Highly publicized travel fiascos resulting from do-it-yourself online bookings are “teachable moments” for Canada’s travel agents. Such incidents create openings for agents to educate consumers about the value and credibility that travel sellers provide.
Canadian agents see other factors boosting their standing with clients. Among them: the “noise” created by the proliferating online travel sites and consumer information overload.
“Canadians spend an exorbitant amount of time online getting information on travel,” Ensemble Travel co-president Lindsay Pearlman, based in Toronto, told Travel Market Report.
Those same Canadians no doubt could benefit from agent help navigating the maze of choices they uncover.
Growth in offline bookings
Pearlman sees a consumer trend in booking patterns that’s a huge plus for agents. “More and more people are booking offline. People are now saying, ‘If I’m spending a couple of thousand dollars, maybe I want to talk to somebody.’”
The opportunity for Canadian agents in 2012 is to add value to the process by educating customers about their choices, so they return from their travels satisfied, which in turn will generate repeat and referral bookings, said Pearlman.
Travelers caught off-guard
That educational strategy might have saved the vacation experiences of those Canadians who spent the final night of their Cancun vacations last January in a hotel lobby.
The travelers did not realize that the Sunwing Vacations package they bought online did not include accommodations for the eighth night after the eighth day. Presumably, had they booked through a travel agent, they would have been alerted to this fact.
Another teaching moment came last month, when 300 would-be travelers had their vacations cancelled because the Korean Air tickets they bought online for $600 were meant only for travel agents.
Perils of direct booking
Those incidents illustrate the “perils of consumers engaging the direct sales channel,” Vancouver travel agent Barry Chen, of Fairwind Travel, told Travel Market Report.
Chen used the Sunwing fiasco as a consumer education moment when CBC News quoted him last January. Other travel agents did the same in comments they posted on the CBC News website.
“If you want customer service, why would you expect it from using online [travel agencies]? You book online and screw up, you are on your own. Use a professional travel agent, if you want customer service,” was one comment that encapsulated Canadian travel agents’ take on these incidents.
Consumer confidence (in agents)
One member of the Canadian Institute of Certified Travel Counsellors stated that confidence in the services of travel professionals will lead to increased market share from consumers.
Indeed, noted ACTA president and COO David McCaig, “When there is problem with an online booking, consumers often contact a travel agency for assistance.”
Talk about teachable moments.