Published on: May 24, 2011by Michael Sansolo
This is going to be one of those moments of blasphemy in the Internet based world of MorningNewBeat, so brace yourself: Sometimes the real world can beat the virtual. There, I said it.
Obviously, I am one huge fan of web-based commerce and I use it in countless ways. But there’s one unexpected area where I frequently go old school and apparently I’m not alone. I use a travel agent.
I know I shouldn’t be ashamed to admit this, but somehow it seems so 1990’s. I mean I like Expedia, Kayak and Trip Advisor - all of which, I find, produce a wealth of information, give me great choices, guidance and unparalleled access to information, discounts and more. I can cite countless times when I’ve found deals on Expedia (my personal favorite) that hotels, airlines and rental companies couldn’t match.
Yet, there is something Expedia cannot provide: peace of mind. For that, I turn to Gary.
Because my speaking schedule requires a steady dose of travel, I need the assurance that my travel plans will always work. Gary makes that happen. Occasionally I encounter problems with trips ranging from weather to airline related. Gary fixes those problems. And sometimes I simply need the security that complex travel (international or multi-city) is being done right. Gary does that too.
There was a time when travel agents dominated their industry and drew their fees from the airlines, hotels and car rental companies whose business they fed. That changed a while ago and now Gary and his agency, Pro Travel in New York, charge me for their service. In four years of working with Gary, I’ve learned a powerful lesson. Gary knows things that Expedia doesn’t and with great regularity he finds a way to lower a ticket cost through some strange alchemy. I don’t ask, I just say thanks. I pay my fee and feel well served.
Apparently, I’m not alone. A recent article in the Washington Post detailed the sudden resurgence of the travel agent. Increasingly, travelers are finding that they get good value for their services in all the ways I described. Most prominently, as one person said in the article, travel agents clean up the messes travelers create for themselves on the road.
In that way, travelers find value that more than justifies a fee and that’s causing a significant share of travel to return to an industry that in many ways appeared headed for web-based irrelevancy. There’s a big lesson in all of that for all of us. What gets people to a specific store, product, website or experience is a feeling of value. That is the time or money spent on the experience will be outweighed by the benefit. It’s the reason the cheapest solution isn’t always the best for all or any of us.
One has to believe the travel agent experience is one that retail needs to study carefully while keeping a wary eye on every move Amazon makes. Increasingly the question facing us could become how to overwhelm the Internet advantage. But I have to believe that special shopping experiences - like those at Whole Foods, Wegmans, Trader Joe’s or Costco, among others - can win by bringing that something extra day after day.
There’s one more piece of this story that matters. I found Gary based on a glowing recommendation form Kevin, who as we all know loves web experiences. It was the kind of customer recommendation that every business seeks because it turned a passerby into a loyal customer. And as long as Gary stays on his game, I’m staying loyal to him and his industry that I thought was dying.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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