Travel Agents: do they belong to a bygone era?

Before the internet came into existence, the travel industry – like most industries – functioned differently. All you needed to get started was a working phone line and a handful of travel brochures.

When the internet was a baby, travel agents were doing well. They received a commission fee from airlines, hotels and trains. Their benefits had no barriers or loopholes. But, when the internet started gaining momentum, the industry reached a tipping point. A lot of entrepreneurs started coming up with ideas on how to make money out of it.

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This mainly started out when airlines stopped paying commissions and started forcing travel agents to start accepting service charges from their customers. The entire landscape shifted.

Online travel booking sites became increasingly popular, launching a movement of ‘DIY travelers’. The number of full-time travel agents almost halved.

I decided to visit a travel agency that’s running successfully even today, to find out how they’re still in business.

I thought the kind of people who still used the services of travel agents were old, rich and technologically-handicapped individuals or groups who looked down on younger generations who use the internet for everything,

I thought travel agents were being overshadowed by sites like MakeMyTrip, Ibibo and IxiGo.

But Errands Travel & Tours — a travel agent in New Delhi who has over 20 years’ experience in the industry — showed me I was wrong.

According to Rajiv Bhasin, the Director, it wasn’t easy for travel agents. They did everything they could to remain relevant. Some created incentives for clients. Some started packaging specialized destinations. Many agencies started focusing on most underrated or overrated destinations.

Errands Travel & Tours employs a full-time staff of three, all of whom are skilled and efficient. In addition to booking vacations for clients, they also offer specific on-site services, including visa, travel insurance and arranging for private tour guides. The agency also earns its revenue through corporate and NGO clients.

Pawan Kohli, who works at Errands, tells me why travel agents haven’t yet been replaced. Most of his clients have been with him for years and prefer to call him as an alternative to using the internet and getting confused, trying to process all the information that’s available. According to him, most travelers contact travel agents with an understanding that they have the necessary experience to deliver a hassle-free service in a limited time bracket.

Also, travel agents are easily reachable by phone and email, which makes them invaluable in moments of crisis.

Ankita, a Delhi-based filmmaker is someone who swears by her travel agent. Recently, while travelling in Belgium, she needed to urgently reschedule her winter shoot planned for multiple locations in South India. ‘I hardly have the time and energy to micromanage every little travel detail. Luckily, my travel agent knows my travel needs in and out. Especially in times of crisis, I completely rely on him to sort out my travel schedules,’ Ankita shares.

While web-portals have made their user experience very easy, with facilities like instant bookings and cancellations, many travel agents still manage to maintain their niche clientele by distinguishing themselves through their services and insights, based on years of experiences.

So, I guess, travel agencies never really perished: they just adapted to changing times.

What does the future have in store? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Errands Travel & Tours | 201-202 Vikas Surya Plaza | New Delhi – 110034 | India | errands@gmail.com | +91 11 27341348, 27341350 

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