Travel Agents

Why agents are still in business: Penny Spencer

Hannah Edensor

Travel agents are constantly coming up against OTAs and other disruptors, who enjoy telling them they’re going out of business.

But one industry legend thinks there’s reason to believe travel agents will be around for a long time yet.

Penny Spencer, founder and Managing Director of Spencer Travel, says where agents shine is in their time – and how they’re helping travellers save it.

“Travel Agents sell time,” Spencer told Travel Weekly.

“In this day and age everyone is time poor and yes they can scour the internet for deals and research but at the end of the day this can take hours if not days.

“One call, email or one hour in front of an experienced consultant will have their holiday booked with the best advice, price and expertise with added suggestions as well.

“Travel Agents will always be in business because we have the expertise and the relationships with our suppliers that will always benefit the traveller.”

Travel Counsellors new Managing Director Fred van Eijk agrees, pointing out that agents will be relevant as long as they’re willing to give their work their all. And they can do that by making the journey an adventure in itself.

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

“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.

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

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

Spencer, too, conceded that OTAs originally looked like they’d threaten the livelihood of travel agents, but that threat’s since diminished.

“OTA’s in the last five years have become a topic of conversation for the industry,” she told TW.

“At first they were seen as a threat and over time we have decided we can all work together – Expedia is a perfect example of this.

“As with all distribution channels there is room for OTAs as well as the traditional agency model working together where we can. Traditional travel agencies need to have an online presence as well so they can compete where they need to.”

“All of the disruptors have only improved the way people travel but also helped traditional travel agents offer new services.,” she added.

“Qantas now work with Airbnb and you can earn points by booking an Airbnb. There are going to be lots more disruptors and we can only but learn to work with them and increase the service offering to our clients.

Spencer concluded, “The travel agent is not going anywhere.

“In 10 years time I see that we will be more valued as a means of knowledge, expertise but also someone there to help when things don’t go so right.

“In 20 years I would imagine the technology will be something that will take over but humans will never be replaced it might just be that we are monitoring the technology for our clients.

“And of course space travel will be the norm.”



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