Travel Agents

How can we protect agents against tech developments?

Daisy Doctor

The conversation surrounding robots and their capacity to take humans’ jobs is starting to feel a little, well robotic.

We see technological advancements in the field, we fret, and we move on.

But we should be taking this more seriously, not simply due to the constant tech partnerships popping up around us in the travel industry.

Most recently, Flight Centre extended its partnership with tech giant Sabre, meaning FLT agents will be given access to book, shop and manage travel content from among 400 airlines, 900,000 hotel options, 24 car rental brands, and 14 cruise lines.

That’s a huge benefit to agents, who’s own offering to clients will be increased ten-fold as a result.

The ability to access these deals through strong tech partnerships is undoubtedly driving a huge, new, economic growth in the industry.

This awesome for agents, but hints at a larger issue in the industry – while agents gain more deals and data, they’re still up against devices that are literally designed to drill data and find the best deals for clients in a matter of seconds.

It’s an unfair thing to compare agents – some of which have spent their life invested in the industry – with a piece of equipment, but sadly, that’s where we’re at.

And a recent survey on travel trends led by European media company Norstat only confirms this.

In the study, researchers asked future travellers which futuristic travel booking method they’re most likely to use.

Obviously, the entire test was hypothetical, but the results are still somewhat concerning.

The exact question asked was:

The way we book holidays has changed. For example, many people now book online or via apps on their phone and never speak to a travel agent in person. Which of the following futuristic booking methods would you be interested in trying?

The top answer was ‘virtual travel agents’, also known as OTAs; which is also concerning, but let’s not get stuck into the OTA vs brick and mortar agency debate now.

Virtual travel agents were favoured by 46 per cent of men and 47 per cent of females.

Although, creeping in only 15-odd per cent behind virtual agents was ‘smart speakers’; your Amazon Echoes and Google Homes.

Check out the results here:

agent1

While these figures are confronting, it’s important to acknowledge the convenience of these devices, in that someone can be sitting on the couch, watching the TV, and, having seen an ad about Fiji flash across the screen, can then book a trip without moving a muscle.

It’s an advertiser’s dream, but a hard-working agent’s worst nightmare.

So what can be done to ensure the longevity of agents amid this tech competition?

Well, as most would agree, nothing will replace human-to-human interaction and booking, and we cannot tout the importance of lived experience enough; something a machine will never be able to emulate.

However, more has to be done, and Travel Weekly wants to hear your answers, suggestions and even anxieties about combatting this tech threat.

Get in touch with us, because this is something that impacts everyone in the industry, and needs to be openly discussed as quickly as possible to keep any kind of robot takeover at bay.

We’re genuinely looking for answers, so please drop us a line.


Do you have something to say on this? Get in touch with Travel Weekly Editors here to share your thoughts. 

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