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The Travel Agent of the Future

by Margot Bigg, Andrew Sheivachman + Skift Team
Travel Tech

Skift Research Take

Travel search and booking looks completely different today than it did just years ago. But the value-add that agents can bring to the travel experience will be difficult to obviate completely, either through disintermediation or automation. The intersection between high-tech and high-touch is now a key battle ground for travel brands the world over. Those with the customer care infrastructure to deliver could stand to gain, if they can get their digital house in order.

Executive Summary

Since as early as the mid-19th century, travel agents have served both as travel advisors and booking middlemen, doing everything from helping clients plan itineraries to booking accommodations, flights, and ground transportation. Rather suddenly, the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs) and DIY travel left many wondering whether the traditional travel agent was a dying breed. Indeed, the landscape looks very different just twenty years after Travelocity first sidestepped the intermediaries by connecting traveler directly to airline. Mobile bookings and search have empowered consumers beyond anything we may have imagined. And, after an initial and dramatic halving of the workforce of those employed in the travel agent industry, it seems like the decline in travel agent numbers has leveled off somewhat. Why this is, and to what end will the human element ultimately play in the planning and booking of intermediated travel is the core question that this report looks to answer.

We will examine the role of traditional travel agents today and in the years to come, taking into account market trends, emerging research, and the opinions of leading industry experts. We will also hone in on generational preferences for using the services of travel agents vs. DIY travel planning as well as consumer motivations for doing so. We then look at the evolving state of brick-and-mortar travel agencies and consider what role they might play in the future. Finally, we take a look at how new messaging apps that connect travelers with human travel agents have already begun to make a mark on the industry and what this might mean for travel agents and travel service providers in years to come.

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