The collapse of Thomas Cook in September has had me thinking about why travel agents still exist and dominate a major part of the travel sector. In a world of SkyScanner, Airbnb and TripAdvisor, I’ve found myself asking whether travel agents actually perform services that we can’t perform on our own, from the comfort of our sofa. Like a number of travellers in their early twenties, I’ve never used a travel agent, and I’d started to think that they were a service that belonged to the pre-internet era, a relic lost to the 20th century.
Apparently, this isn’t true. Everyday people, like me and you, use travel agents to book holidays, trips and round the world adventures. According to a 2017/2018 study, 33% of millennial's stated that they were planning to use a travel agent in the next two years. Of course, this would have been expected from the generations before this, the boomers and generation X, but aren’t millennial's more tech savvy and more willing to travel independently? This came as a surprise to me to find out. It’s reasonable to assume travel agents have a higher level of knowledge of holiday destinations than the average person, it’s their job to find the best hotels, the best destinations, and the cheapest prices. But, this isn’t anything that the average person couldn’t find out with the use of almighty Google, or a travel blog. Why would anybody continue to use travel agents when they can book the same flights and the same hotel room with a few clicks, whilst saving money in the process?
The aid of an agent becomes increasingly clear when attempting to book complex trips that include several flights or large groups of people. If your society is planning a trip, or if you’re looking to take seven flights to an obscure location of your choice, it may be best to consult your local travel agent. It is also clear that there’s a market for travel agents in the business sector, where corporate policies may require an agent to be used. And many people may just be overwhelmed by the choice that the internet has brought about, and find solace in the office and knowledge of their local travel agent.
Travel agents aren’t that much more expensive than planning a trip yourself. The internet has brought down the costs of many services, and this includes brick and mortar travel agents. To remain competitive with online sites, travel agents don’t charge the same rates that they once did. If you have the ability to spend the extra, and just don’t have the time to research the best deals for hotels and flights, it may be worth turning to a travel agent. If you’re lucky some agents may not even place a charge on your holiday booking, and rely on the commissions they gain from airlines and hotels.
Millennial's aren’t using travel agents in the traditional way. Travel agents have found a way to push back against the tide of internet travel sites to accommodate the needs of younger consumers. Many now look to specialise in their field. Whilst it’s still possible to devote time-consuming research on a part of the world that is unknown to you and jet away, there’s always the risk that what looks great on the internet may not always turn out that way in real life. You may end up in a hostel alone, in a village miles away from the nearest town, wishing you’d consulted someone prior to booking it. Agents, however, spend their days doing research. They have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to their customers, which is especially helpful if you’re going on more adventurous trips.
Millennial's and younger generations are coming to travel agents with broader interests which are pushing agents to reform the way they market holidays. Agents like STA Travel and GeoEX are on the rise as people seek personalised and adventurous trips to all corners of the world without the hassle of doing it all independently. These agents cater to a young clientele and they provide luxury services that a traveller wouldn’t be able to arrange themselves, like a picnic on top of a mountain. They allow people to become travellers without spending hours doing meticulous research and planning every aspect of a trip. So, just maybe a travel agent is a route you should consider when planning your next adventurous holiday.