Friday, 7 December 2012

The Travel Agent is Dead: Long Live Travel… Curator?

Ask a discerning young traveller what they think about travel agents and package holidays - and prepare to be rebuffed. High street travel agencies and large buses lead by ex-pat guides have little relevance to them. Baby boomers used to rely on the likes of Thomas Cook for recommendations, assurance and contacts. Yet now there is little they can offer that cannot be done online with a little help from Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet.

Yet recently a new wave of travel services has been emerging aimed precisely at the younger holidaymaker. Consider Festicket, the one-stop shop for festival fans offering packages of flights, transport, accommodation and the festival ticket. Trips to foreign festivals are a nightmare to organize because the quantity of logistical options takes days to sieve through to get the best price. Critically, Festicket - like Expediasearches the web to find the best deal amongst all suppliers rather than merely selling their partners’ offers.

Young holidaymakers are independent and comfortable exploring new places without any handholding, but do appreciate tips from locals who share their interests. This has spurred on new players such as the budget Couchsurfing as well as Valet and Lime&Tonic at the luxury end of the market. Many of these premium brands term themselves ‘curators,’ thus communicating their function as selectors of the best amongst the best as well as differentiating themselves from the stuffy ‘travel agent’ category.

There is clearly still a place for the ‘traditional’ agent model amongst more mature customers. But when it comes to younger travellers we are seeing a radical shift in the types of benefits that an intermediary can offer. Firstly, information ‘filtering’ or ‘curating’ is far more important than information access. But most importantly – all of these new travel service brands allow the customer to remain in control and make use of many suppliers, rather than locking them in with one brand and its associated partners.