisure travellers still seek the advice and guidance of a travel agent to avoid last minute hiccups. A traditional travel agent still holds great relevance because leisure and business travellers or corporates need their requirements to be taken care of without any error. A business or corporate traveller definitely needs his or her boarding passes and itinerary on time and get regular alerts. They cooperate by giving advice, telling them the connecting time, the transfer change, terminal change. These things sometimes get hidden when you go through OTAs. For a leisure traveller or family group, a traditional travel agent will make sure that besides the regular air ticketing and hotels, all your specific requirements in that destination such as transfers, sightseeing, food, arrange for a translator or guide, etc. or any other special needs are met. Today’s travel agent has to become a consultant to any type of traveller. For big destination weddings, MICE events, family vacations or business meetings, a traditional travel agent is the best choice.

Technology undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in our lives but for it to work better you need the services of a human being who would be able to guide and assist. I agree the retail business of ensuring that your ticket is confirmed/purchased in an easier process over the internet or online booking portal, but how far can they help in case of last minute emergency cancellations? We are approached at many times by our customers /clients who have purchased the tickets online/direct websites, whereby they are helpless to such cases when the flights gets cancelled and left with no alternatives (rebookings/refunds) to resolve the same.

We do advise them in such incidents that if it was initially purchased with the traditional agent, we would always provide them with an alternative with refunds/re-issues etc.

Similarly, if a traveller cancels booking at the last moment due to an unavoidable situation and ends up losing money on cancellation, but if the same thing comes to a traditional travel agent, we have the negotiating power with our suppliers to help our travellers out by providing the genuinity and proof, for a waiver etc. No matter how serious the reason you have to cancel, with OTAs you have to pay a cancellation because you aren’t able to convey to them that there is a genuine reason.

In the UAE, we are still dependent on the travel agents. When you go to the West, the culture is different things have changed, they don’t exactly have time to sit and discuss with a travel agent, but this part of the world you still have your importance. A few traditional travel agents will remain and be the preferred agents in the region by “going the extra mile” and reaching out to the Customers which will definitely be our winning mantra!

(The views expressed are solely of the author. The publication may or may not subscribe to the same.)

Sindhu Shaji, Head of Business Operations, Nasser Air Travel and Shipping Agencies, Dubai

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