Booking travel yourself online isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A surge of travelers has discovered that firsthand. After years of frustrating experiences with online agencies, they’re craving the human touch in planning their trips. They’re coming back to travel advisors as a result.
Fortune is the latest publication to note the travel advisor comeback. In an article headlined “Travelers Are Embracing Human Travel Agents Again,” Fortune explains why people are coming back to travel advisors. The article also shows how a new generation of agencies is innovating to meet those human needs and wants of today’s travelers.
Coming Back to Travel Advisors
The number of people booking trips through a travel advisor is growing. Travel marketing firm MMGY Global says 19 percent of Americans used an advisor in the previous year. That’s up almost 20 percent from the year before.
The future looks even brighter. One-quarter of Americans plan to use a travel advisor’s services during the next two hears. That’s up 47 percent from a year earlier.
Interestingly, those percentages are even higher for Millennials. Twenty-eight percent of them worked with a travel advisor in the past year. That’s higher than any other age group. And 30 percent said they will within the next couple of years.
Why are so many coming back to travel advisors? As Fortune explains, “it’s actually in keeping with a trend that has changed the industry over the last couple of years: travelers want more curated results along with the best deals and packages … this new paradigm has created a space, once more, for old-fashioned human intervention.”
Travel advisors are also reclaiming share among upscale travelers, who didn’t take to online booking as enthusiastically as others. “For the luxury community, the travel market has continued to grow and prosper,” Misty Belles, managing director of public relations at Virtuoso, told Fortune. “We’re seeing the pendulum swing back toward using an advisor because of people who’ve had a mishap with [online travel agencies]. They want a human being to guide them.”
The New Wave of Agency Innovators: Humans Behind the App
Extensive experience has taught Paul English the value of a human in travel booking. He’s the co-founder of booking site Kayak, where he would often staff the customer service hotline. “I realized that when people are spending a lot of money on something, they take comfort in talking directly to a person before making their booking,” he told Fortune.
English’s latest venture is a travel app called Lola. Part of the Virtuoso network of travel agencies, Lola represents an innovative new direction. While travelers contact Lola via an app, they’ll then chat with a real person to book the trip. It’s one way travel advisors are blending with – and benefiting from – the technology that was supposed to put them out of business.
“Having a travel agent can optimize a trip for you,” English told Fortune. “If the travel agent has expertise and knows your preferences well, they can cut down your options to the best two or three. It saves people time.”
The New Wave of Agency Innovators: Pairing Travel with Coffee and Wine
Departure Lounge is another innovative Virtuoso agency profiled by Fortune. Founder Keith Waldon bucked the trend by opening a brick-and-mortar location on a busy corner in downtown Austin, Texas.
“What’s happened in the last twenty-five years is travel companies have disappeared from the streets of cities,” Waldon told Fortune. “Because of online travel sites, the brick-and-mortar travel agencies that have stayed in business pretty much moved to invisible spaces: office towers or out-of-the-way locations with lower rent. They sent workforce home to get overhead costs down and short-term profitability up. But in the process, it made the industry invisible.”
Departure Lounge is restoring agency visibility with a modern twist. It’s also an coffee purveyor by day and wine bar by night. Exotic décor hinting at foreign lands welcomes the client. Once enjoying a travel-themed snack or glass of wine, they can review shots of world destinations and itineraries on touch screens. It’s a low-pressure way to plant the travel seed. If they want to talk with an advisor, Departure Lounge matches them with one that fits their personality and travel preferences.
“No one wants to go during the day and sit in front of a desk and look at a brochure and talk to someone behind a computer,” Waldon said to Fortune. He knows the power of dealing with a real person who can design a trip just for that particular client.
“Whenever there is a face-to-face meeting, there’s an 83% closure rate,” he says. “When [booking] just by voice or email, it drops down to 40-something percent. It becomes personal: you build a rapport and trust, and you believe in that person and their abilities. When they deliver on that, you really have a strong bond. Which you can’t do with your keyboard at 2 a.m.”
Want to Find Your Own Travel Advisor?
Convinced of the benefits of the human touch in travel planning? Want to join the wave of people coming back to travel advisors?
Virtuoso offers thousands of advisors around the world with a variety of specialties. Visit Virtuoso.com to find an expert travel advisor with the qualities you’re seeking. By partnering with a Virtuoso travel advisor, you’ll enjoy perks and experiences you couldn’t have obtained online. “Our advisors are very collaborative to make sure you get what you want and what you need,” Belles said.