U.K. Newspaper Says Agents Are Better Than OTAs

by Richard D’Ambrosio

The online travel market has had more than 20 years to enhance its technology and offer a wide range of services, but it hasn’t matured enough to take the place of human travel agents, says The Guardian, a United Kingdom newspaper and website.

In an article entitled, “Why Are Human Travel Agents Still So Much Better Than Websites?” author Alex Hern dissects how Skyscanner, a travel fare aggregator website and travel metasearch engine, can provide a comprehensive review of flight options and pricing — but it cannot replace the unique and important skills a human travel agent offers.

Hern shows how online travel agencies (OTAs) cannot demonstrate the best options for multiple-leg itineraries, or factor in higher hotel rates because a city might have a large convention in town.

Also, so much of the work is left to the traveler, forcing consumers to spend an inordinate amount of their own time to be precise in how they search for their vacation. To access the “vast amount of data” offered by Skyscanner, which is owned by Ctrip, the largest travel company in China, requires “an incredibly specific set of instructions before they’ll get to work,” Hern writes.

Hern estimated that if a consumer can travel any day of the week, “you might even have to run up to 49 separate searches.” Throw in another two possible cities a vacationer might want to visit, with two to three airport options, and “now you’re looking at almost 300 separate searches to find the cheapest holiday.”

This kind of work is better left for an experienced travel agent, Hern says: “In an age of fear over algorithms destroying jobs, the people are still beating the algorithms at the seemingly easily automatable job of checking databases of prices and places.”

He suggests “it might be worth considering a visit to your flesh-and-blood travel agent – at least, if you want anything complex from a holiday.”

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