A travel agent can save busy families precious time and money. // © 2016 Family Travel Association; iStock
Here are two questions travel agents should ask families: Are you willing to spend two or more hours on hold after a day of constant redialing just to book your own free Disney Dining Plan? And do you even know which plan is the right fit for your family’s needs and budget?
These inquiries illustrate — in concrete terms — a critical time-versus-money argument that every busy parent can appreciate. They also paint a vivid picture of why parents need trusted travel agents.
According to a study by the American Society of Travel Agents, consumers who use travel agents save an average of $452 per trip and four hours in travel planning time. The same study, which was funded by Carnival Corp., also reports that 23 percent of travelers have used an agent — the largest share in three years.
The improved market presence is great, but it doesn’t answer why the remaining 77 percent don’t want to save time and money, too. Evidently, travel agents must address a major disconnect with consumers, especially family travelers, as parents remain unaware that the hours spent online comparison shopping for killer hotel and airline deals are for naught.
Bridging that divide is no easy task. Most travel agents do not have the clout and advertising budgets of the OTAs. But what travel agents do have is personal connections and field-leveling access to digital communications (e-newsletters, social media, etc.).
In fact, digital tools might be the perfect medium for connecting with today’s families. At present, there are 84 million millennials between the ages of 18 and 36, and many of them are parents. They grew up with social media and, interestingly, are some of the most likely consumers to use travel agents when in pursuit of unique experiences, social recognition and value.
Millennials are also less likely than older generations to be married and living with children in traditional households. This creates overlooked and underserved niche markets within the family travel market. Single-parent travel, multigenerational travel, grandparent trips, gay family vacations and even aunt/uncle trips are all emerging trends. More importantly, as online booking automation systems can’t address their unique needs, these family groups require travel agents with experience and expertise. Tailoring specialized travel services to nontraditional families could help boost sales and increase loyalty and repeat business.
In the end, it’s all about how saving money and time could make the difference between a memorable family vacation and a backyard staycation. For that, many parents appreciate shared knowledge more than the latest sales materials.
So, take the time to remind them that, due to consolidation, 95 percent of all online travel bookings are controlled by Expedia and Priceline. Point out that the family hotel at the top of a list may have paid for that placement and that the term “family friendly” is relative.