27 October 2021

Consumer media are reporting an upward trend in travel agency bookings. Anxiety plays a big part in pushing travellers back to agents. The internet is full of horror stories about travel arrangements made direct or online, which have gone horribly wrong.

That’s why, despite the devastation of the industry at the beginning of the pandemic, the travel agent is now more important than ever in the new world of changing travel rules, regulations and government protocols.

A Port Elizabeth travel consultant told Travel News she believed fear was driving the passenger back to the agent. “I have had dozens of calls from people who normally book online, wanting assistance with information pertaining to country-entry procedures and airline COVID-19 protocols, and they admit they are fearful of doing online bookings themselves and would rather have an expert take care of it and pay them a fee.”

She adds: “This is definitely a post-COVID trend. Clients want the expertise and information that online cannot offer and suppliers should be mindful of this and perhaps pause investment online and focus more on the travel agent who has again become a major stream of distribution.”

Elaine Durr, Operations Director of World Leisure Holidays, told Travel News that she believed South African consumers were more hesitant to book online. “South African consumers use online sources to compare rates but if COVID-19 has taught the consumer one thing, it would be the value of having a travel adviser. The online booking tool does not qualify the consumer as an agent. Travel is far more complex now and although the booking process via an online platform may be quick and simple, the consumer is unaware of important rules and protocols for travel.”

John Friel Travelstart’s Country Manager, reports that Travelstart has seen an increase in long-haul international business. “As restrictions ease and the vaccination programme intensifies, so traveller confidence has grown. They are migrating back online where they have the ability to see a full range of options and prices.” Friel forecasts that this growth will continue, with some larger markets like the UK, Mauritius, Germany, France, Ireland, Canada and Thailand already open to those South Africans who are fully vaccinated.

City Lodge Hotel Group Chief Operating Officer, Lindiwe Sangweni-Siddo, said during the height of the pandemic and under strict lockdown levels, the group was highly dependent on leisure travellers. “These are people who have been cooped up under hard lockdown, wanting to shake off cabin fever. There were also domestic business travellers who were on the road performing essential services. They were on the lookout for good deals and more likely to book directly with our hotels and get the benefit of great promotions.”

With the return of government and business travel in earnest, she understands the desire to use travel agents, who play a very important role in the processing of travel arrangements. “Businesses and government are also looking for convenience, and the premium they pay travel agents is well worth it as they are paying for the add-on value that travel agents bring to their total travel requirements.”

Sangweni-Siddo says all channels must be cognisant of the tight budgets that business travellers will have to work with, coming out of an economically cash-strapped period brought about by the pandemic. “It is incumbent on all of us providing services and facilities to be sensitive to this, and to be prepared to manage the total costs offered to our clients in a manner that demonstrates price sensitivity and fairness so that all parties benefit from the offers out there.”

Otto de Vries, CEO of Asata, says the travel industry is riddled with challenges and problems and this has never been more obvious than in the past eighteen months. “Refunds, cancellation, ambiguous terms, unfair bias in consumer laws, zero income and uncertainty had to be navigated by the industry. Looking to the future, the travel adviser is best placed to help customers navigate these growing complexities and the challenge of ever-changing regulations and protocols.” Adds De Vries, “Travel confidence and anxiety have been and continue to be driven by government restrictions and policy uncertainty, but with a good travel adviser consumers can once again travel with peace of mind.”


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