The past decade has witnessed the decline of traditional travel agencies on the back of the meteoric rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Agoda and Expedia.

Old school travel agents seemed to be on their last breath. But in the past couple of years they seem to be making a comeback.

In 2016, travel industry publication Skift revealed that thirty per cent of millennials had used a travel agent in the past 12 months. Another 45 per cent polled said they were likely to recommend a travel agent to a friend or family member. What’s more, among all demographics polled, about two thirds said using a travel agent made their trip better.

In their previous incarnations, travel agents were essentially nothing more than guides who helped travellers navigate the complex world of booking a travel package. To gain an edge on OTAs, today’s travel agent has had to evolve, they are now positioned as curators of experiences, tailor-made for travellers, sensitive to their unique needs and desires.

Accommodation as a crucial part of travel experience.

Today’s travel agent has access to and deep knowledge of the edge of the type of accommodation that will match guest expectations. They’re also sensitive to the guest’s ethos. An eco-friendly guest might want a hotel that has a carbon neutral footprint, another might want a resort that has a party ambiance with a retro feel.

“I use my extensive hotel knowledge to match clients to the perfect accommodation,” says Justin Dolan, director of sales at CTA Travel, a Signature Travel Network member agency in Cerritos, California. “When clients ask, ‘where should I stay, what’s the best hotel?’ I know that each location may have 3 or 4 ‘best hotels,’ so what really makes the best hotel is which one is the perfect match for that client.”

President of CRC Travel Peter Carideo uses a similar approach in understanding all available accommodation options. “I will focus, in a city, on certain properties and really understand the property. So if a client goes on a website for, let’s say the Dorchester in London, they’re not going to know the nuances of why that hotel vs The Savoy vs Claridge’s — so by having relationships [with the property] number one, and by actually having seen them, I’m a new perspective that my client wouldn’t get from the website.”

Travel agents can also come in handy when handling guests by ensuring that the hotel is aware of the time of arrival. They can also come into play in organising a meet and greet with the hotel manager, in expediting their check in process, surprising guests with a bottle of champagne in their room, or have romantic bed decorations for honeymooners. A travel agent’s understanding of the guest trickles down to the property and thus provides memorable guest experiences.

Navigation

Getting around in a new place may be exciting but it’s not always easy. A travel agent can not only help in explaining transit options, but they can arrange means of transport and guides where necessary.

“Many of the itineraries that I arrange are by private car and driver throughout,” explains Dolan, “Through Signature Travel Network and our collection of destination specialists throughout the world, I’m able to access the highest quality of drivers and vehicles.” Using this network, Dolan is also able to match his guest’s interest to their guides. “One example is a couple I work with that travels through Europe and has a specific interest in World War II history — I work with the destination specialist to make sure that the guide they will be traveling with is really an expert in World War II history,” he says.