Harris, Lisa and Duckworth, Kevin
The future of the independent travel agent: the need for strategic choice
Strategic Change, 14, (4), . (doi:10.1002/jsc.720).
This paper provides a contemporary example of the disruptive impact of new technology upon industry structure, through investigation into the ongoing viability of retail travel agents in an industry where technology is a key driver of change. The Internet has provided opportunities for major travel suppliers to target customers direct, potentially circumventing the traditional distribution channel through the travel agent.
The data has been obtained from questionnaires, telephone interviews and personal experience of managing a tour operator and a travel agency, plus material from trade organizations such as ABTA. The objective was to identify potential opportunities for independent travel agents to respond to the challenges of disintermediation. The respondents provided a variety of perspectives as they included sales staff at the customer interface right through to key industry leaders.
The paper concludes from the data analysis that the independent travel agent has a future provided it makes appropriate investment in technology, works closely with niche tour operators and creates competitive differentiation by focusing on specialist markets where core assets such as staff expertise can add value to the buying process and prevent the customer from going it alone.
The research indicates that the Internet is complementing rather than replacing existing business priorities in the travel industry. While sales of dynamically packaged products through Internet technology are growing at the expense of more traditional holidays, the latter still represents a significant aspect of the overall travel business. Travel agents can potentially add value in both of these business areas.
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