Online Or A Travel Agent?

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

For years people have announced the coming demise of the travel agent. We’d book our holidays online from the comfort of our own homes. Technology would enable us to put together our own travel arrangements. Now come two pieces of research from well respected companies that suggest our fondness for travel agents means they could be around for a good while to come. And that our love affair with online booking may have peaked.
The research from Forrester showed that nearly a third of people would consider using a travel agent. This is up by nearly 50% is just over two years. Why the great increase? Forrester says that it might be because some websites make booking a travel package quite complex. The booking itself can also be complex and with the number of options that can arise, – luggage or no luggage, speedy boarding, insurance, adjacent seats, meal allowance, hire car, excursions, which of hundreds of hotels to choose from, – maybe we prefer to have guidance from a professional. One other reason suggested by them is that some websites have removed the fun from choosing a trip declaring them to be clinical.
The final reason suggested I find to be the most interesting. That in an emergency, the travel agent is around to help. So in the volcanic ash incident from the spring and the snow closed airports of today, a human is more useful than a website. But online travel sites do have helplines. Do we not trust them? Are they difficult to contact? Does the remoteness of an online contact person give us less confidence?
The other research is from PhoCusWright who are forecasting that non-online travel booking will grow faster than online in 2010. In numbers, they have suggested that online booking in the USA will grow by 8% in 2010 and the rest by 15%. So the growth is nearly twice as much. If that growth was from a low base you could explain it away but travel agencies do huge business so the growth is even more startling.
So has online booking reached its peak? Are travel agents providing a more appealing service to the traveller than they used to? Or are these figures just a stutter in the growth of online booking?

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