Opinion: Just when you thought travel agents don’t add value

Travel_agents_ add_value
Travel News 26 Sep 2017

Euan McNeil, General Manager FCM Travel Solutions 

A friend of mine – well educated, travel savvy and successful – wanted to travel to Cologne for a long weekend.  “I buy everything online,” he said. “What’s the point of buying travel anywhere else?” So he ignored his company’s travel policy, ignored his TMC and proceeded to hop onto an online travel site.

Minutes into the research process, he found a flight to Cologne on two separate airlines, both with fairly similar prices. And he would have booked that flight, had a human not intervened and given him an alternative that not only saved him time (he was travelling for a long weekend after all), but also saved him money.

Instead of sitting in Frankfurt Airport cooling his heels for an onward flight to Cologne, he boarded the train that leaves every half an hour from the airport and got there within an hour. Plus he saved several thousand rands doing it.

Airlines, hotels, car rental and other travel suppliers are increasingly targeting customers directly. Their direct marketing efforts are nothing new, nor is the intention behind them malevolent. Any company, in any industry, is looking at how they distribute their product and service more efficiently and how they can cut costs to do this.

The traveller may think that by going direct, they’ll be saving money. And this may be true in certain situations, but not always. In the case of my friend, the online travel site didn’t give him the choice to book a flight to Frankfurt and onward train trip to Cologne. It simply delivered on the specific request he had asked for. What you put in is what you get out. How was the system to know there were variables that would be more beneficial to the traveller? How is the traveller to know that any variables exist?

And what if he had failed to get his Schengen visa in time? He would have booked a non-refundable ticket – the cheapest of course. If anything went wrong… anything at all and his travel plans had to change, would he factor in the time and money it would take to rectify the situation?

When an airline strikes in Europe, who do you call to check that you’re still going to get out on tonight’s flight? The airline with which you booked? Travel suppliers are the first to say they’re not equipped to deal directly with the customer when problems arise.

Our place as the Travel Management Company or travel agency is defined by our ability to give quality service and add value to the customer and to the supplier.  We’re there when things go wrong, but we’re also there to ensure that things don’t go wrong and that time and effort aren’t wasted.

While my friend may be a whizz in the courtroom, his knowledge about travel cannot hope to compete with the expertise of a skilled travel professional. And that skill is what saved him hours and time.

Corporate buyers are always looking for efficiencies – both in terms of cost and operationally. The TMC has the ability to provide integrated solutions offering total trip cost visibility, as well as the technology for travellers to make choices within agreed travel policy and the expertise to satisfy duty of care requirements.

Going direct doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to end up paying less. In many cases, you’ll end up paying far more.