24 February 2010
DataArt and TravelMole Host Executive Panel on the Demise of Traditional Travel Agent
DataArt hosted its second Travel Technology Executive Panel in London, to discuss the fate of the traditional travel agent in the face of emerging technologies.
The panel, organized in concert with TravelMole, The Online Community for the Travel and Tourism Industry, discussed what traditional travel agents needed to achieve to stay competitive in the face of new technologies. Graham McKenzie, Managing Director of TravelMole, lead the discussion on how online booking capabilities have allowed travelers to select, book and pay for the most complex itineraries without ever referring to an agent, causing a paradigm shift in the industry.
All panelists agreed that the “traditional” travel agency in the UK market has forever changed. John McEwan, Chairman of ABTA and CEO of Advantage Travel Agents, and David Speakman of Travel Counsellors, both UK Travel industry market veterans, insisted that brick & mortar travel agencies were far from being extinct, yet agents must focus on the soft people skills, deep service, expertise and building relationships in order to continue to be of value to customers. Stuart Ellis, Vice President of GTA Travel agreed on the value of the traditional agencies and said he believed in their future.
Greg Abbot of DataArt suggested that the brick & mortar agencies’ future wasn’t promising, considering the high infrastructure costs and the lower margins in travel products & services. He said agencies would be forced to innovate to stay in business and that technology could be used as a tool to achieve these cost efficiencies within some aspects of their business. At the same time, he noted that the topics of discussion largely centered on the leisure aspect of travel, ignoring verticals like wedding, group travel & MICE travel, all of which were still largely offline. He concluded that there was still a place for the “traditional” agency, where technology has not advanced to the point of anyone becoming its own travel agent.
Roy Graff of Expedia explained that while Expedia initially won a large market share from direct consumers, it now offered great commission and booking tools to agents.
Bobby Healy, CTO of CarTrawler, stated that while the outlook was tough for many agencies and he would not invest in one himself, he believed that agencies who find a niche and who maximize the “trust factor” to their advantage, managing to leverage technology to keep costs at a minimum & increase access to online customers, will prosper.