Travel trade surviving digital challenges


The year is 2030! Your travel agency has just won the “Best Space Agency Award” for its record bookings to the International Space Station Hotel.

The agency was also runner-up in the Robot Division, only missing the golden prize, because of a computer glitch, when two of the robot assistants booked a family’s package tour to Boston, England, instead of Bosten in the USA.

The last decades had been a major challenge for the land based agencies as more and more companies opened offices in the giant A380 aircraft with their special destination rooms, instant booking for the next trip with aircraft, hotel, car hire and shopping all-in-one tickets.

An old timer in the agency remembers the advent of the digital age in the early 2000s, when so called experts predicted the death of the travel agency business due to the introduction of 0 per cent commissions.

Back from the future and the 0 per cent commission strategy being introduced by airlines, which has sent a shudder through the GCC travel industry.

It was therefore great news that in September and October this year in order to boost bookings, Emirates Airline in the UK had increased commissions from five to ten per cent … let us hope this move will prove a success and that more increases to commissions will follow suit.

I spent the last holiday in the UK and it was depressing for someone associated with the travel industry business to see so many TV commercials offering comparison fares and promising to provide the best airfare in the country and the same with insurance, hotel rates and car hire charges.

So I ask the question, is it possible for the travel agent to make a decent living, when there is so much competition from the Internet? Only time will tell, but I am predicting that the ingenuity of the travel trade will prevail.

Men and women have learnt to operate sophisticated dish washers, washing machines and other household appliances. We are now driving cars with computers telling us, when a door is not properly closed or when the oil needs topping up. We have digital phones, which also function as alarm clocks, video game machinery or cameras.

We have security systems in our homes and offices with computers, which respond to passwords. Our children have ipods, VCRs and often the own websites... sometimes I feel that the “beam me up Scottie” futuristic scenario has already arrived.

However we seem to be surviving the digital challenge. The Video Conferencing was a good idea, although travel agents feared it would cut down on air passengers, but it did not. In business for example, sometimes it is important to be able to feel, touch and taste the product before submitting an order and that cannot be done via a video.

All the multitude of new websites for destination guides were supposed to eliminate the need for brochures, but many customers still like to sit at home with their family and flip through the pages of glossy brochures or magazines, before making a holiday choice.

Admittedly, the recession is looming and inflation is biting, but fortunately in this part of the world, we always seem to sail through unscathed more or less through these economic storms.

In the end, even if all airlines introduce 0 per cent commission, the travel trade will ensure that the airlines cough up on incentives for reaching sales targets and earn more revenues from hotels, car rental companies and travel insurance firms.

 Deluxe vacation packages will come into vogue and they will continue to create sales for cruises and rail trips. In fact, as life increasingly becomes busier, companies will need travel executives to coordinate travel agents to plan corporate travel, families will need expert advice to ensure they do not waste money on extensive holidays by booking them through experts, who know the ropes.

Industry knowledge and destination awareness will become the most important elements of travel to enable travel agents to survive and prosper in the digital world of today and tomorrow.

Websites, blogs, banners and bookings are now all merging together!

Happy Hunting!


Speaking Out by Jonna Simon