The role of travel agents has undergone significant changes over the past few decades. With the rise of new travel technology and online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and lastminute.com, many people began to question their relevance. However, more recently, particularly post-pandemic, travel agents have shown that they play an essential role in the travel industry and are far from obsolete.
A brief history of travel agents
Travel agents have played a vital role in the travel sector for many years. The concept of travel agents can be traced back to the mid-1800s when Thomas Cook organised a group of travellers to visit a temperance meeting in England. This trip marked the beginning of organised travel, and Cook became a successful travel agent.
In the early days, travel agents booked travel arrangements for clients. They would help customers plan their trips and make reservations for transportation, accommodations and tours. At the time, travel agents were the only way to book travel, and they monopolised the industry.
In the 1950s and 1960s, commercial aviation’s growth and new travel technology development changed the industry. Airlines began selling tickets directly to consumers, and the rise of computer systems made it easier for travellers to book their own travel arrangements.
In response to these changes, travel agents focused on providing personalised services and advice. They became experts on different destinations and were able to offer customised travel itineraries. They also began to specialise in various types of travel, such as cruises, adventure and luxury.
In the 1990s, the rise of the internet brought further changes to the travel industry. Online travel agencies such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline emerged, allowing consumers to book arrangements directly online. This led to a decline in traditional high street travel agencies.
However, some travel agents continued to play a vital role in the travel industry. Today, many travellers still prefer to use a travel agent to book their trips. Travel agents offer a range of services, including personalised advice, exclusive deals, and access to travel industry resources.
The current status of travel agents and the travel industry
The travel industry and travel agents were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and while the situation varies by country and region, the sector is rapidly recovering. The rise of technology and online travel booking platforms has greatly impacted the travel industry, including the demand for travel agents. However, many travel agents proved that they were extremely useful during the pandemic when clients became stranded abroad.
How does technology and online booking affect the travel industry?
Technology has made it easier for people to plan and book their travel without the help of a travel agent. With the advent of online booking platforms, customers can easily search for flights, hotels, rental cars, and other travel services and build their own trip, making reservations at their convenience. Online platforms, such as Booking.com and Airbnb, have become popular among travellers because they offer a range of options at competitive prices.
The rise of technology has also made it easier for people to do their own research, even if they are not familiar with a specific destination. Social media platforms, review websites, and travel blogs provide travellers with information and recommendations about resorts, accommodations, and activities.
Technology has also enabled airlines and hotels to market and sell their services directly to customers, effectively bypassing the ‘middle man’. For example, airlines have loyalty programmes that reward customers for booking directly through their website, and some hotels offer exclusive deals to customers who book directly.
However, it’s important to note that not all travellers prefer to book their travel online. Some value the expertise and personal touch and are willing to pay extra for that service. For example, travel agents can offer customised travel itineraries, insider knowledge about destinations, and help customers in emergencies or unexpected events. In this sense, travel agents still have a significant role in the travel industry, especially for more complex and high-end travel arrangements.
What are the current market trends, and the number of travel agencies and agents?
The pandemic significantly impacted the travel industry, with challenges such as travel restrictions and holiday cancellations. However, with the vaccination rollouts and the cessation of restrictions in many parts of the world, the travel industry is seeing vast improvement. Many people are planning trips again, and this has led to an increase in demand for travel services.
One trend that has emerged in the travel industry is the shift towards more personalised and experiential travel. Many travellers are looking for unique experiences and are willing to pay more for them. This has led to an increase in demand for customised travel itineraries and packages. There is also a trend for ‘milestone’ holidays to celebrate an important anniversary or birthday and ‘bucket list’ trips to tick off specific noteworthy dream destinations.
Another trend is the growth of technology to improve the travel experience. Many travel agencies and agents use technology to provide virtual tours, online booking and payment systems, and other services that make the travel experience more convenient and efficient.
There are numerous opportunities for travel agencies and agents to succeed in the market. However, the industry remains volatile and subject to external factors such as pandemics, natural disasters, and political unrest, so travel businesses must be prepared to adapt to changing market conditions.
What are the advantages of using a travel agent?
There are many advantages to using a travel agent when planning and booking your trip.
Personalised service and expertise
Travel agents have extensive knowledge and expertise in the travel industry. They can provide valuable insights and advice on destinations, flights, hotels, tours, and more. They can also help you navigate complex travel requirements and restrictions, such as visa and vaccination requirements.
Additionally, travel agents can deliver a personalised service, providing support throughout the entire travel planning and booking process and creating itineraries based on your travel preferences. They can tailor your trip to your specific interests, whether it’s a romantic getaway, a family vacation or a cultural experience.
Travel agents can also answer your questions, give recommendations, and make changes to your itinerary if needed.
Legal and financial protection
Using a travel agent can provide you with extra protection when booking your travels, including protection through the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). ABTA is a UK-based trade association for travel agents and tour operators. ABTA members are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct, which means that they must provide a high level of service and act in the best interests of their customers.
ABTA provides financial protection for travellers who book package holidays through its approved travel agents. This means that if a travel company goes out of business, you will be able to get a refund or continue with your holiday as planned.
In addition to financial protection through organisations like ABTA, using a travel agent can also provide you with legal protection.
When you book through a travel agent, you enter into a contract with them for their services. This means that they have a legal obligation to provide you with the services you have paid for.
If something goes wrong with your travel plans, such as a flight cancellation or an accommodation problem, your travel agent can help you resolve the issue. They can work with airlines, hotels, and other travel providers to try to get you compensation or make alternative arrangements for your travel.
Convenience and time saving
Planning a trip can be time-consuming and stressful, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the destination. A travel agent can save you time by handling all the details of your trip, including booking flights, hotels, and activities and coordinating transportation and transfers. They can also rebook flights if they are cancelled and keep you up-to-date with foreign office advice.
Access to exclusive deals and discounts
Travel agents often have access to exclusive deals and discounts not available to the general public. This is because travel suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, and tour operators, often offer special rates and promotions to travel agents to incentivise them to promote their products to their clients.
However, it’s important to note that not all travel agents will have access to the same deals and discounts, and the availability of these offers can vary based on several factors, including the agent’s relationships with suppliers, their buying power, and the specific products and destinations they specialise in.
The future of travel agents
The travel industry has undergone significant changes in recent years, with the rise of online booking platforms and the increasing popularity of do-it-yourself travel planning. As a result, the role of travel agents has also evolved. However, despite these changes, the future of travel agents remains bright.
Emerging trends in the travel industry
- Sustainable Travel: More and more travellers are becoming aware of the impact of their travel on the environment and the local communities. As a result, they are looking for more sustainable and eco-friendly travel options.
- Health and Wellness Travel: As people prioritise their health and well-being, there is an increasing interest in health and wellness travel. This includes destinations and activities that promote physical and mental health, such as yoga retreats and spa vacations.
- Workation: With the rise of remote work, travellers are looking to combine work and travel in the form of ‘workations’. This trend involves working remotely from a different location, such as a beach or a mountain retreat.
- Staycations: Holidays in the UK have become more popular after the Covid-19 travel restrictions in many countries. People are still exploring their own countries and discovering hidden gems in their backyards.
- Slow Travel: In contrast to fast-paced travel, there is a growing interest in slow travel. This involves taking time to explore a destination at a more leisurely pace and immersing oneself in the local culture.
- Multi-Generation: The trend for three or more generations of a family travel together has gained popularity, particularly post-pandemic, as families value the time they spend together.
- Milestone: Increasingly, many people want to spend ‘milestone’ anniversaries, key moments or significant birthdays abroad, creating lasting memories.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the demand for travel agents
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the demand for travel agents. With the outbreak of the pandemic, many countries implemented travel restrictions and lockdowns, which led to a decrease in the number of people travelling. As a result, the demand for travel agents plummeted, and many travel agencies had to close down or lay off staff.
During the pandemic, people were hesitant to travel due to concerns about the risk of infection and uncertainty about travel restrictions. Lots also faced financial difficulties, which made travel less affordable. However, many also developed strong relationships with travel agents who helped them return home when borders were suddenly closed.
As travel restrictions were lifted and vaccination rates increased, the demand for travel agents began to recover. Many people turned to travel agents for guidance and advice on navigating the complex travel restrictions and requirements that were in place during the pandemic. Additionally, as people became more comfortable with travelling again, they also sought out travel agents to help plan and book their trips. According to ABTA, travellers are now 37% more likely to book their holiday through a travel agent than before the pandemic.
Currently, the demand for travel agents is almost at pre-pandemic levels. With its continued growth and the need for personalised travel advice, it is highly likely that the demand for travel agents will increase still further.
Predictions for the future of the travel industry and the role of travel agents
One of the key factors driving the continued relevance of travel agents is the increasing complexity of travel planning. With so many options and factors to consider, many travellers find it overwhelming to plan their own trips. Travel agents can offer expertise, experience, and personalised services to help travellers make the best choices for their specific needs and preferences.
In addition, as the world becomes more connected and globalised, the travel demand is likely to continue to grow. As more people seek unique, tailor-made travel experiences, travel agents specialising in niche markets or specific regions can provide valuable insight and connections.
Travel agents – revolutionising the way we travel
Although the pandemic was difficult for the travel industry, it’s now seeing a rapid recovery, with travel agents adjusting to the new challenges and making the most of new opportunities.
In the future, travel agents must continue to adapt to changing consumer needs and preferences, such as the increased demand for personalised and experiential travel. Technology will also play a significant role in the future of travel agents, with the use of AI and chatbots to provide 24/7 customer support and virtual reality delivering immersive travel experiences.
Individuals considering a career in a travel agency must have a passion for travel, a willingness to learn and adapt to new technologies continuously, and a drive to help people have their dream travel adventure.
If this sounds like you, The Travel Franchise can help you achieve your goal. It provides all the tools, knowledge and resources you need to work from home building a successful travel agency, even if you have no previous experience in the travel industry. Once you train with the company you become a Not Just Travel agent and can sell a wide range of ABTA-bonded holidays. Visit The Travel Franchise website to learn more.