Anne Majumdar

Things are looking good for Travel Agents, even as dramatic world events and a race to the bottom on pricing continue to rock the industry.

In an interview with KarryOn to mark the 40th birthday of independent agency network Travellers Choice, chief executive Christian Hunter expressed excitement about the future, pointing to growth currently underway within the sector.

“If you look at the number of consumers using a travel agent, it’s actually increasing,” he told KarryOn.

“There was a dip for a period when a lot of people thought they could do it themselves online, but now a lot of those customers are realising that its not as easy as they thought it was – they may have been caught out, done something incorrectly and had an issue while travelling, whether it’s booking the wrong date, the wrong hotel or the wrong city.”

travellers-choice-agents-in

Consumers have come to realise that the travel booking process is actually “very time consuming” and frequently not as cost effective when tackled independently, according to Hunter.

“Those customers are realising that if they get someone who knows what they’re doing to do it for them, then they’re going to get a good price,” he said.

“They don’t want to waste time spending hours and hours trawling the hundreds of websites that are out there when you can just get someone to do it for you.”

Troubling world events such as terror attacks, political coups and natural disasters have only served to strengthen the agent corner, with Hunter highlighting last week’s events in London as the most recent example.

Travellers Choice Frontliners in Melbourne_June 2016

“As sad as it seems, this is the world we live in – these are’t isolated incidents, these things are happening all over the world, all of the time,” he said.

“For a passenger, knowing they’ve got someone back home if something happens, it’s a good level of comfort to have.

“It’s certainly adding a lot of weight to the value that a travel agent brings.”

The biggest challenge facing the travel trade is yield, according to Hunter, with pricing such as airfares driven down by growing competition in the sector. While the shift is “great” for consumers, for agents it’s more of a concern.

“Tickets are being sold for 20% less now – that means you need to sell 20% more,” he said. “Some of that competition in the marketplace didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

The key to overcoming this hurdle is to really focus on the value offered by agents – something which is often overlooked in favour of price, according to Hunter.

“At the end of the day, if a travel agent isn’t adding value to the transaction, then what is the purpose of them being there?” he asked.

“They can’t be order takers, or a generic retailer – they’ve got to be doing something different, adding value, specialising, really creatively thinking about own business and how to engage with the local community.”

Do you share Christian Hunter’s optimism about the future?