Travel Agents—Who Needs Them?

After a restful Christmas and New Year, here we all are again, back at it.

Another year has been added to the total and, even now in late January, I’m still having trouble writing 2019.

Over the break I had time to catch my breath, ponder the year just gone and speculate on what this one might hold. Looking back, the issue that stands out for me is the demise of online travel agents (OTAs) like BestJet and Zuji—an OTA that’s been around so long it’s remarkable to think it’s no longer with us.

Zuji really was one of the very first OTAs in our part of the world. Founded in 2002 in Singapore, it expanded to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia. To have both a new operator, BestJet, and an established one collapse in quick succession is, frankly, very troubling.

Reports suggest that Hong Kong-based Zuji allowed its travel agency licence to expire, and the global airline trade body—IATA, pulled its right to sell air tickets because of overdue payments to airlines. The news currently coming out of the BestJet ashes does not make for pleasant reading.

Both situations must be totally baffling for your average travel shopper, and devastating for those chasing refunds in the wake of the chaos.

Despite what the TV commercials might say, having ‘all the choices at your fingertips’ doesn’t magically make travel shopping simple. Travel is a commodity that is affected by a complicated tangle of factors. There’s a reason why being a professional travel agent is actually a thing.

I’m sure I’m not the only travel professional who occasionally clicks around crowd-sourced travel communities and winces at the questions being asked and—even more disturbing—the responses enthusiastically offered up. I mean, how many answers are there really to “The booking site says the room has twin beds, what does that mean?” Well, it would appear that there are 90-something answers ranging from “It’s definitely bunk beds” to “My kids aren’t twins and the hotel said it was fine.”

And when queries venture into perilous territory like visas, baggage collection, immigration and customs, airport transits, interline arrangements, separate tickets, codeshares, being denied boarding, cancelled flights, no-shows, missed connections and “It’s all the airline’s fault”, the crowd-sourced answers can be frightening. Ironically, these are the same people who regularly besmirch travel agents on the very same forums.

Pfft! Travel agents…who needs ‘em.

I don’t say this to poke fun. Simply to make the point that if you somehow didn’t already know that travel agents are a thing, you’d read these and ponder, “If only there was someone who could answer all of these questions. I reckon there’s a business in that.”

It turns out there is.

We’re approaching The Travel Authority’s 15th birthday. We’re an established, respected travel management company (TMC), we value our expertise and experience, and we are proudly ATAS accredited.

ATAS is the national accreditation scheme of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. It endorses businesses that have met strict financial and customer service criteria. ATAS agents are required to comply with Australian Consumer Law, as well as the ATAS Charter and Code of Conduct. For consumers, an ATAS symbol means their agent is among the best in the industry—credible, well trained and professional.

But, back to the OTA situation. I get it that consumers can find cheap airfares and hotels by clicking around supplier websites, OTAs and—more recently—aggregator sites that scour the web and redirect consumers to the source of the deal on sites like BestJet. Sadly, a close friend of mine did just that recently to save a few dollars. It did not end well. Not only is he chasing a refund, but he can no longer confirm his preferred travel dates. It’s a big old mess.

We are often asked to match quotes from ‘the web’, but we stand our ground on our own contracted, secure pricing and supplier relationships. In an environment of wafer-thin margins, failing OTAs and travel brands you’ve never heard of, we value our expertise and ATAS accreditation as major drivers of profitability, success and customer satisfaction.

Importantly, our clients want us to be profitable so we can continue to deliver peerless service and support for years to come.

It’s of great comfort to TTA customers that we run a client trust account, so we don’t use client payments to fund any transactions other than their own. Sure, they might sometimes pay more than they can find down an online rabbit-hole, but we’ll be there with them every step of their travels.

Our service doesn’t stop at the moment of financial transaction. If something goes wrong, a quick call to us will sort it out and smooth the way ahead. Never will they have to crowd-source an answer from a well-intentioned but poorly-informed mob online, or wait for the internet to call them back to discuss that refund.

We look forward to being there and travelling with you in 2019.

Happy & safe travels, everyone.

Peter

Peter Hosper
Managing Director
The Travel Authority Group