SECAUCUS, N.J., June 9, 1998 - The travel agent of the future
|A) Communicate with customers on the Internet?|
|B) Become a specialist in sports vacations, cruises, eco-trips or other specific types of travel?|
|C) Make house calls?|
|D) All of the above?|
The answer is "D" -- according to experts addressing the annual Travel Weekly Conference last week in Nashville. Organized by the leading newspaper of the travel industry, more than 900 delegates and 60 "faculty" explored the travel industry of the future.
The Top Ten predictions and observations from the conference:
|1 -- The Internet is gaining as travel's shopping mall, but it is in its very earliest stages. The growing ranks of consumers who are computer savvy are going to the Web to research information about travel and destinations, and even to make bookings, the speakers said. However, at this time, the bookings transacted over the Internet constitute a mere 1 percent of all travel business done in the U.S., and predictions are that even by the year 2005, they will represent only about 5 percent of travel revenues.|
|2 -- Travelers will use the Internet for "commodity" travel purchases. Airline seats and rental cars -- so-called "commodity" products -- will constitute the bulk of Internet travel purchases, speakers predicted. More complex purchases, such as cruises, tours and resort stays, are less likely to be sold via "e-commerce."|
|3 -- Airlines are leading the way in "e-commerce." Air reservations of the future will be made at strategically located kiosks, via voice recognition telephone systems and at ATM-like e-ticket terminals, as well as on the Internet. Many of these outlets are available now, or soon will be, and the Internet will be just one small part of the electronic distribution product suite.|
|4 -- Electronic tickets will become nearly universal in developed countries. Travel industry seers see "ticketless" tickets as the wave of the future, especially when the day arrives that interline agreements enable use of one airline's e-ticket on another carrier.|
|5 -- Travel agents will increasingly employ the Internet as a business tool. Travel agents, with access to general as well as agent-only sites, are using the Web to keep themselves informed, too. By combining their experience with automation tools, they will stay ahead of the curve and increase their volume of business.|
|6 -- Consolidation, as a trend, will continue in the travel industry. Mergers and acquisitions of the type that have occurred to create Cendant, Patriot American/Wyndham, the Carnival Family of Companies, Royal Caribbean International/Celebrity and code-sharing among the airlines are here to stay, several speakers agreed.|
|7 -- Travel agency growth will level off for the long term. Travel agency companies are part of the consolidation trend as more smaller firms join together to create the critical mass needed to successfully enter a fully automated age. And some companies will consolidate across businesses to become a one-stop-shopping center. Speakers pointed out that just as the proliferation of ATMs didn't eliminate bank tellers, it did minimize the need to keep hiring more.|
|8 -- More commission cuts are on the horizon, affecting what products agents sell and how they sell them. As travel suppliers reduce or eliminate travel agency commissions, a growing number of agents will charge service fees to customers or will narrow what they sell to special interest products, which tend to pay higher rates of commission.|
|9 -- Human contact will continue
to be essential in travel purchasing. Even with access to worlds of information
on the Internet, the traveler will continue to seek personal advice at
some point during the purchasing process, the speakers predicted. Consumers
will be looking for added value, such as knowledge, options and personal
recommendations, especially for resort travel, cruises, special interest
trips, vacations and other types of leisure trips that "need to be explained."
As one speaker put it: "A consumer committing to an annual vacation will want to share the risk of the decision with an expert because a vacation is such a personally crucial purchase. To put it in perspective: if you buy the wrong appliance, you can return it for a different one. If you buy the wrong vacation, even if you get your money back, you can never get back the time you spent and you might have to wait until next year to 'replace' the trip."
|10 -- The drive for better customer service will create travel agencies without walls. Fewer agencies these days are waiting for customers to walk in; many do not even have traditional retail locations at street level or in malls. This trend will increase, especially as agencies establish themselves on the Internet or create home offices or locations in commercial buildings, rather than storefronts. One speaker described calling on customers' at their homes or offices as an effective way to sell travel.|
According to Steve Bailey, publisher of Travel Weekly, "Change is in the wind for travel agents and the companies that supply travel products. Consumers will buy what they want, when they want and how they want, and the successful travel companies will keep pace with or stay ahead of the curve."
Travel Weekly's Conference focuses on travel technology each year, with software and hardware companies using the forum to unveil their new products for the travel industry. Next year's conference will be held April 18-20 in Denver.
Travel Weekly is published by Cahners Travel Group, whose publishing
portfolio includes Hotel Travel Index, Official Meeting Facilities Guide,
Official Hotel Guide, Weissmann Travel Reports, TravelAge, Meetings Conventions
and Tradeshow Week. Cahners, a leading provider of business information
with 133 titles servicing 19 markets, is the largest U.S. publisher of
business-to-business magazines. Cahners is a member of the Reed Elsevier