We recently read an article in The Economist that discussed consumer travel booking patterns and the future of Online Travel Agencies (OTA). You can find that article Here. It is a topic that comes up quite often in the industry and we felt it necessary to address as we often get questions from Consumers that sounds something like “should I book online, or should I go through a Travel Agent?”.
There are numerous OTA these days. Numerous! The growth of online bookings is parallel with the education of consumers and upgrades of online booking tools; computer, smart phones, apps, etc., which can make the online booking experience enjoyable. The article sited the research firm PhoCusWhright who noted that online bookings now account for 43% of travel sales in America and 45% in Europe. We also learned that OTA are not just focusing on vacations but also on other ways to earn money off other types of tourist spending, like the June purchase of the restaurant review and reservation booking app OpenTable, by Priceline, which is good news for the “one-stop” shopper.
It helps that we are more tech savvy and smart phone equipped, and that these OTA are giving us more options in one go, but are those the only reasons why we are taking our travel stipend online? Could it also be many of us, like we do with our friends, have also taken more of our consulting habits away from the face to face of human interaction and placed them online?
Remember days gone by when we made our travel plans through a live, living, smiling Travel Agent? Remember those? Incidentally, there was another article from Fox News entitled 10 Reasons Why You Still Need A Travel Agent, that brought up the issue of what some call a dying breed.
Even though Travel Agent booking revenues have gone up over the past decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 64,680 full-time travel agents in 2012. A decade before, there were 95,360. That is a significant drop and the emergence of Online Travel Agencies is one of the contributing factors.
So, how should you book your next trip to Antigua? If we are honest, then we have to admit that we have a tendency to scope both. We check out the OTA deals sometimes because we had a sip of the Kool Aid that makes us think that booking online is always cheaper. That’s a myth by the way. We have been able to get the same rates we have seen online by consulting a Travel Agent.
What we get by booking online (even if it’s not cheaper) is the flexibility. The flexibility that allows us to book a hotel while watching the Colbert Report or sitting in a boring meeting. What we loose by booking online is the personal service; the one that gives us a live expert with a direct line to call when we get to the airport and our flights are cancelled and we know we have a 4pm date with a mojito.
Most getaways are not booked overnight and may require a bit more research, questions, and contemplation, which studies have shown can take a few weeks or even longer, unless you tend to travel more on the spontaneous side of the fence. If you are willing to do the research on your own and then activate the easy one-click of the purchase button then an Online Travel Agent is the obvious choice for you. However, if you want someone else to do the work and then swipe your card, then a personal Travel Agent is what you are looking for.
Whichever end you decide to go, it comes down to personal preference. You knew we would say that. For the most part it does not cost more to go through a Travel Agent, in fact, it has never cost us more to book through one. So we take comfort in the fact that we are helping to keep that part of the service industry alive, the personal touch part.
Let us know if you have any input or advice.