It's Time For Travel Agents To Embrace The Disruption

For many years, I have been working with travel agents through trainings and conferences. I am continually impressed at how some have creatively built their niche and developed their business. Equally, I am amazed at how many are not prepared for the next few years. Too many are unaware of the changes that have already transpired.

This unpreparedness showed when I was talking with an agent, probably in their late 60s, about their new-found desire to go after the  Millennial market using Instagram. They were excited about the prospect and reeling off stats about the affluence of the  Millennial market. It was obvious they has just come from a session about Millennials and their travel habits. 

At that point, it became painful to imagine what would most likely happen: A few weeks of excitement, few (if any) followers, desperation, despair and then disappointment. It takes more than posting some pictures to Instagram to engage a Millennial audience. 



As a rule of thumb, if you can’t engage Millennials in person, then you won’t engage them on social media.

The fundamental problem is not simply about engaging on Facebook, it’s about understanding how to market online, provide a distinct value proposition and utilize digital tools to build a business. 

Looking through thousands of business cards from conference attendeds, I learned a few things about this industry: The vast majority of agents use Gmail or Yahoo for email; the minority use a personal email that matches their website; only a handful have a social media handle listed on their business card.

Some call travel agents a dying industry. I think it is an industry that will have to grow and adapt in order to survive. Part of that growth will require agents to become specialists. Our economy has moved from a primarily production-based economy to a knowledge-based one. In order to thrive, agents need to bring knowledge to the table. 

Anyone can go online and book a flight. OTA’s and apps make information about destinations and tours readily available. People’s biggest need is not information, but assurance. And that is a strong emotional need. Travelers want to know that plans are made, reservations are final, and, most importantly, if anything happens, someone can handle the situation. 

In the past, travel agents held all of the knowledge, which drove the relationship. Today, agents are not brokering knowledge; instead, they tend to emotional needs such as trust, assurance, and safety. People who use travel agents are looking for peace of mind. It’s no wonder that 90% of the luxury travel market is booked through agents. Peace of mind is one of the greatest emotional needs, especially for a vacation. 

Deep knowledge, experience, specialization, and understanding of travelers’ needs are the primary drivers of the travel agent/traveller relationship. An agent is the champion of the dream vacation, honeymoon, family memories, stress relief, or the getaway. It’s the need beyond the immediate need. Knowing those deeper, emotional needs and selling to those needs is a far more effective sell than a glossy brochure. 

Knowing that I can make one call to my agent to work out a missed flight, overbooking, or lost luggage is an assurance that is worth something. It’s less stress that I have to deal with because someone who knows the system can handle it.

Unfortunately, most travel agent websites seem unaware of the need to gain new customers. There is rarely a value proposition, a call to action, or an offer of information that could begin a conversation. Regardless of the media, most agents do not seem to have a plan to recruit new prospects and develop them into customers. If it does not happen on the website, then it most likely will not happen on social media.

Agents, this is a critical time to develop lead generation skills and processes through your digital media. These types of skills can be used to engage an audience regardless of the media. Agents that can do this will position themselves for the next wave of disruption.

2 comments about "It's Time For Travel Agents To Embrace The Disruption".
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  1. Norman Rose from Travel Tech Consulting, Inc., August 10, 2015 at 3 p.m.

    I agree that travel agents can offer curated advice and provide one stop support for the traveler.  The missing piece for the traditional travel agent is integration into the online / mobile planning and booking process. Travel agents need to invest in tools that allow them to recommend curated content during the planning and booking process. This needs to extend to on route and in destination service.  The days when a travel agent's role ended with the issue of the travel documents are gone and thus the agent must be part of the entire journey management. 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 10, 2015 at 8:35 p.m.

    It's worse than that. The general agents are supplier dependent. How many agents can put together a personlized trip ?

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