There has been a lot made of a series of recent articles in the mainstream newspapers heralding the “return of the travel agent.” While the value of agents is hardly news to us, what has not been talked about to the same degree is the flip side of the coin the failings of the Internet. After all, wasn’t the Internet supposed to kill off the entire profession? Weren’t online search engines going to replace careers spent amassing real-world knowledge? So what went wrong?
There’s little debate that agents are superior to the Internet when it comes to customer service, accountability and flexibility. One benefit, however, that’s not touted as much is the lack of trustworthy online advice. This can be a real boon to agents attempting to attract new business.
Consumers have become too savvy to believe everything they read on the Web, even though peer-to-peer travel advice sites claim their reviewers have no vested interest in promoting a product. In reality, however, many of these sites are just shills for public relations firms, and consumers have figured out that just as you can make a digital photo look like anything you want, so too can an operator write its own glowing review.
“It’s happened many times,” said Jonathan Haldane, founder and CEO of ZoomAndGo.com, a travel site that posts user reviews, in a USA Today article from March of last year. “As part of our due diligence, we’ll phone [a reviewer] to check on them and find it’s actually someone in the hotel marketing department posing as a guest & Some [fake reviews] obviously have slipped by.”
Maybe your clients are willing to take a chance on the quality of this online advice when it’s just a weekend getaway. But if they are traveling with a group or splurging on a dream vacation, do they really want to put all their trust in what Blondie75@yahoo has to say about a destination?
With a travel agent, the consumer has their own advocate in-person and on-call standing at the ready to help weed out the serious from the seriously biased. Clearly, the recommendation of someone live and in person who has actual first-hand experience with a product will always trump even the best online review. K.S.