Leaders say Internet hasn’t killed travel agent industry
Chattanooga entrepreneurs Lynn and Carl Holcomb have opened a new Expedia CruiseShipCenters franchise on Gunbarrel Road—a reminder that the travel agent business is still alive.
A Chattanooga native, Lynn spent most of her career in the steel and manufacturing industries, but she always knew she wanted to do something different.
“I’m just a slow mover,” she said.
She first fell in love with travel during “The Love Boat” boom, during which she graduated high school and went on a cruise.
She has continued traveling throughout her life and occasionally worked for a friend who owned a travel agency. But when the friend passed away, Lynn said she didn’t have an outlet for her passion anymore.
“When I send somebody on a trip, it’s like I send myself,” Lynn said. “I get excited for them.”
She and Carl had toyed with the idea of opening their own agency, but they didn’t really know where to start.
“When we found out that Expedia had a franchise, I told my husband, ‘This is it,'” Lynn said.
About a year after starting the process, the duo opened their franchise last month at 2260 Gunbarrel Road, Suite 204.
Lynn said that the training from Expedia made the process of opening the business easier and taught them how to pinpoint customers’ needs.
The Holcombs are actively recruiting consultants—who don’t need travel experience to apply—for full- and part-time jobs.
Although the franchise is called Expedia CruiseShipCenters, the Holcombs can help with planning any kind of trip.
Customers can choose from a variety of vacation possibilities on land, sea or air. They can get customized trips, group trips and rail tours.
There’s no charge to use an Expedia CruiseShipCenters travel agent, which is a big misconception, officials said. Agents make money by getting a commission.
Travel agencies stay afloat despite Internet
Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12 percent decline in travel agent jobs through 2022, other numbers show positive trends.
For example, the Airlines Reporting Corporation reported recently that the consolidated dollar value of airline tickets that travel agencies sold increased more than 4 percent year over year in 2014—compared to 2013—for a total of $89.6 billion.
Seventy percent of cruise sales, 45 percent of air sales and 12 percent of hotel sales are booked through a travel agent. And travel agencies account for a third of the United States travel market, Expedia officials said, citing travel market research company Phocuswright.
The bureau’s report cited the ability of travelers to use the Internet to research and book trips as a reason for the possible decline in travel agent jobs. But it also noted that agents who specialize in specific destinations or types of travelers are likely to fare better.
“Especially now, a lot of people are going more toward [using a] travel agent,” Chattanooga-based Expedia vacation consultant Lyleanne Shearer said. “The Internet isn’t as user-friendly [as people thought]. People don’t even know where to begin anymore.”
The Washington Post reported in 2011 that a Forrester Research study found that fewer people were finding satisfaction by planning trips using the Internet.
Expedia Group may be better known for its online search tool for travel options. But the company said they are investing in brick-and-mortar storefronts because it’s a way to provide face-to-face customer service.
Agents sometimes find perks travelers wouldn’t otherwise get.
“We get the best deals,” Shearer said.
Agents can also help inform customers about details they might not know from only using the Internet.
For example, there can be paperwork involved when traveling with a child and only one parent, or some customers don’t know whether they need a passport for a cruise, Lynn said.
And if there’s a problem—a canceled flight, lost luggage—the travel agent acts as an advocate for the customer in a way they might not be able to do for themselves, Lynn also said.
“When you have a problem, you’ve got somebody on your side,” she said. “They are going to listen to somebody from Expedia.”
Original article found on nooga.com