Do Travel Agencies Matter?
How the internet has impacted the travel industry.
Web2Carz Staff Writer
Published: October 21st, 2012
"Not only were agencies hit by the internet, but 9/11 was economically catastrophic to our industry."—Lindsay Larrabee Heabel, professional travel consultant
t’s e-business or it’s out of business,” was often heard in the early days of the internet, convincing traditional “brick and mortar” companies to conduct their business online. Most of them eventually did. It was inevitable that most of the world’s businesses, even the companies piloted by Baby Boomers or their antecedents went kicking and screaming into the new electronic era.
It might also have meant the end of tried old institutions like travel agencies because people began booking their own trips on the internet, favoring a do-it-yourself type of personal booking. But even 20 years after the advent of the World Wide Web the living and breathing travel agent refuses to become obsolete, like the Borders Books employee.
“In the late nineties and early 2000’s it was a bit more difficult to retain business with the new technology,” said Lindsay Larrabee Heabel, a professional travel consultant with Here Today Gone to Maui Travel, located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“Not only were agencies hit by the internet, but 9/11 was economically catastrophic to our industry as a whole. Consequently, I had to ask myself serious questions like, ‘Am I providing value and service to my clients? What differentiates me from a booking engine online?’ In the end, I believe that the internet has been an enhancement in regard to growing my business.”
Still, a whole new generation of savvy consumers and would-be travelers increasingly book their trips online, favoring the more streamlined and real-time approach to shopping without the assistance of a live body. Search engines provide endless travel information and finger-tip answers for those consumers researching travel quotes.
“I still feel the agent is needed in our high tech world,” Chicago travel agent John Conenna recently told us. “Granted, at one time there were seven other travel agencies on our street. My company Venus Travel has been in business for 45 years and luckily still standing. I do, however, feel confident in our approach to survive against the internet which is a great tool, but at the end of the day has no relationship with the client.”
Human contact or not, travel sites like Kayak, Expedia, and Orbitz have cornered the market on individual ticket sales. These days it’s far easier and quicker to book a flight without going to a travel agent. However, there are still many bound for exotic destinations willing to pay more money to have a go-to person in case of the usual electronic glitch that often results from pressing the wrong button on the keyboard. The need for packages for cruises and European vacations keep agencies like Conenna’s Venus travel and Heabel’s Here Today Gone to Maui Travel in business and explains their survival.
“We give them honest, professional reviews and opinions of their destinations and resorts or cruise line that they are booking that are not supplier driven. We have relationships with trusted properties that have a proven track record to deliver a positive experience and additional amenities that cannot be booked online. We also save people time by doing the work for them so that they do what needs to be done in their daily lives versus spending hours at the computer,” said Heabel.
“I have found that people respect this. I recently had a good client ask me to book a vacation to the Grand Canyon. I told him that it was not my specialty and it would be a disservice to him and his family if I did this work for him. He said, ‘Lindsay, I really appreciate your honesty with me and thank you. The next time we go back to the Caribbean, I will certainly call you again and tell my friends as well.’”