The continuing evolution of information technology has had a considerable impact on the travel agency service industry. The widespread public use of the Internet has created a number of conditions that have been game-changers -- in both beneficial and detrimental ways -- to the modern travel agency.
As a result, many travel agencies in the 21st century have had to make considerable adaptations to remain solvent and relevant.
One of the largest impacts on the travel agency has been the rise of online booking. Customers looking to book a trip no longer need to visit an agency -- they can go online to companies such as Expedia or Priceline and book an entire trip themselves. Airlines and hotels themselves also have cut out the travel agent altogether by allowing customers to book tickets and lodging directly from their sites. That's an unpleasant circumstance for travel agencies, who have traditionally relied on being seen as a necessary intermediary between customers and the services they require.
While computers have been an integral part of the travel agency business since their widespread adoption, the Information Age has brought considerable new benefits. Data can be stored more quickly than in the past thanks to higher-speed hardware and better software. Enterprise-level software such as Unit4's CentralCommand allows travel agencies specialized programs dedicated exclusively to managing their businesses and organizing their data. This organization allows agencies to run more efficiently, preventing productivity losses due to input time and other tedious tasks.
Improved communications technology has greatly widened the ways in which a travel agency can communicate not only with customers, but also with business connections and partner services. High-speed Internet connections allow almost-instant video, voice and text communication across the globe -- often at considerably less expense than traditional methods such as long-distance telephony can offer. Data can be sent almost instantaneously from the agency to an airline, hotel or other service, then relayed to customers. This allows bookings and coordination that might have taken hours or days to be processed almost instantly, greatly reducing wait times and lost productivity.
As more people book online, fewer people are heading into brick-and-mortar agencies and dealing directly with an agent. Pressure has also mounted on traditional agencies as airlines, hotels and other service providers they previously represented offer their services directly to customers online, cutting out the agency -- and the commission. As travel agencies are essentially information brokerages that connect clients with services, these commissions are the foundational basis of the agency's income and therefore many agencies have seen sharp income decline from in-person sales.
Despite pressure from third parties and companies selling their products on their own websites, the travel agency business is not dead nor in danger of dying. According to Questex Travel Group, travel agents are still responsible for 77 percent of all cruise bookings, 73 percent of all package travel bookings, and 55 percent of all airline travel bookings. Like many service industries, the travel agency business is evolving to adapt to new technology. Many agencies are shifting focus to online services for traditional services such as airline and hotel bookings, while maintaining some physical stores where business is sufficient to do so.
While adaptation to new technology has subjected the travel agency industry to growing pains, the industry is still sound. Primary focus for most agencies has been directed to online sales, allowing clients the ability to book their trips without the constraints of office hours or worrying about their own schedules. The traditional travel agency will doubtlessly see further evolution as technology continues to advance -- but as long as demand for packaged travel remains, there will still be a place for travel agencies both online and off.
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