Travel Agents

The one thing that can save agents from extinction: TC MD

Travel Counsellors Managing Director Fred van Eijk has revealed the one thing that will ensure travel agents aren’t replaced by computers or robots in the future, and it’s actually quite lovely.

While OTAs are growing and things like the newly launched Google Flights are threatening to see computers overtake human customer service, van Eijk admitted we’re all suckers for a good story.

“In an ever-evolving industry where businesses are focused on data, profit and margin, we must remember what makes us different,” he stressed.

“The ability to create and share these stories is that differentiator, and it is more important and relevant than ever before.”

van Eijk revealed that, according to Oxford University and Deloitte research, at least 35 per cent of jobs are at high risk of computerisation in the next 20 years.

“You can google ‘will a robot take my job’ and see how future proof your profession is, or indeed the professions our children may be considering,” he condeded.

Fred van Eijk
Fred van Eijk

“Out of interest, travel agents score a relatively low chance of being automated (that’s a relief!). However, I also think this could be a little misleading.”

According to van Eijk, if an agent is what many would call a ‘bad’ travel agent, that’s where the robots could take over.

“If a ‘travel agent’ just does the booking for the customer, the risk of automation is high and indeed already with us,” he admitted.

“We have already seen the development of travel websites, supported by on-line virtual travel agents.

“However, whilst robots may be able to recount a story, they can’t create one.

“The travel advisers that stand out are the ones with the stories of how they have helped people. Most studies show that people buy based on emotion rather than logic, and stories and anecdotes will stir the emotion more than anything else.

“As cognitive scientist Roger C. Schank said; ‘Humans are not ideally set up to understand logic; they are ideally set up to understand stories.’

“So, great travel advisers are also great storytellers and ‘social sharers’. Social media gives us the ability to collate our stories and share them across a global network of current and potential customers.”

van Eijk recounted a story of a Travel Counsellor who went out of her way to rebook customers after they missed their flight to join a Caribbean cruise. Upon return, the customers sent her flowers, and when she shared this on social media, it saw her client enquiries soar.

“These stories are free PR, the clearest sign of what you are about and they create the narrative and personality for the business and your personal brand,” van Eijk emphasised.

“And don’t let the doom-mongers or defeatists convince you of anything to the contrary.

“That is why those jobs that are least likely to be automated are those that require the highest amount of human qualities such as empathy, including nursing, care workers and psychologists.

“The message for us in the industry, and those we want to encourage to join it, is simple – ramp up the care and empathy with a customer; focus on how you make them feel more than the price of what you offer; and ‘bring it to life’ by sharing the stories of the things you do naturally for customers because you care and you operate in a culture that fosters doing what is right for the customer.

“Indeed, every sales person in travel will have a story of how they have done something for a customer that has made that customer feel special.”

Image: WordPress Luci Gutiérrez



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