Travel Agents

Penny Spencer: “There’s a reason agents have been a thing since, well forever”

Daisy Doctor

Saying that the internet has taken over our lives is most definitely an understatement.

Not simply because we are currently scrolling through Instagram while also doing some online shopping as we write this.

The disruption of online is being felt by many, in fact, most industries.

But how is it reshaping travel?

Well, last week Travel Weekly reported that too much choice online is making consumers yearn for human-to-human conversation, and nowhere is this more clear than in travel.

Agents are without a doubt becoming more and more popular with travellers and some are pinning this down to the ‘clutter’ of online.

One person, in particular, is industry legend and founder of Spencer Travel Group, Penny Spencer.

We sat down with Spencer to discuss the rise of online and the resurgence of agents’ popularity.

Travel Weekly: So Penny, is online clutter really leading to an increase in agent sales?

Penny Spencer: What we see, really, is people coming back.

It’s evident that, for many, the novelty of doing-it-yourself has worn off.

Not just because it’s becoming increasingly difficult to wade through the clutter (I mean, these days, where do you start? An OTA? An aggregator? Supplier websites directly? ‘Deal’ websites? TripAdvisor?) and the seems-to-good-to-be-true pricing, but because it only takes one flight misconnection, one visa stuff-up, one scam or one hotel reservation gone awry (and no-one to call to sort it out for you) for it not to be fun anymore.

If you’ve got all the time in the world to assess every online option (and are a whiz at spreadsheets), or you know what you’re after (a short-haul flight to your favourite resort, for example), then I get it.

But there’s a reason that travel agents have been a ‘thing’ since, well forever, really: Travel is a tricky business.

There’s a Vietnam travellers Facebook advice group I dip into occasionally to see how the DIY traveller crowd-sources information these days.

The tangles that these people get into every day over visas (consulate, e-visa or visa-on-arrival-with-introduction-letter), flights, layovers, transfers and exchange rates (‘Am I being ripped off?’), hotels and – a regular favourite of mine – ‘What does “twin beds” mean?’, is astonishing.

It all seems like stuff that a single visit to an agent would resolve.

And are we seeing an increase in agent sales?

You don’t have to do much more than take a look at the record results coming from Flight Centre and Helloworld to answer that one.

TW: How important is the brick and mortar agent in the online era?

PS: Clients still like to sit in front of their Consultant and talk travel whether it be a bricks and mortar or Home-based.

The key is the human contact, the relationships.

Not just between client and agent, but between agents and their suppliers.

As people return to agents, they’re appreciating the VIP touches and perks that an agent can source, the wrinkles they can iron out, the queues they can jump.

Not long ago, we secured an incredible room for a client in Cannes in the middle of the film festival when every website was showing no inventory.

A quick call to the manager of one of our favourite hotels and – voila! We have dozens of examples like this.

TW: Will there always be a need for human to human communication?

PC: Travel, to me, seems to be an industry built on relationships and human connections.

Bots and AI are becoming eerily human in some respects.

But can that replace real human-to-human contact? I don’t think so.

TW: What trends have you noticed in consumer behaviour recently?

PC: Certainly, clients know more about where they’re going, prices, flight times, minimum connections, frequent flyer programs, seats on aircraft and all kinds of ‘hacks’ than ever before.

They come to us brimming with the information they’ve sourced online, and we love it.

It makes for brilliant client-consultant interactions.

TW: Any differences in booking patterns by agents because of online?

PC: I think it’s fair to say that, with the exception of cruising perhaps, people are booking much closer to departure than ever before.

They have so much info at their fingertips that last-minute is the new black.

TW: Any predictions?

PC: More people doing a bit of both: Booking some bits of a trip online, and other parts with an agent.

And more people realising that ‘internet’ doesn’t always mean ‘cheaper.


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

SEE WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

Leave a Reply

Events

Travel DAZE 2020 agenda revealed!

With just one week to go until Travel DAZE 2020 kicks off, get ready to block out time in your diary so you can tune in to all of our fabulous speakers!

Share

CommentComments

Technology

Sabre and Google unveil industry-first AI travel platform

This new platform is being dubbed an industry first by Sabre and Google, and rather than fact check this claim, we’re just going to take their word for it.

Share

CommentComments

Wholesalers

Intrepid becomes first tour operator with verified, science-based targets

What does that mean, you might ask? Well… we’re not really sure, but this press release does a great job of explaining it.

Share

CommentComments

Cruise

Pacific Adventure and Pacific Encounter to join P&O’s Aussie fleet in first half of 2021

Sture Myrmell has been spotted doing the happy dance in celebration of this encouraging cruise announcement.

Share

CommentComments

Travel Agents

Corporate Travel Management raises remaining $113m needed for US acquisition

Were you one of those who snapped up some new shares in CTM? Well, give yourself a pat on the back for your role in this achievement.

Share

CommentComments

Aviation

WATCH: Transport Workers’ Union stages ‘alternative’ Qantas AGM, complete with fake Alan Joyce

And by fake Alan Joyce, we mean an unidentified man putting on a very thick Irish accent and coming up with any excuse to say “tink” instead of “think”.

Share

CommentComments

Cruise

Carnival cruise ship rescues 24 people off the coast of Florida

Just because most of the world’s cruise ships are currently out of action doesn’t mean they can’t perform a good deed every now and again.

Share

CommentComments

Wholesalers

Wendy Wu Tours is slinging free flights to Japan!

Who doesn’t love free airfares? Seriously though, point them out to us – we’d like to have a chat with them and find out what their problem is.

Share

CommentComments

Events

Travel DAZE 2020 is just around the corner! Have you registered?

Is your diary looking pretty empty in the first week of November? Well, consider it full now thanks to the only industry event of its scale in Australia this year: Travel DAZE 2020!

Share

CommentComments

Aviation

Air Canada’s longstanding president and CEO to depart, successor revealed

The changing of the guard at airlines continues apace, with Air Canada’s boss the latest to signal their exit.

Share

CommentComments

Travel Agents

AFTA’s Resilient Mind Program yields huge results

It appears alcohol-free days, cold showers and a digital detox are just what the doctor ordered for agents across Australia.

Share

CommentComments

Destinations

Queensland brewing company creates ‘The Big Slab’ attraction to boost state’s tourism industry

This bizarre new attraction has already drawn the likes of surfing legend Mick Fanning and his baby boy, and we have photographic evidence to prove it.

Share

CommentComments