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Will there be enough travel agents when you need them?


Before the pandemic, 70% of Australia’s international travel was booked through a travel agent, and given the new complexities to travel that COVID-19 and its nasty variants bring, this number will likely rise. But we’ve already lost a third of our travel agents.

 

Before the pandemic, 70% of Australia’s international travel was booked through a travel agent. As COVID-19 moves from its pandemic to endemic phase and international travel recommences apace, the world will return to a travel that is more complex and so this percentage will likely rise. 

 

 

Personal trainer Rachel Baynes has just booked return flights to her native UK with a five-day stop in Dubai on her way back. Despite being a relatively easy itinerary and similar to the many trips she has organised herself in the past, this time, Baynes booked with her local Flight Centre.  

 

"More than anything I think it was a bit of assurance and a nice feeling that someone would look after everything for you," Baynes told Traveller

 

"Trying to book flights can be so stressful, regardless of trying to work out all the additional stuff you now need to consider.

 

"I felt I now needed the support too in case anything goes wrong, and there's a human I can talk to about it. Everything keeps changing and I don't want to get stuck anywhere and not know what I can do."

 

Flight Centre is experiencing an increase in bookings from people like Baynes who have never before used a travel agent.

 

"In the last two to three weeks, business has shot up three or four-fold," Flight Centre Australia general manager Kelly Spencer told Traveller. 

 

"Now travel is more complicated, we're seeing a lot of customers who would normally book on the web and do it themselves coming to us for advice.

 

"They know that we know about the COVID requirements, the inbound and outbound documentation necessary, the PCR tests, COVID insurance, cruise and hotel cleanliness, and airline capacities and routes, and they want the security of one contact point for it all. People are very keen to go travelling again, and we're excited about helping them."

 

For years (DECADES even), the death of the travel agent has been forecast with about the same accuracy as the Y2K crowd and their ‘end of the world’ warnings. 

 

And while the COVID-19 pandemic has done a pretty good job on taking out about a third of the sector (a hefty 15,000 jobs), it has also made it pretty clear how necessary it is to have a travel advisor on your side. 

 

But with that third of Australia’s travel agents gone, will there be enough to meet our demand?

 

Speaking at a business travel conference Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner said that he thinks those who have left will return. 

 

“We’ve kept in touch with our people and they’ll want to come back to travel,” he said. 

 

“That’s what’s happening in the UK and North America.”

 

The return will likely come as travel and capacity increases, and Turned expects “reasonable normality” to return after Christmas (though “maybe not for WA”). 

 

“But I’m a bit of an optimist,” he said. 

 

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