The Adrian Loveridge Column – Travel Agents Worth Their Weight in Gold

Adrian Loveridge

During my time in Canada, starting back in the late nineteen sixties, I worked as a travel agent in Winnipeg. It was an amazing learning experience and one opportunity that I will always be truly grateful for. I threw my all into attempting to understand all the myriad of complex options and choices, knowing that largely through your own efforts that you were often able to put together, what for many clients, was the trip of a lifetime. While frequently humbling it was also one of the most personally rewarding periods of my life in travel. Even back then, almost five decades ago, the skeptics were predicting the death of the travel agent. I did not believe it then and certainly have not changed my mind now.

While on a Barbados promotion trip in Portland – Maine, many years later, I heard of the sudden death of a long-time friend, who actually lived in Winnipeg. I immediately contacted the airline who I was flying with and they were particularly unhelpful stating that nothing could be done to change the ticket and I would be forced to purchase another at full fare. I then walked into a local travel agent, who was incredibly considerate and managed to secure a bereavement fare at a substantial saving. This was at a time when travel agents were introducing a ‘service fee’ to partially offset reduced rates of commission. She apologised profusely for having to charge this ‘fee’, which I recall was about US$25, but of course, I was more than happy to have this option.

I remain convinced, that good travel agents are worth their weight in gold and will survive whatever happens in the constantly changing dynamics of the industry.

When after 30 years of selling through the British travel trade, one of our main visitor suppliers Virgin Holidays, decided to become a purely direct-sell operator, it did not seem to take the industry by surprise. Their rationale behind the decision was summed up by this statement ‘because it can no longer add the value and consistency of service it wants, if it doesn’t own the customer’, that’s according to an article which appears in the 16th October 2015 edition of Travel Weekly online.

Virgin Holidays managing director at that time added ‘Agent sales represented about 10 per cent of Virgin Holidays’ business last year (2014) and its less than 10 per cent this year’.

From at least a financial point of view, their decision seems to have been vindicated, with a growth in profits of more than 75 per cent in first year (2016) as a direct sale only holiday operator, recording a GB Pounds 19.1 million profit, due to higher passenger volumes and margins. Departures increased 4.9 per cent and 341,000 Virgin Holiday experiences were arranged for customers in more than 45 destinations.

To help understand this from a Barbados perspective, I contacted one of our largest hotel groups and they have actually witnessed a decline in Virgin Holiday bookings, but this has been made up by another airline linked tour operator. It would be interesting to analyse across our accommodation options what has been the net gain or loss in visitor arrival numbers to the destination since Virgin Holidays opted for direct sell.

16 thoughts on “The Adrian Loveridge Column – Travel Agents Worth Their Weight in Gold

  1. I recall BA competing with the travel agents and then deciding to close down its direct sales operations with emphasis on on-line booking and to a lesser extent travel agents.

    The Airlines will continue to go around in circles in order to maximize profits,its the name of the game.

  2. Travel agents will survive by morphing into something else i.e. offering speciality tours,combining air&sea,generally doing a mix that no one operation can do.

  3. Part and parcel of changing technology and the drive towards profitability and competition. But as Vincent says travel agents can always reinvent themselves by providing services in the travel business that travelers find irritating.

  4. Looking to the future, it seems NO JOB is safe from technological disruption. And with this pathological fixation on shareholders interest, the whole capitalist system will eventually self-destruct.

  5. Bushie was under the impression that travel agents – at least some weir ones- were looking to go into politics when things got slow in that business.
    Seems like a master stroke, since politicians are know to travel whether times are bad or good… 🙂

  6. I cannot criticize the value of a good travel agent and also believe that “they are worth their weight in gold” as well. I have a personal friend who manages a travel agency and through her I was able to access some very good deals.

    Nowadays, and from the comfort of my home, I can take advantage of securing LIAT’s cheap “Web Saver” fares by booking flights via the airline’s web-site.

    As such, travel agencies may experience some difficulties to survive in these times of modern technology, where a potential customer can log on to the websites of airlines and hotels to make travel plans and bookings.

    However, we must take into consideration that some travel agencies in Barbados have “travel packages,” which afford customers the opportunity to pay one fare, inclusive of air fare, hotel accommodations and transport from and to the destination’s airport.

    Ordinarily, under these circumstances, it will be rather difficult for an individual to plan these types of packages. Therefore, in this regard, a travel agency remains relevant.

  7. On a tour with a popular Bajan Travel agency, we arrived at a major airport in the UK, two minutes before the flight was schedule to take off. The travel agency rep, made a bee line for the air carrier’s desk, and the flight was delayed some 40 minutes to accommodate us. This would not have happened,had we been traveling independently.

  8. Travel agents sometimes have to think outside the box, a fella I know worked for an agency but his skill was getting people together not just setting up a flight. He organized single cruises and events that carried on after the initial trip, they were a blast people were eager to go every year and all the follow up get togethers. He made a great living and I think he still does it 35 years on

  9. Adrian your view on Commissiong court cases to block Hyatt is wanted. We pray to Jesus that Commisiong cases are not only thrown out but that he is made to pay costs. How in God’s name can anyone try to stop a project that will bring thousands of jobs to the unemployed urban poor. Are personal issues getting in the way of the peoples business. National development is on the line . We also are in cut throat competition with the region and the world for tourism revenues. We cannot afford to spurn a brand as famous and lucrative as Hyatt and not regret it. People who love their country must make their feelings known on this matter. Commsiong, Karl Watson, Mark Smart Williams or Billie Miller can alleviate poverty in Bridgetown. Projects like hotel construction to revitalize the city can bring increased economic activity . Ventures as the Hyatt can make a telling difference to the standard of living in impoverished communities . You have the last word Adrian.You spoke on Sandals lets hear you on Hyatt.

  10. Commisiong , Karl Watson, Mark Smart Williams or Billie Miller cant alleviate poverty In Bridgetown.

  11. @ David BU

    The yard-fowl “Waiting’s” reference to Sandals reminded me of Harry Russell’s column in Monday’s Daily Nation, in which he made some very interesting comments about that hotel and tax concessions.

    Did you read it?

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