The other day I was recounting life before the Internet to my nieces, and I felt like a crotchety old man talking about the good old days when phone lines were used for talking and streaming had more to do with water flow than bandwidth. While an argument can be made about my level of crotchetiness, I don’t feel quite old enough to warrant the sensation of someone who lived in another era. But the sad fact is that I have—as have any of us born before 1990-something. In that time we’ve seen the Internet shrink the world before our very eyes. We can watch events taking place on the other side of the globe in real-time, conduct research without the use of a single roll of microfiche (remember that?) and immerse ourselves in virtual tours aplenty.
In the travel industry, the Internet has been like a two-edged sword. In some cases it giveth prospects, in other cases it taketh them away. It has simplified the booking process, and at the same time rendered certain services that were once part of an agent’s private domain (such as ticketing) unnecessary. It has allowed us to research destinations and properties with the click of a mouse, but has also left us wondering who to trust. Being the optimist that I am, here’s three reasons why I feel the Internet has been good to the travel industry.
1) Email—Remember when you needed to wait for the mailman to receive documents or written quotes that weren’t printed on all-too-smudgy FAX paper? Or when you needed get back to someone with an itinerary but could never get them to pick up the phone? Email made everyone’s life easier due to its convenience, low-cost, and immediate nature. It has also served at times as a buffer for communicating with long-winded clients who don’t grasp the value of your time when visiting in person.
2) Destination/Hotel/Cruise Ship web sites—I remember all too clearly the rear section of an agency I worked at as being reserved for glossy brochures of every tour operator, cruise line and hotel chain imaginable. I remember this mainly because it often fell to me to go through the reams of paper to make sure all was in order and up to date. Now, both agents and clients can research to their hearts’ content, with lots of pretty pictures and virtual tours. Given the visual nature of today’s society, having a limitless library to conjure out of the ether on a whim is a handy alternative to a back room brimming with publications. And in the meantime, it has probably saved a few trees.
3) Reviews—This can be tricky. Many of the reviews to be found on the Internet are not from professionals but from everyday travelers, which has its flaws and merits. For instance, on the popular site Tripadvisor.com I usually throw away the highest and lowest ratings and concentrate on the majority’s consensus. The more reviews the better, as it increases the chances for an honest cross-section without the gushing raves of people who thought everything and everyone was excellent to the superlative degree (the waiter was the most excellent napkin-folder, the room was the best rectangular space I’ve ever occupied, the guy at the bar made the most delicious ice cubes) and the sour-pusses who by their reviews alone make me glad that I don’t have to travel with them (terrible hotel and service–there was a mosquito in our room and management did nothing about it even though I complained for ten hours). Both agents and clients alike can gain greater insight in the places they intend to visit, and such knowledge can make a big difference.
It is pretty obvious that so long as this world lasts, it will be Internet ready. Times change, and for travel professionals we have to keep on changing with them. But when fuming over losing a booking because someone saw if for 50 cents cheaper online, remember all the good things the Internet has brought and maybe it can temper your frustration. If not, at least there are online communities where you can get some help 🙂