Showing posts with label travel agencies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel agencies. Show all posts

Monday, November 24, 2014

Travel Agents in an online world

Being a travel agent is a difficult task, at least, being a good travel agent is.

An agent is supposed to keep abreast of the latest trends, every hotel and air carrier on the planet, foreign exchange trends, weather forecasting, potential security issues around the globe, immigration requirements for each end every country and be up-to-date and cheery with the delivery of this knowledge; and always at the lowest price.

Years ago, well, fifteen or so anyway, travel agents, like practitioners of almost every art, needed to know more than their clients about any single transaction. This was not really too difficult, and their role as the gatekeepers between clients and the principals in the business was well established. And then a funny thing happened; more and more information became accessible to the individual and the role of the intermediary became almost obsolete in many fields.

It is true, of course, that unless value is added to a transaction, there is little or no point in paying for the professional services; an accountant who continuously said “That’s a good idea” to each of your suggestions would not last long in that role.

And a funny thing happened in the travel business; the good agents got better, and the poor ones disappeared. Simple, and good for everyone, one would think, but why do so many travellers cringe at the concept of an intermediary when planning their travel?

I shall give you an illustration. Years ago, the most common question that we received was “What is the cheapest ticket to London?” Our answer was always, “Where in London do you want to go?”, and the responses were interesting. Apart from being able to sort passengers onto Heathrow and Gatwick flights according to their answer, a remarkable proportion, nearly 50%, were in fact going to Hull, Cardiff or another variety of UK destinations. Aware that London was a hub for cheap flights, and unaware of the time-geography of the island, they assumed that getting to London inexpensively was sufficient.

As it happens, one can fly to a variety of UK regional airports including Humberside  (for Hull) and Cardiff for only a small additional cost, and many were delighted and flew to their destination happily and with considerably less expense and frustration. Now, however, the question is the same, and the answer from the Binary Net will always be the most economical fare (or quite often, but that is a different matter), and thus completely unaware that their journey could be fare easier they revel in the fact that they “beat the street” and found the lowest fare to a destination to which they really didn’t want to fly.

The web is, of course, a fine tool, but it is not more a tool than the phone system. It is also worth considering that when businesses spend millions developing their websites, it is to maximise their revenue, and not to minimise your expense; and those are completely different questions and requirements.

The web is where much information is housed; little knowledge is there and the key to successful web-use is knowing the correct questions ask. It is a pasteurising environment, with fewer companies, operating under a variety of disguises, selling fewer products.

It is an addictive environment, and a tantalising one where one knows’ that alternatives exist, but tracking them down and using them as building blocks for your vacation or business trip can be difficult.

And, of course, you won’t miss what you never knew existed.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Joys and Sorrows of Wandering (not many sorrows really)

Even by my own rather peripatetic standards, 2014 has started off to be a year of much travel. It is the first of July, and in the first six months of the year I have covered 89,500 miles, and during those wanderings have been as far distant as North Korea, Adak in the Aleutian Islands and now to St. Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

I travel only partly for personal pleasure; one of the joys of owning a travel company that specialises in travel to the more outlandish parts of the world is the requirement to get out and see for one’s self before marketing programs to our clientele. While this may seem to be a wondrous job, and indeed I get many notes asking if I need assistance with my bags, it is actually work.

The role of a travel company, once its boundaries and mission have been established, is to provide its clientele with travel experiences that will satisfy their interests, style and curiosity. There are many fine travel companies the world over, and it is with the global cooperation of a vast network of businesses and individuals that the travel industry can continuously refresh itself, and offer new destinations to the world’s wanderers. It is through this vast network that we are able to find and meet partners to help us bring ideas to vacations.

Of course, people globally do not travel to the same places at the same time. This gives the opportunity for destinations to grow, to become more sophisticated and to evolve as their market becomes more diversified and grows into a mainstream destination.

Of course, there are many who are not looking for that sophistication, or homogenisation. Increasing numbers of travellers are seeking a more “raw” experience. Not hard-core adventure, but at least the feeling that they have travelled to a foreign country, and not simply another “global brand” location. And so our quest for our clients takes us to new and exciting destinations, and more often now to exciting and unexplored parts of better-known lands.

I am often asked where my favourite destinations are, and where I think are the “new” locations for folks to look at as they plan their vacations, and I am happy to offer a few here, and in a couple of subsequent blogs. They are, of course, highly subjective, but do bear in mind that as I am a “professional” traveller, my living is made by being right, and if I am wrong, I stand to lose a lot of money and time!

Georgia the country and not the state is one of my favourite destinations in the world. It has evolved from the Rip Van Winkle era of Soviet depression fast, and the tourist industry is one economic sector that has seen investment, development and success. Based on the country’s inherent attractions, its landscape, culture and above all its people, Georgia has started to become a popular destination with regional and European tourists, and slowly but surely, it is making its mark with North Americans.

Montevideo, the quirky capital of Uruguay, is another favourite. Less brash than Buenos Aires, it sits on the far side of the River Plate welcoming all who visit (except, perhaps vegetarians; Uruguayans appear to consider a chicken as a sort of vegetable). It is a city in need, some would say, of a coat of paint, but frankly I love the patina that it has. Evocative of a time when South America was embracing immigrants from Europe, live was good, fun was everywhere, the candombe music of the region was and remains infectious and the city’s wonderful location on ocean and river was everything; truly fine place to spend a few days or a few weeks.

Les Isles du Salut in French Guyana are the most extraordinary day trip that I have ever taken; three islands, formerly part of the brutal French penitentiary system, they lie partly fading and partly alive. To feel the isolation, deprivation and sheer helplessness of life here is impossible to describer, but after a day’s visit, or perhaps longer as one island now houses an auberge, one can readily understand the anguish of their former residents.

The Great Barrier Reef, and in particular spending a day out with the catamarans of Passions of Paradise, is an astonishing way to understand this wonder of the world. They head to a quiet reef, the number of passengers is small and the attention is amazing; all too many tours in the world’s most iconic destinations are being ruined by volume. The Barrier Reef is in places, but not from Cairns with Passions!

And there are more favourites yet; The Faroe Islands, Lufthansa, Pyongyang, Kerala, the Languedoc and Newfoundland to name a few …. Let me know your favourites … I love to hear from you! And while we are at it, what are some of your worst destinations, or pet travel peeves?