The evolution of the travel agency
Wednesday 26 Apr 2017
The internet has fundamentally changed the way people think about – and book – travel. But while we’ve all been focusing on digital, what about the potential for an overhaul of the traditional travel agency itself?
In 2013, Keith Waldon opened Departure Lounge in Austin, Texas – a travel agency with a difference. The agency is set on a stylish street in downtown Austin and operates as a coffee bar during the day and a wine bar at night. There are 38 agents who work by appointment and meet with clients at private tables inside the huge space. It’s also used as an exclusive venue for travel-related functions or educational events in the evenings. The average transaction the agents book is worth around US$10,000.
Waldon told the Wall Street Journal that his agency has been a huge success and he believes that the move to digital-only should be approached with caution. “We’ve got to get travel back on the street,” he says, arguing that face to face interaction and relationships is what helps agents make sales. When he can get clients into the space to meet with advisers, 83% buy a trip, he says. When it’s only email and phone communications, only 40% buy and repeat business falls off.
So what are the lessons here? The internet has its place and a modern agency can’t survive without a strong digital strategy. But we can't forget the importance of personal relationships and the power of genuine customer service. Thinking outside the box about the physical structure of travel agencies gives agents the freedom to create new relationships in casual, pressure-free environments conducive to sales. Because who doesn’t love a good coffee bar?