Twenty years ago I walked into a dealership to buy a new car. A passionate young man and his cloud of cologne must have seen the overwhelmed look on my face instantly and instantly zeroed in on me. He was maybe too passionate, and certainly wore too much cologne, but he helped me put into words what it was I needed. I drove off the lot a happy customer.
To look at that car now is to see a very expensive box with an engine in it, but at the time it was quite a trendy purchase. This year, when it was time to move on from the box’s replacement, I walked in to a very similar situation. The salesman wore a tighter suit and his glasses that were twenty-years out of style twenty years ago but are now experiencing a renaissance. He wore far less cologne, and the rounded features of the ’91 model had given way to the precise angles of the ’12. But beyond being shown a GPS instead of power windows, the overall experience was largely the same. The way I bought a car had not fundamentally changed.
In some respects, the same cannot be said of Leisure Travel.
Sure there are the evolving trends that every industry experiences, but we have also had to deal with a seismic shift in the essential way travel is sold: the rise of the internet. But where some agents regard the “I-word” as inappropriate for polite conversation, for me it has only served to highlight what makes our services so vital. Because, even though to us it’s just business as usual to book a flight to Hawaii or arrange a private tour of Edinburgh, for our clients those aren’t just numbers on a balance sheet. That 3:30 LAX to HON is actually a couple’s first flight as Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed. That tour is the MacDuff family exploring their roots.
The sound of a human voice wishing that couple “congratulations” in one breath and reminding them to climb Mauna Loa in the next, all while negotiating with an airline’s very finicky upgrade policy is something the internet could never provide. That is why I’ve never been happier to be a travel agent. It has become something of a shock for our customers to be treated like the human beings they are: a shock I am more than happy to give every time. Our clients are, now more than ever, seeking that same personal touch we offered in 1991.
It is a bit of a cliché to note that “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” but it wouldn’t be a cliché if it wasn’t true. Sure we may suggest different destinations and encounter different breeds of travellers. I know that I have seen enormous swells in adventure travel in the last ten years especially. Sticking with our Hawaii example, the islands seem to be on a five-year cycle of waxing and waning in popularity. Can I recommend Egypt as a destination in good conscience right this moment? Most likely not, but when we’re reading the twenty-fifth anniversary newsletter who can say? The client profiles will also continue to evolve. For example, I’ve planned more itineraries for intergenerational travelers in the past five years than in the previous fifteen.
So while the single greatest change of our industry over the past twenty years is undoubtedly the rise of internet booking services, all it has changed for ALTOUR is to make our customers happier with our level of service. We will continue to expertly adapt to the shifting trends of destination and new traveler profiles, but ultimately we provide something that sounds better in person than it does in binary: “Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed!”