At a time when most other retailers are recovering from the madness of Christmas and counting their profits, travel agents start to crank up their staffing levels for their busiest time of year. Traditionally, January (and to a lesser extend February and March) has always been the busiest time of year for people booking their annual sun holiday and although business did take a nosedive during the recession, things appear to be on the ‘up’ again. Speaking with agents around the country over the course of the past few weeks, money is back in circulation and consumer confidence is rearing its head again.
Unfortunately, what is also rearing its head is the phenomenon of the ‘tyre kicker’ — the pejorative term used to describe a particular type of consumer who thinks it is absolutely ok and morally justifiable to pick someone’s brains for an hour in order to glean some of their hard-earned advice and knowledge accumulated at great expense and effort over possibly tens of years of global travelling — only to go off and leverage that knowledge to try and book their travel arrangements directly and thus deprive the travel consultant in question out of some much needed commission!
There is no such thing as a free lunch and there never has been. There is a cost to everything in life and people who exploit the help and generosity of spirit of traditional travel agents will very quickly find that there is a consequence for such actions which will invariably lead to higher costs to them as consumers in the long term. Of course, such behaviour is not limited just to travel agents. The advent of file sharing services that started with Napster many years ago, created a mindset whereby music lovers failed to see the long-term impact of their behaviour on music sales and even music production itself. The fact of the matter is that — barring a few notable exceptions — the halcyon days of music are long gone because it is now virtually impossible for musicians to make a decent living out of the industry and they are beginning to leave it in droves. Just two months ago, much acclaimed Irish band Fight Like Apes announced to their fans that they were regretfully calling it a day as they could no longer afford to carry on as the revenues from gigs, music sales and merchandise had diminished so much it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to pay their bills. They are but one of many who have regretfully come to the same conclusion. The music industry is no longer attracting the kind of talent that it did back in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s and we are all the worse because of it. The airwaves are increasingly dominated nowadays by boy bands, former X Factor finalists and studio-engineered techno crap. Gone are the days of Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Nirvana or even ELO!
And so back to the analogy with travel agents. If consumers continue to waste travel agents’ time by picking their brains and then going off to DIY their travel arrangements themselves, several things will start to happen:
Over time, many travel agents will cease to be profitable (contrary to popular assumption, they already work off wafer-thin margins!) and thus not have their licenses to trade, renewed.
A diminution in the number of travel agents trading in the marketplace will result in less objective advice being disseminated to consumers and little or no advocacy being applied on behalf of consumers when things go wrong — which they inevitably do from time to time!
Think of it in this way: If someone goes in to a BMW garage to buy a car, what kind of car do you think they are most likely to purchase? A BMW of course! Whilst owning such a car might be perfect for some, it might be inappropriate for others because of issues of cost, affordability, suitability, functionality, running costs etc. But a sale is a sale. The same rationale pertains when one visits a travel agent. As they are independent, they are not beholden to any one brand and since they depend hugely on repeat business (remember those wafer-thin margins!), it is always in their interest to recommend only those destinations, resorts, properties, routes or modes of transport that best suit a customers’ lifestyle preferences, budget and other critical factors. You will never get that same level of objectivity when you deal directly with a supplier and are unlikely to get anywhere near the same levels of service and support — particularly if you have purchased your travel arrangements online! The old adage ‘You get what you pay for’ is never more true’ than when it refers to the value you get when you use a travel agent to make your travel arrangements on your behalf. Bear those words in mind the next time you call into or phone up a travel agent to pump them for some ‘free information!’