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2005-02-07 16:32:45

Internet Hurting Travel Agencies

The wonders of modern inventions have eliminated the physical need to go to a travel agency to make arrangements for an impending trip.

With the Internet at most of our fingertips, it means that rivals like Travelocity, Orbitz, Google, and Expedia are giving the traditional travel businesses a run for their money.

The end result is that the latter is losing business.

During the annual Business Outlook Seminar last month, Director General of Tourism Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace reported that travel agencies are losing up to 30 percent of business they once got due to the Internet.

For many of those agents, the losses continue.

Diana Wallace, a manager at Destination Travel, said that online bookings do pose a serious threat to business because Bahamians believe these bookings are cheaper.

But she said this is not necessarily true.

“What is available for travel on the Internet is also available in travel agencies,' Ms. Wallace said.

“At Destinations every one of our agents have the Internet at their fingertips. In my professional opinion, the Internet is not cheaper. If you were to bring me your Internet fare I would try my best to match it. We have the Internet as well as special search engines available only to agents that will allow the best price possible.'

Ms. Wallace said Destinations charges a service fee of $12 because the industry has cut back on fees for agencies. She said that in most cases, e-tickets come with a service fee of $25, which in the long run makes the cost of the ticket much higher that the cost of a traditional paper ticket issued by a travel agent.

Ashley Darville of Techmash Travel and Tours agrees that the Internet is a major competitor for travel agents.

He also feels that the airlines are making it difficult for agents by charging too much for tickets not purchased online.

“A primary example is Spirit Airlines whose tickets are not available for purchase in agencies. Bahamasair, whose tickets are available for agents, charges around $238 to fly to Fort Lauderdale, while Spirit Airlines is about $165 for the same flight. So basically Bahamians will go online to purchase a cheaper fare.'

Mr. Darville said Techmash caters to a special group of people, which is the Haitian market.

But he said even though this period is considered a slow period for travel, Haitians are also turning to online shopping for better buys.

Mr. Darville said his business has shown a decrease in sales, but he said the company is not yet feeling the pinch.

According to Ernestine Sherman, president of The Association of Travel Agency Owners, there is another factor to consider: the way airlines do business.

She explained that airlines have discontinued paying travel agents fees for bookings that turn out to be no shows.

Ms. Sherman said this has resulted in significant losses for agents.

“What is now happening is that airlines now have a ticket time limit and reservations are cancelled when those time limits have passed,' she said.

“The travel industry is a changing industry, but it is important for Bahamian travelers to support their own because no one else will.'

Amtrak Travel Agency, whose primary purpose is providing ticketing for Bahamians who wish to travel by train, is reportedly also feeling the impact of online bookings as the main office in the United States has started closing international satellite agencies because the same services are now offered online.

Source:  Perez Clarke, The Bahamas Journal

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