Travel Agents: Don't Ignore Them

By Robert King General Manager, Travel & Hospitality, ClickSquared | March 20, 2010

Weren't travel agents supposed to have disappeared by now, gone the way of the dinosaur and the VCR? At least that's what travel experts have been prognosticating for the past decade. After all, how can a travel agent compete against the likes of Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Trip Advisor, and other "do-it-yourself" sites? To be sure, the number of agencies has declined during this past decade – close to 50% based on ARC retail locations.

But to a travel industry marketer it's far more meaningful to determine what portion of the market this channel still represents. In Phocuswright's 2008 Travel Agency Distribution Landscape, travel professionals still accounted for a substantial portion of the market, including:

85% of cruises
70% of all tours and packages
50% of all airline
30% of all hotels
25% of all car rentals

Source: 2008 PhoCusWright Travel Agency Distribution Landscape Report

While the percentage of indirect bookings can vary by organization depending on geography, target market, business/leisure mix, and brand strength, the travel agency segment still matters. Their impact is even more substantial when you include group and meeting planners. In fact, for many travel & hospitality providers, travel agencies still represent a major – if not the largest – channel for guest bookings. Your indirect bookings may be larger than you think.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.