“European travel agents don’t like it”.
That’s a statement made by one of the gentleman at my table during the mCommerce Summit earlier this month. He is from Cruise America, a successful RV (camper) vacation rental company based in Arizona, but with 123 locations around the US.
We were talking about his company and their online and mobile reservation options. He said about 40% of their rentals come from overseas, most of them from Europe. And they get in trouble with their European travel agents when they allow people to book directly online or via mobile.
The issue is that Americans have a strong preference for booking online (driven by the desire for the lowest price), so if they don’t offer that ability, their business suffers. But at the same time, the European travel agents lose business when customers are allowed to book directly with the company online. And that’s why they don’t like “it”.
Since his company appreciate and want to work with their European partners, they can’t, or haven’t, implemented the ability to book that way. Even in the US, longer term rentals require a phone call, visit, or booking through a travel agency.
Depending on the source you read, the US travel agent business is either declining or rising a little, but not as fast as online booking options. But according to the article “European travel agents survive online onslaught”, the situation is different in Europe. “[C]onsumers prefer expert advice and a friendly face when it comes to booking their holidays,” the article contends. In France, Britain, and Germany travel agents are doing “record levels” and growing.
Culturally, Europeans seem to prefer the personal touch. But how long will that last, and can travel agencies use SMS messaging to stave off the “onslaught”?