Friday, January 19, 2007

What's a normal travel agent?

Earlier today, whilst waiting for the severely delayed District line (what else is new), I overheard a woman, aged about 55, talking about what a great deal she'd just got on a trip to Mauritius.

"We paid £1,500 for two weeks, half-board," the woman said enthusiastically.

Ok, now I really don't make it a habit of eavesdropping on my fellow tube passengers (honestly), but in this case, given the industry in which I work, I admit my ears pricked up a bit.

But what really got my attention was her ensuing comment that you have to use a "normal travel agent" to find such a deal.

For those readers who dismiss this comment as a “generational thing”, note the following: Her friend, a septuagenarian (and I think I’m being generous), assumed she had found the so-called deal online.

When she told him about the trip, he responded by asking her on which website she had found this £1,500 gem.

This really amused me because of the way he asked her. He was almost relieved to hear she didn't go online, but at least he knew it [ie the internet] exists.

Being a journalist, and therefore having long ago relinquished all inhibitions and social etiquette of the average, self-respecting person, I had absolutely no qualms about walking straight up to this woman and saying, "Excuse me, but I could not help but overhear your conversation and was wondering where you found this deal".

"Thomas Cook," she replied.

Her friend then chimed in. "It's a good deal".

"Yes, it is," I agreed, but only because the situation called for me to agree.

That and this woman really did remind me of my grandmother, so of course I had to agree.

In fact, at that moment, I could not help but wonder whether this woman would've gotten a better deal online.

So, of course, what's the first thing I did when I got back to the office?

That's right--I searched for a two-week, half-board holiday to Mauritius.

The woman, who is departing next week, said she had booked her trip last month, so, to be fair, I based my internet search on a 19 Feb departure.

I searched Expedia first, which returned a rate of £1,075, including flights and half-board at a four-star hotel. A three-star hotel brought the price down to £889. Not bad. prices ranged from £690 on the low end to £1,875 on the high-end, with plenty of four-star choices around the £1,000 mark.

So, what’s the point?

Is it that online prevails at delivering the best value?

That may be the case in this particular price comparison experiment, but that’s not the point.

The point is that, despite having been around for a while now, the OTAs have still not broken through that barrier of being perceived as a “normal travel agent,” as my fellow tube passenger put it.

Maybe the OTAs don’t really care to be perceived that way.

But maybe they should.

This whole situation made me wonder how many other travellers in their mid- to late fifties with cash to spend are out there who still don’t even consider searching online for their holidays.

I also wonder how many other people overheard our conversation and, as a result, will go to Thomas Cook, not Expedia or, when they want to go to Mauritius.

What I wonder most, however, is how I can convince my editor that I should take advantage of such online deals to Mauritius.

You know, in the name of research.

Tricia Holly Davis, chief writer, Travolution


Anonymous said...

Great post!!

I have to admit then when people start talking about their holiday booking, my brain takes over and I just have to eavesdrop!

Consumers are very different - whilst one might think that it's a great deal, others will think they can get it cheaper online.

[Sorry but I couldn't help myself!]

Had she thought about booking independently, she could of rented a 2-bed apartment for £378 for the 2 weeks and paid £520 p.p for a return flight inc. taxes.

Obviously, she wouldn't be bonded by ABTA etc, and it's not a massive saving, so I'd have personally, gone for the online travel agent option.

Select World Travel said...

I Wish we could get away fron this subject of Cheaper and What is a Good Deal!! and When you are talking of Mauritius, it's a 5 star Destination that as yet as resisted to the lure of Charter Flights from the UK. ( Thank God)
There is a Big, big difference in Quality from renting a 2-bed apartment in the back streets of somewhere like Curepipe than staying at some of the Best resorts, such as Shandrani, Paradis, Dina Robin, Le Victoria, Le Canonnier and Beachcomber's Flagship Royal Palm.

At the end of the day, Our service Goes beyond anything that the Internet can offer, The Old Addage You get What you Pay for certainly applies in Mauritius.
It's A Quality destination, that should never be cheapened

Anonymous said...

It's very unfair to suggest that the on line price is cheaper unless searching like for like. The dates, departure airport and booking date all all factors. If wanting to make a correct comparision then do it properly and do the search simultaneously. Give the travel agent credit they would also provide travel information and back up service something that often lacks on websites.

Anonymous said...

But Lee - not everyone wants 5 star accommodation!! I lay my head on a pillow, then sleep, and get a shower in the morning so providing that the hotel is clean, has a bed, and a shower then it's fine with me.

We all know that cheaper will probably mean a lower standard, but they are some of us that don't care!

If I was visiting Mauritius, I'd want to find cheap accommodation, I'm not bothered about fancy 5 star resorts.

We forget everyone has different tastes, and these will be taken into consideration which direction we take when we book our holiday!