The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) released the findings of its new two-part survey on travel agent expertise and consumers’ concerns with booking travel online. The study asked ASTA-member travel agents what services they provide that the Internet cannot and what common complaints their clients have with booking travel online.
“The survey enforced what travel agents and their clients already know,” said Richard M. Copland, CTC, ASTA president and CEO. “Which is that the Internet simply cannot perform the range of personalized services travel agents do everyday for their clients. Whether it’s help with visa applications or reissuing a ticket, computers don’t talk back, and that makes many people uneasy.”
When asked what services travel agents provide that the Internet cannot, the top ten most frequent responses were:
Professional assistance in the event of problems such as flight cancellations and missed connections
Handling client-specific requests like wheel chairs, pet care and special dietary needs
Convenient one-stop shopping
Ability to reissue, void or change tickets
Complete and truthful travel information
Overall, the vast majority of responses had customer service issues in common. One travel agent pointed out that in the past he has written to hotels requesting special amenities for clients. “Because of their status, professional travel agencies often have the ability to get their clients on flights with no clear or assignable seats available,” said Cecilia Smiley of Valerie Wilson Travel, Inc., in New York City. “We serve as advocates for our clients.”
In the second part of the study, travel agents were asked what common complaints their clients have when “going it alone.” Among the most commonly mentioned are:
Don`t understand rules and restrictions
Unable to get the advertised fare or the quoted price
Concern about reputation of company
Paying more than necessary
No provision for special requests
Price quoted did not include taxes
Time-consuming and confusing
Booking the wrong date or the wrong time
Credit card is denied but they were not notified
No assistance with changes or refunds
Bill Berry of Berry’s World of Travel in La Mesa, Calif., said customers who inquire with his agency after pricing travel online are often surprised at the value and convenience he offers. “A month ago, I had a customer inquire about airfare to Portland. He said, after spending three hours on the Internet, I had quoted him the same price,” said Berry. Like most travel agents, Berry has traveled extensively and has visited many of the destinations and resorts he sells. “I can tell you the name of an excellent restaurant in Nairobi, can a computer?” he asked.
The mission of the American Society of Travel Agents and its affiliated organizations is to enhance the professionalism and profitability of members worldwide through effective representation in industry and government affairs, education and training, and by identifying and meeting the needs of the traveling public. The Society is the world`s largest and most influential travel trade association with over 26,000 members in more than 170 countries.