The importance of a multi-channel sales and marketing strategy in the travel and tourism sector can never be underestimated, says Harvey World Travel managing director Rosemary Moss. The value of travel agents as a sector sales tool and conversely as a consumer service provider remains an important contributor not only to stimulate destination, product and service demand, and in South Africa the travel trade still commands a substantial portion of overall travel bookings.
Rosemary estimates large number of all travel bookings made domestically are still managed through travel agents. “Face time is more than just an online app, it is one of the key value components and differentiators between man and machine in the travel trade. Today’s fast paced environment coupled with demanding business and leisure consumers require flexibility and someone on the other side of the desk or phone where reaching out to change plans amounts to more than just a mouse-click,” says Rosemary who estimates that more than half of South African leisure travellers continue to book through travel agencies. Recent reports also suggest that up to 70% of SMME’s and up to 80% of large corporates still turn to travel agents.
“The business model has changed somewhat over the past two decades,” says Rosemary, noting that consumer needs have changed. “Specialist advisory services and travel management are the pillars of the modern consultancy. Efficiency lies at the cornerstone of the twenty first century travel agency. Gone are the days of fast-food type stores.” says Rosemary. Today consultants negotiate with large travel brands flexing buying power muscles and manage travel budgets on behalf of clients. “It’s become so easy to book anything online, but, the specialist knowledge and service delivery of the travel trade remains priceless.”
Rosemary says that trusted travel brands like Harvey World Travel will continue to grow and prosper. “We do not consider the online universe a threat to our business. Instead, we consider it a shop window propagating travel – ultimately, every role player in the travel trade has a function and delivers to grow the sector as a whole. The service that travel agencies can deliver to customers remains unrivalled.” Moss says that growth of up to 22% at some branches this year confirms this. “Projections for the 2014 fiscal indicate slightly slowed growth due to currency weakness,” adds Rosemary, but she is upbeat about the future. “Insurance is peace of mind purchased online; in travel, agents provide so much more in person.”