Are Travel Agents Making a Comeback (and why you should care)?

The Internet has had a dramatic impact on many industries and businesses–creating opportunities for some and destroying them for others. Consider the changing nature of the publishing industry and the impact of being able to buy online for companies like Best Buy and many others. But business tends to be cyclical and it is often true that “what goes around comes around.” A recent article in the New York Times suggests that this may be the case for at least one industry —the travel industry.

The article suggests that, despite the ability for travelers to “do it themselves” these days in terms of booking their own trips online, some are finding that the convenience and time-saving benefits of working through a travel agent may outweigh any potential savings. And, in fact, while the role of travel agent is a traditional one, I think this shift may represent opportunities for others who might create new business models to simplify the lives of online surfers.

The problem with do-it-yourself when it comes to the World Wide Web may simply be too much information! I suspect the same may be true in other industries as well–the media industry, for example. Call me nuts, but I think we will start to see a trend back toward more reliance on a traditional gatekeeper model in terms of how we consume news and information. In fact, I think the trend is already beginning. Recent research by Pew, for instance, suggests that the majority of consumers of local news prefer to get that news through traditional media channels like local newspapers and TV stations.

Sure I can find a lot of information about a lot of topics online. But, it is becoming more and more difficult to sort through the chaff to get to the wheat. That’s what the traditional media model did for consumers – there were gatekeepers whose role was to vet the information and deliver up what was deemed more relevant and, importantly, most accurate. It’s difficult to determine what to believe any more. Wikipedia, for instance, while widely used is of questionable accuracy. While blogs and self-published books created by “citizen journalists” abound, the same could be said of many of them. In a world where literally anybody can be a publisher, the credibility of the information published is beginning to erode.

Which brings us back to the travel industry. Yes, I can shop online myself. But I don’t really have the time, inclination, or expertise to know whether I’m getting the best deals. And, if my trip derails (as happened to me a few years ago), there is nobody to turn to for assistance in putting things right.

As consumers become tired of trying to do it themselves and concerned that they just may not know the best places to look online for the best deals, opportunities abound for those who may want to provide these services for them. Old, traditional models may reemerge. New models may also be discovered by those with enough foresight to spot the trends that might signify business opportunities. What opportunities might exist in your industry or line of business? What specific interests do you have that might provide you with the ability to offer valued services to WWW-weary consumers? How might you capitalize on the shift in consumer preference for gathering and using information relevant to their lives?


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