Their death has been foretold but never came. Brick-and-mortar travel agents are still going strong, a bit different from what they were in the past perhaps, but offering robust holiday packages that you can’t find anywhere else. There are many reasons why travel agencies you can actually visit, where you can sit down and talk, haven’t gone away and all the reasons stem from just that: you can visit and sit down and talk. Here’s a quick list of some of the things brick-and-mortar travel agents have going for them:
1) Expertise and specialization
This is an actual conversation at a travel agency:
‘I’d like to go somewhere to see the jungle, but I’d like to be able to eat some western cuisine as well.’
‘Well, then, Bali is your place.’
It was as simple as that. Travel agents, especially those who specialize in faraway locations, have done way more research that you can reasonably do online, provided you don’t want to spend as much time researching as actually traveling. They have probably already been there, both as tourists and as guides, they know what you’ll need and how to get it. They can propose ten great things, of which you’ll choose five and they can walk you through your options. If you trust them, they can really design an unforgettable trip. Which leads me to my second point:
2) Personal touch
Trust is a major point here. Good travel agents use word-of-mouth more than they use advertising, good travel agents have repeat customers that love traveling and want great recommendations. Good travel agents rely on a personal relationship with their customerσ, one that would open up new ways to see the world.
3) A complementary relationship
Being a brick-and-mortar travel agents doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the online element. It is always possible to have a complementary relationship, helping travelers find what they’re looking for both online and in person. And if a comprehensive website isn’t possible, then a strong online presence is necessary, both on the web and social media. The best travel agents with physical stores have embraced the Internet, they are not trying to antagonize it, and that’s what has helped them survive and thrive. It is no accident that many online travel agents have started opening physical stores.
4) Offering context
When you are not sure what you want, then your trusted travel agent can help you. It’s not always easy to comb through the chaos of online information to find something you’re not sure you’re even looking for. When you need a sober mind to give you the pros and cons of each destination, that’s what an experienced travel agent can do for you. Friends are going to recommend their favorite vacation spots, without mentioning why they’re their favorite (sometimes it has nothing to do with the actual place); the Internet is going to recommend absolutely everything and nothing. There are good and bad reviews about every single hotel, location, sight and site on earth. It takes long hours to make an informed decision, but not when you can simply ask your favorite travel agent.
5) Offering deals not found elsewhere
Brick-and-mortar travel agents have their own systems to handle bookings. And they also have access to networks simple consumers don’t. This means they can get deals that cannot be found elsewhere online. If a savvy traveler and a savvy travel agent work together, then a complicated trip that has been prepared by the agent can be cheaper than if the consumer had just booked everything online on his or her own. And at a fraction of the hassle! So, it’s definitely not some golden rule that the best prices are always online.
It is true that Online Travel Agents keep getting a bigger share of the travel market (there is an estimated growth larger than 10% every year), but the pie gets bigger every year and there’s not only space for survival, but space for growth. Brick-and-mortar travel agencies need to play to their strengths and offer knowledge and specialized packages to travelers who are not satisfied by simply looking for online deals.