High Tech Won’t Replace ‘High Touch’ In Travel, Sez AmEx Survey

by Andrew Sheivachman

New research from American Express Travel, conducted on the occasion of the company’s 100th anniversary, finds that 93% of travelers don’t believe technology will replace the human touch in their travel experience.

“The travel industry is incredibly healthy,” said Claire Bennett, executive vice president of American Express Travel, at a recent event in New York City.

And the outlook for travel agents has become extremely strong as consumers look to wed the ability to personalize their vacations with the ease of using a travel professional.

“It’s high-tech and its high-touch,” said Bennett. “Travelers want to customize their experience and want the human touch when it comes to cancelled flights or lost luggage.”

Here are several takeaways from American Express Travel’s latest consumer survey, which polled more than 1,000 U.S. consumers who have traveled at least twice for leisure in the last five years.

Keep it personal
Consumers are placing a high value on personal experience, according to American Express Travel’s survey. Travel professionals are one key piece for the traveler looking for a custom vacation.

“Personal service remains a really key piece for travelers.” said Bennett. “Forty-two percent of travelers would pay more for the services of a travel counselor in order to customize their trips.”

The research also shows that more than 90% of respondents believe that personal service can’t be replaced by digital services.

Travelers don’t trust the web
Despite all the hullabaloo involving social media communications from big travel brands, most travelers still aren’t willing to trust digital services when enjoying a leisure trip.

Only a quarter of baby boomers prefer getting help online during travel, instead of receiving assistance from a person. Just 7% prefer going online if something has gone wrong during a trip.

Even millennials prefer getting service from a “live” person before and during their trip; more than half want live services while on the road, and 82% prefer live service if their trip is disrupted.

This is great news for travel professionals. Overall, 79% of those polled agreed that exceptional customer service can make up for travel hassles.

Consumers will sacrifice for travel
American consumers are willing to sacrifice at home in order to save up for a future vacation. The travel industry at large stands to benefit from a renewed focus on leisure travel from families.

“[Two-in-three Americans] strongly agree that leisure travel is a big priority in their life,” said Bennett. “[More than half] are willing to sacrifice in other areas of their lives in order to travel more

Consumers expect to travel more as well. About one-in-three polled said they expect to travel more for leisure in 2020 than they do today. Just 15% expect to travel less.

Mexico and China are booming
The American Express Travel survey also reached global travelers.

Data showed that Mexican and Chinese travelers, in particular, have an increased demand for travel-- even above the demand of Americans.

Two-in-three Chinese consumers and 61% of Mexican consumers expect to be traveling more five years from now. They also expressed an increased need for personalized service during travel when compared to the U.S. and U.K.

Mexican travelers desire familiar experiences as opposed to Americans who crave new and novel vacations.

Chinese travelers are big users of travel agents.

About half of those polled said they had used a travel agent to help plan a trip, or assist while traveling, in the last five years. Just 16% of Americans said the same thing.

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Tip of the Day

I do think there are possibilities for traveler advisors to make money doing domestic trips. I charge a planning fee for my time and expertise, and then book commissionable hotels and activities that meet the client’s needs.

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