Before the arrival of the Internet, everyone used travel agents to book their travel arrangements because agents were able to access information that was not generally accessible to your average traveller. The Internet changed all that and empowered consumers by enabling them to research and find all sorts of interesting ‘goodies’ online. This democratisation of travel created the illusion in the minds of many consumers that they no longer needed travel agents and that they could get things cheaper by simply cutting out the middleman. If only things were that simple!
Whilst it is true to say that certain travel products and services (particularly the commoditised ones such as point-to-point low cost fares and hotel rates) have reduced dramatically in cost, that would have happened anyway, whether or not travel agents were involved. The difference in cost has certainly not been due to the removal of travel agents commission which never accounted for more than approximately eight or nine percent of the typically advertised room rate or air fare.
Part of the reason why there is a general perception amongst consumers that the Internet is still the sole source of cheaper travel products and services is that travel agents and the travel industry in general have never been particularly good at articulating their own story with the result that this perception has been allowed to gain traction. The simple fact of the matter is that using a travel agent can still help you make substantial savings on your travel arrangements but mainly where long haul or complex travel arrangements are concerned. Even in those instances where there are no huge savings to be made, a good, professional travel agent can still help you make good choices in terms of your selection of the right airline, route, hotel, destination etc., as they still have access to a lot more market intelligence and information than most consumers do but more importantly because they are more likely to have visited and sampled many of the places under discussion. As we all know, cheaper is rarely better and the more important criterion by which choices should be measured and compared is ‘value for money’.
The role that travel agents had always traditionally performed was one of information provider whereas nowadays, their role has changed to that of an information filter as more and more consumers become overwhelmed by the apparently infinite choices available online — most of which are probably unsuitable for a whole host of reasons. By way of illustration, here is a link to an article that appeared in a recent online article at Forbes.com. Check it out here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryolmsted/2012/01/20/why-you-need-a-travel-agent-part-1/2/