By Nahrain John @karryontravel22 Nov 2018What does the future hold for Travel Agents in Australia? Don’t ask a crystal ball; you’ll receive a more accurate & honest answer from an industry professional.For example, there’s Express Travel Group’s Chief Executive Tom Manwaring who took time out after the group’s recent conference in Shanghai to chat about the future of Travel Agents.In a Q&A with KARRYON, Tom said that he believes that although the future will have fewer Travel Agents, they’ll be better equipped to offer professionalism and a paid-for service.Tom Manwaring believes there’ll be less but better-equipped Agents in the future.We interpret that to mean that future consultants will feel more confident in their profession to charge clients for their precious time. Although some Advisors have already started to do so, a recent study found that they’re reluctant to charge their full worth.But back to Tom.When it comes to agencies, the Chief Executive believes they’ll evolve into immersive entertainment quarters where travellers will be able to experience parts of their next trip while also gathering in groups for knowledge-sharing.Agents playing with virtual reality at a past New Caledonia event.“Virtual technology is already a reality, in-store and mobile ‘experience advisors’ will have high-end technology to provide a glimpse of what to expect inflight, hotel rooms, active sports, fine dining, rafting, golf, sports, touring, cruising etc.”Tom Manwaring, Express Travel Group Chief Executive“Agencies will become meeting centres for like-minded travellers forming small exclusive groups, trading and knowledge sharing and bidding centres for weekend and short stay specials,” he added.“There will be longer non-stop and quicker travel and both airline and rail. And hopefully still fun as well!”Sounds exciting! Read on for more of our chat with Tom: Congratulations on another successful year for ETG, especially on the double-digit TTV growth. What do you think contributed to the group’s success?We continue to see agents approaching us to join Express Travel Group, through memberships across Independent Travel Group, italktravel and the Select Travel Group brands.Quality and commitment is our increasing focus both from new members and existing, and our sales division will continue to canvass all agents to find and capitalise on new opportunities. What will be ETG’s main focus for the next 12 months?The main area of focus as stated is quality and commitment. The ETG business has seen excellent growth in “front end” air revenue and also the “value added” structure of complete customer travel needs.There is an opportunity in selling more of our complete supplier portfolio of preferred products and better business technology and support processes. What are some of the biggest challenges you think Advisors face in the coming years?Challenges need to be met, across utilising technology, maximising preferred supplier selections and satisfying the customers’ needs fully.A breadth and depth of product, knowledge and product experience, are becoming more and more critical. What will be some of their biggest opportunities?Image: rawpixel/UnsplashCustomers need Travel Agents who are enlightened, have experienced the product and the destination, and through asking, and listening can establish what customers real needs are.And most importantly to then satisfy, surprise and exceed expectations… the internet cannot do that. By that I mean servicing not just their actual travel needs but also their emotional needs. In doing so, cementing long-term customer loyalty.Life experiences, niche travel packaging, short stay frequent breaks, cruising and premium economy/business class travel, are some of their opportunities. You mentioned at the recent conference that you don’t believe computers can replace Advisors, why not?Image: Mikko Lemola/ShutterstockI actually said that AI, intelligent technology will not replace consultants, but it will enhance the customer experience. Technology is critical to achieving productivity gains and to value adding the service and product detail supplied by experienced consultants.Local knowledge of customers, knowing what suits their needs for any particular holiday or travel request, not just basing advice on that customer’s past experiences, this is what differentiates the “consultants personal conversations” vs AI or experiential marketing.Technology has its limitations in intuition and communication. In saying that, do you think there are certain changes consultants need to make to survive new technology?The main changes are to embrace the technologies and make them work for your business and service capabilities.Customers still crave endorsement and access to detailed information quickly, consultants to be able to identify and create solutions to needs. Empathy and full engagement with existing and new customers are critical to continued growth and success.Constantly adding to your skills base, engagement with industry peers, participation in travel and product experiences and involvement in local community leisure and business forum activities will all assist in your search to be one of “travels best”.You need to anticipate customers’ needs, search and sell products that surprise clients, based on your knowledge of what will fulfil and exceed their needs. READ: First pictures of Travel Agents at the ETG ForumREAD: italktravel Agents earn commission on Luxury Escapes bookingsREAD: The Express Travel Group hooks up with Cover-MoreWhat do you think the future holds for Travel Agents? Other stories you may likeACCESSIBLE TRAVEL: How Travel Agents can best help travellers with disabilitiesAGENTS or ADVISORS: What do travel consultants want to be called?ONLINE v PHONE: How do Travel Advisors want to communicate with suppliers?