A new itinerary for travel agents

By David Brett, President, Amadeus Asia Pacific

Published: 02 Sep 2008

By David Brett, President, Amadeus Asia Pacific

The travel industry in this region poses quite a challenge for travel distributors, especially as by 2010, Asia will account for 20 percent of all travel globally – nearly 300 million more travellers than today.

The wants and needs of these travellers are very diverse and will continue to change and evolve, and travel agents must remain aware of customer trends such as adoption of new technologies. Are they able to face up to the challenges of new technology, and are they able to adapt to it as quickly as their customers?

It is commonly accepted that traditional guidebooks are no longer sufficient sources of travel information in this world of new media. Digital videos, blogging, podcasting, online travel forums, photo sharing websites…the rapid emergence of these technologies has revolutionised how information is accessed. And travellers now have many choices when it comes to how they book their travel – from online travel agents to Meta search engines. Surely the traditional travel agents, as we knew them a decade ago, are no longer the same.

Death of the travel agent?

Far from it! According to a landmark study on travel agents, the distribution channel accounts for nearly US$110 billion in sales, or 41 percent of all travel booked in the United States.

Furthermore, in Asia, the MasterCard Worldwide Index of Travel report released earlier this year, revealed that in technologically mature markets like Singapore, 48.5 percent of travelers still make their hotel reservations through a travel agent, while a surprising 56.2 percent habitually book their plane tickets through a travel agent - numbers which appear quite high for such an internet-savvy market.

In emerging markets like China, where the burgeoning middle-class has made the country a leading source of outbound tourists, 56.9 percent of travelers book their plane tickets and hotel reservations through a travel agent.

Adapt or die

The numbers look good, but in reality travel agents have had to adapt to face increasing challenges from the countless channels of distribution now on offer. To help them achieve this, technology has played a crucial role. Amadeus has been supporting travel agencies for more than two decades and has seen traditional agents start to adjust the way they are doing business.

In our world in which environmental concerns are increasingly becoming a travel and tourism issue, using integrated technology solutions also helps companies become more streamlined, as opposed to increasing in size. This allows them to reduce energy use while building cost- and space-efficiency.

Today, travel agents are recognising the needs of their clients by gradually adopting more sophisticated technology. By using new technology to enhance their competitive edge and provide value-added services, in addition to the very important human touch they provide, travel agents have remained a force to be reckoned with. In fact, Amadeus is so confident of the staying power of travel agencies and their utilization of technology that it is investing billions of Euros in research and development efforts specifically for this sector.

New way of doing business

With more competition from online booking sites, traditional travel agents are moving towards a more retail and customer service focused role. Agents are looking for ways to differentiate their service and add value for their customers, and technology partner Amadeus is developing new technologies to help them in this quest.

Amadeus has started the global rollout of the new Airline Retailing Platform, which will significantly change the way that travel agents make airline reservations for their customers.

The new platform benefits both airlines and travel agent, transforming the Amadeus global distribution system from a purely distribution channel to a retailing platform. Airlines can leverage its new functionality to clearly differentiate their brand the same way they do via their own website, and travel agents can offer promotions, special offers and additional products to bundle with a customer's air ticket purchase.

The Airline Retailing Platform will allow airlines and travel agents to act like true retailers, delivering a more customer-centric point-of-sale experience. Travel agents can easily compare products and suggest additional services to a traveler. For example, a customer who visits a travel agent to purchase an air ticket to Thailand may also be interested to look for hotels, tours of local attractions, and travel insurance. The Airline Retailing Platform will provide the agent with these additional options and a comparison of prices, so these offers can be passed along to the customer.

In the last 20 years, Amadeus has successfully partnered travel agents in this very competitive market and helped ensure their survival by offering its leading technology solutions. With a surge of online travel agents, meta search engines and user-generated content, travel agents are compelled to change their approach.

Offering fast access to content has always been a priority. However, in today's world of e-commerce, allowing agents to market and sell more content and offer more information has become just as important. Greater customer choice means improved profitability – something Amadeus is able to deliver for travel agencies. This is achieved by providing exactly what the customers want from a single source – be it full-service airlines, low-cost-carriers, hotels, car rental, insurance, tours or cruises.

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