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How traditional travel agents can steal business from online competition

When it comes to travel agents, Bill Gates is no Nostradamus. Back in 1996 when Expedia launched, the billionaire and philanthropist told people they could throw away their travel agents’ numbers and book it all by themselves on line. 


And while we knew, even before this blasted pandemic, that Gates was wrong, we can now see just how wrong he was. 


It turns out that for some, online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia are actually boosting business (and fortunes) for travel agents,  Forbes reported. 


Last week was Virtuoso Travel Week and travel agents who are part of the Virtuoso network gathered in Las Vegas (or online).


Virtuoso chief executive Matthew Upchurch admitted that at the outset of the pandemic, travel agents were overwhelmed. 


But instead of giving up and leaving their clients in the lurch, they provided what he called “heroic” work, working all hours to get, not only their clients, but also those who booked with OTAs, home. 


Becky Powell, chief strategy officer of Global Travel Collection (which includes Virtuoso member agencies), told Forbes that it is this service that helps more traditional agencies nab clients from OTAs.


And it helps when OTAs advertise nonstop.


In the US, Expedia has been running an ad starring Big Bang Theory’s Kaley Cuoco and Parks and Recreation’s Rashida Jones. Jones plays a fairy godmother who saves the day when an Expedia user has her flight cancelled. According to the ad, “Expedia has your back throughout your journey.”


But Powell says that “customers who hadn’t used a travel agent before or had used an OTA and then had problems…they were stuck on hold; they couldn’t get refunds”. Subsequently, travel agents have “gained a lot of new clients who want high touch service”.


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Published: 16 August 2021

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