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August 10, 2021

Is it time for the travel agent to make a comeback?

By Jason Buckland, Sympatico / MSN Finance

I get the sense that, back a few years ago when the likes of Expedia and Travelocity started to come about, the world’s travel agents let out a collective groan.

Here was an industry based on commission suddenly being undercut by a hassle-free, do-it-yourself service which, in essence, cut out the pricey middle man.

And it seemed like that killed the traditonal travel agent. Certainly, in some ways it did.

Only, problem is, calling the majority of travel websites “hassle-free” now seems about as misleading as the preamble of “Three 6 Mafia, Academy Award winners.”

That’s the advertisement they’re given, but it sure doesn’t seem to click. For whatever reason, book-it-yourself travel sites – unlike, say, Amazon, Facebook or IMDB – haven’t caught onto the user-friendly (and legitimately hassle-free) interfaces other major online players have.

Such are the findings cited in the New York Times, at least. A new report by Forrester Research suggests travel sites are “treading water” as a category while consumers watch retail, banking and media web platforms become much easier to use.

And indeed, it’s true. What other facets of consumerism are we expected to wade through as much fine print, red tape and fee-figuring as we are in the travel business? Are we really supposed to know the difference between a deluxe room and a standard room? Aren’t those terms a bit vague for the general trip-seeking public?

“Travel companies expect the consumer to behave like a travel agent,” Henry H. Harteveldt, a Forrester travel analyst, told the Times. “The question I always ask these guys is, ‘Could your mother-in-law use your web site without having to call you for help?’ The answer is always no.”

So it’s under that premise we begin to wonder if it isn’t time for the old-fashioned travel agent to make a comeback.

Any time I mention airlines or hotels in this space, the comments section fills up with people rightfully bitching about this hidden fee or that itinerary mix-up, and the whole vacation process seems about an 80/20 split on the fun/misery index.

But what if we all found a trusted, knowledgeable, not-try-to-sell-you-whatever-package-returns-the-biggest-commission agent to take the planning pressure off travel? Would that be worth the service fee – whether it be a flat rate or percentage cut – you’d have to fork over in exchange for peace of mind?

The Times says many think it is, but it’s an interesting question now, more than ever. This might not be the best financial circumstance for many to add an extra $100-200 per trip, yet in any other economy – knowing what a nightmare you might be in to book your flight/hotel/transportation/whatever online – isn’t this something you’d at least think now to consider?



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...