While he mightn’t be their biggest supporter, Mobile Travel Agents (MTA) co-managing director, Roy Merricks, still feels the two operators can coexist in the one industry.
“Travel agents and OTA’s can coexist and will into the foreseeable future,” he told Travel Weekly recently.
“There’s nothing to be gained in my opinion by either one belittling or demeaning the other publicly.”
Although this doesn’t mean Merricks agrees with what online travel agents stand for.
“The term ‘Online Travel Agent’ as a description – for what in reality is a search engine or booking robot – may be misleading in itself,” Merricks told TW.
“I question if they are a travel agent as understood by consumers generally, and if they are led to believe they are the same, but available instantly online.
“That said, some clients do prefer to see search engine information laid out in order that they can make choice from that.
“[But] they don’t necessarily realise they may not be seeing all of the options available to them including perhaps the one that might be their preferred choice.
“Any competitive advantage may be perceived rather than a reality in my opinion.”
According to Merricks – and a recent study that proved OTAs are misleading and unreliable – OTAs should be more upfront about what they’re about.
“It has always been our belief that understanding the client, gaining personal knowledge and maintaining connections globally on the ground in order to provide an informative and seamless booking and travel experience, sets a really good travel agent apart.
“There are good travel agents, and perhaps those who don’t take the time to understand their clients.
Equally there are clients who prefer to do it themselves without that relationship.
“We do find though, that significant numbers of travel arrangements are required to be changed after booking, either at the request of the traveller or as a result of external influences beyond their control.
“There is no doubt that this is where ‘without a travel agent you’re on your own’ becomes a cold and generally costly inconvenient reality.
“Ready access to information in real time has always been vital for travel agents, in order to provide the best possible support and relevant information to clients either before, during and after the travel itself.
“Building a relationship with a client who will be a repeat customer and a positive referrer of other people, remains as relevant today as it did when we started MTA over seventeen years ago… that is unlikely to ever change.”