The rapid expansion of the travel industry, especially in Asia Pacific, is helping to drive customers back to traditional travel agencies, senior Travelport executives have told Travel Daily.
Speaking at the Travelport Live 2016 event in Macau, Mark Meehan, Travelport’s managing director for Asia Pacific, told us that the proliferation of new options now available to travellers – from low-cost and hybrid carriers to a plethora of new accommodation choices – has made the expert advice provided by agents more important than ever.
With such a vast amount of choice now on offer, he stated, agents can help travellers filter the options and work out the best available choice in an intelligent manner.
“For the agency community it’s about adding value in the travel chain through the expertise and the choice – the intelligent choice – that they’re giving to the consumer,” Meehan told Travel Daily.
And Travelport is aiming to facilitate this “intelligent choice” by improving agents’ search capabilities. The company has invested more than US$800 million in its agent-facing Travel Commerce Platform since 2012, including the launch of ‘Rich Content & Branding’ for air bookings and a significant expansion of its hotel content via the ‘Rooms & More’ platform.
Now adopted by more than 160 airlines, Rich Content & Branding provides agents with more information about different airfares and their inclusions in a graphic on-screen layout. Rooms and More meanwhile, now incorporates TripAdvisor reviews and maps.
And initiatives like these, according to Meehan, are enabling agents to provide more informed advice to their customers.
“With the growth that we’re seeing in the industry, and Asia in particular, we had the foresight to go out and develop this capability,” Meehan said. “The Travel Commerce Platform gives the agency community the ability to prove – as they are – that they are relevant, current and add value to the traveller.”
This view was backed up by Martin Herbert, Travelport’s general manager for Asia, who said the new graphical displays give travel agents “an opportunity to sell more and engage with their customers”.
“You don’t want to turn the screen and show the old green screen – that doesn’t add value to the customer. But now we have TripAdvisor reviews, maps to hotels and all of these elements that are in the same interface for the agent to show the customer,” Herbert said.
“With the phenomenal growth that we’re seeing in the industry, the challenge is the sheer diversity and complexity of choice. The travel agent is uniquely placed… to intelligently filter what the needs and requirements of the customer are. There are more opportunities out there, due to the amount of choice there is out there.
“Choice is a great thing, but you need to filter it. The future is very positive for the agency community,” Herbert added.
Meehan also noted that the new demographics of travellers, and their changing travel patterns, are providing new opportunities for agents.
“The demographic is changing; there are younger travellers with disposable income, and they are now tagging a leisure aspect to a business trip, [which] makes their itinerary a little more complex than before. But it also offers the agency community the opportunity to add value and expertise, and the end product of that is a satisfied traveller who’s going to go back to the agency,” Meehan revealed.
“We’re now seeing… younger travellers who will travel more, and also older travellers who travel more, because they have the disposable income and leisure time. So there is more demand out there, and that needs to be fulfilled.”
And this, Meehan added, means that GDS companies like Travelport need to continuously expand and improve their content, so that agents can continue to “demonstrate their expertise”.
“We have all this content, and keep adding to it all the time. But we have to make our tools smarter in terms of how we deliver that, and make it customisable,” Meehan stated. “We need to allow our technology to be optimised so that we can provide the search results that suit that agency and their customers,” he concluded.
And with all forecasts pointing to the continued expansion of the travel industry – from a 50% jump in international tourist arrivals by 2030 to doubling of the global air fleet over the next 20 years – it seems that, far from fading into extinction, as has been predicted in the past, traditional travel agencies are likely to become even more relevant in the years and decades to come.