The Return of the Travel Agent

We needed to take a trip for some business, and decided to try out a few of the big-name travel agencies you’ve probably see on TV… Needless to say, it didn’t go as smoothly as they make it sound in their flashy ads.

Complicated websites with overwhelming options. Every company claiming to have the best deals. Hidden fees cropping up when you least expect it. Advertisements trying to distract you at every turn. Planning a trip is never easy. But using DIY travel booking sites like Travelocity.com and airline sites like Delta.com have shown us exactly how much work goes into finding the absolute best itinerary.

We eventually gave up trying to book our own trip, and went with a great travel agency out of Austin called Departure Lounge – they provided services that no website could ever offer – including Wine and Coffee, delicious snacks, and customized service to help us get exactly what we needed, and well under our budget.

What we, and many people, are finding out is that we still need travel agents. Rather than making it easier, these travel sites have made itinerary planning even more difficult than ever before, and people are starting to go back to the travel agent to solve this problem. Once thought by industry experts to be obsolete, travel agents have been making a comeback recently; below are some of the reasons for this unexpected shift in the travel industry.

 

Online travel sites have become too confusing

One of the goals of travel booking sites is to bring all of your options into one place. But it seems like they just became too big. One can spend hours and hours on a single site, clicking through hundreds of links trying to find the most affordable and least time-consuming travel options. It doesn’t help that many people find the navigation of these sites to be confusing. In all this confusion, how does someone know which options to settle with?

Travel Agents are the solution, as people are realizing that they don’t understant the options available to them and need to talk to someone who can do the searching for them and guide them through their best options. A travel agent is an experienced professional who can make sense of the information overload that is travel booking and can explain travelers’ best options to them. Travel booking sites present too many options to make sense of; it’s a travel agent’s job to sift through these and find the best ones for their clients.

The explosion of restrictions and fees

Another way travel has become more confusing in recent years is hidden fees. To most travelers, many of these aren’t obvious at all, as they’re nestled into the fine print or not even made clear. These fees crop up at every step of the travel booking process and from all kinds of sources, and this can make it very difficult to find out exactly how much an itinerary total expenses will be.

A travel agent can determine exactly how much an itinerary will cost and be clear and up front about the bottom line with the client. There are no hidden fees when dealing with a travel agent and, pPerhaps even more importantly, they’ll make sure to find the lowest rates possible with the fewest tacked-on fees.

The absence of popular airlines from major booking engines

For all the options travel booking sites offer, they’ll never be 100% thorough. There are always options left out, and sometimes the things they leave out are huge. Most glaring in recent years is the absence of the juggernaut Southwest Airlines from the most major online booking engines. Leaving out such a major airline eliminates a huge number of itinerary options, and any option left out could possibly be leaving out a specific traveler’s best, most cost-efficient itinerary.

A travel agent will be able to be more thorough than a booking site, doing their best to search through every option possible to find the best one for a specific client. And they’ll only present the best options to the client rather than throwing everything at you all at once.

The big online travel sites got too smart for their own good

The last reason online booking engines have revived the travel agent is, ironically, that the sites have become too much like travel agents. They’ve tried too hard to become smarter and do the same things travel agents used to do. They make assumptions about users with their algorithms and try to clean up and filter their overwhelming database to offer the best options to what it thinks the user needs. Just like Social media sites like Facebook and entertainment services like YouTube, travel booking sites show us not what we need to see, but what they think we want to see.

The problem here is that a website can never replace an actual travel agent. By offering the same services, online travel sites have put themselves in direct competition with travel agents—only travel agents do the job much better.

By filtering results, travel sites risk leaving out options that are actually better for the user. There’s only so much a site can learn about someone by running their online clicking behavior through algorithms. An actual travel agent can truly understand a client and make the best choice regarding what’s best for them.

Conclusion

Booking sites do have their place. Travel agents say they have value in booking short and simple trips. But when it comes to more complex itineraries, nothing can replace the expertise of a professional. Even online travel sites agree that an actual agent is important in booking complex trips, and now people are starting to re-think what they use these sites for and what’s better left to the professionals.