Travel is an extremely diverse and complex industry. The travel industry is comprised of over a dozen related industries: airlines, restaurants, hotels/motels, travel agencies, gift shops, auto rentals, and a host of other businesses that may not be even recognized their dependence on travel and tourism since travelers are usually indistinguishable from local customers. Travel industry is a service-oriented industry. It provides people with services such as transportation, lodging, dining, amusements, recreation, travel planning and retail. Travel agencies exist primarily as intermediaries between suppliers of travel services, such as airlines and hotels, and customers. Unlike distributors in many industries, travel agencies do not deal with physical products but with information. Travel agent is defined as a person who undertakes a job for another person, who is the ‘principal’. The principal in such a relationship not only sets the goals of the job, such as selling tickets, but may also control the means and manner in which the job is done. A current overview of the industry, including the changing trends of travelers, was required by the organization, with a specific request to source existing available data with regard to industry trends for travelers in seeking, booking and purchasing travel. It was understood from the outset that data may not exist to answer all the desired needs and, hence, the scoping study would help to confirm the need for future primary research, as well as the parameters and dimensions of that research. This article describes the key findings of the scoping phase. The overall market with regard to the Travel Agency Service Industry in India includes direct selling by travel agencies (retailers and wholesalers), online travel agencies, online wholesalers/consolidators, airlines, tour operators and other ground content (accommodation, attractions, event and show tickets, car hire etc.) operators. Internet travel reservations and bookings include transport (plane, ship, rental cars etc.), accommodation (hotels, motels, serviced apartments etc.), tourist attractions (theme, amusement parks, museums etc.) and bookings made for business, personal and/or leisure purposes. It was the intention in this study that internet travel reservations and bookings would exclude travel agent websites; however, the secondary research drawn on did not always clarify whether usage of the internet excluded travel agent sites or not. Technological developments regarding travel purchases have affected the industry dramatically. Direct bookings and reservations by travelers via the internet, using specialist software and GDS sites have increased the opportunities to book both travel and accommodation. Internet booking by travelers has grown and will most likely continue to grow with the spread of other technologies, such as the optical fiber network, online visual presentations of travel product and CD-ROMs. Furthermore, ticket-less travel using smart (computer chip embedded credit cards or e-tickets is also a key factor influencing electronic based purchasing by travelers. The internet also plays an important role as a low-cost and efficient means of sourcing information about travel and travel destinations and is used to help travelers in their travel decision-making. As a result, in particular circumstances the internet is taking the place of the travel agent. However, the usage of the internet (although growing) is not overtaking all aspects of travel. The use of the internet for bookings and sourcing information varies according to ‘type of trip’ and market segment. Additionally, best practice by the leading travel agents suggests it is feasible for agents to compete with the internet. Whilst there is considerable research into why consumers generally use the internet, there is less information about why they use the internet for travel. Available research suggests the internet is used for travel because of related efficiency ease and the low cost in making travel enquiries and purchases. There is also a view that the internet is a good source of cheap and discounts deals. As already highlighted, the internet is largely used by domestic travelers for booking air travel and accommodation. Scant information available about traveler’s use of the internet suggests that specific study is needed, with an exploration of current use and plans for future use. The Travel Agent Service Industry is undergoing substantial change as a result of environmental and technological changes. Internet usage was the main issue identified in relation to trends and practices that are currently occurring within the industry. The issue, however, is closely linked to the issues of distribution and service. The internet has enhanced the distribution of travel-related content, pricing information and travel planning tools for consumers. In enhancing the empowerment of consumers to conduct their own research, as well as to plan and book their own travel, it has also created transparency, which has resulted in more price-sensitive travelers. The internet also provides travelers with increased options. due to the growing number of sites available and the information and services offered. However, it is unsustainable for agents to continue to compete on price. It is important to note that, although the study found a general trend towards the uptake of online bookings, travel agencies still remain the most popular mode of booking overseas travel. The internet, whether perceived as a threat or a benefit plays a pivotal role in the distribution and provision of services. The increasing use of technology, both by providers and consumers within the industry, highlights the need for travel agents to differentiate themselves from the services offered through the internet. A refocus of the travel agent’s role, which places the emphasis on, for example, niche marketing, value-adding and personalized services, could effectively meet the challenges brought on by the internet. Current available data, while identifying the internet as a pervasive factor in booking trends and patterns, do not adequately account for the needs and desires of consumers and the ways in which consumer views relate to distribution and service. The recommendations put forward throughout this report are, therefore, also a reflection of the need to broaden the research parameters beyond the confines of internet usage and more specifically within different markets. In identifying the current trends and practices in the Travel Agency Service Industry, the research was based on secondary data to specifically consider the following issues, as identified by Indian Tourism:
THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF A TRAVEL AGENCY CAN BE BROADLY SUMMARIZED AS: INFORMATION, DISTRIBUTION, RESERVATION AND SERVICES. FOR A TYPICAL BUSINESS DAY, A TRAVEL AGENCY’S FUNCTIONS INCLUDE:
Arranging transportation – air, sea cruises, bus, rail, car rentals locally and abroad;
Preparing individual itineraries, personally- escorted tours, group tours and selling prepared package tours;
Arranging hotels, motels, resort accommodations, meals, sightseeing, transfers of passengers and luggage between terminals and hotels, as well as special events such as music festivals and theatre tickets.
Handling and advising on the details pertaining to travel and baggage insurances, travelers’ cheques, foreign currency exchanges, documentation requirements (visas, health certificates etc.)
Using professional know-how and experience in the provision of air, train and other transportation schedules, hotel rates and their standards as well as qualities;
Arranging reservations for special-interest activities such as religious pilgrimages, conventions and business travels, incentive and educational tours, eco-tourism and gourmet tours, sporting/adventure trips etc.