14 November 2011

Are South African Travel Agents Ripping Off Clients?

It seems that there has been a bit of a storm in a teacup going on in South Africa.

Travelstart the local OTA there commissioned a survey and had cold calls to agents asking them for prices. That the agents gave different results is not in of itself shocking. The disparity of the results however was a bit of an eye opener. The story hit the press this week and has upset the local Travel Agents Association. Here is the original article.

Clearly Travelstart had its own reasons for the survey and that would largely be to demonstrate that inconsistencies exist. And that Online Travel is transparent. However in nice cozy markets where there is not a huge amount of competition - the results tend to vary because the agents dont work as hard as they need to. I want to be clear that there are good agents and bad agents. Any one who claims that all agents are good and vice versa are clearly not giving the whole picture.

So why are there discrepancies?

There are lots of reasons. These range from lack of familiarity by some agents to laziness by others. Whether there is malicious intent is open to interpretation. IE do agents deliberately rip people off? In general I think that would be unlikely. However the ability of the agent to find the lowest fare and communicate that to the consumer remains difficult. The enormous complexity of finding the lowest fare when the request seems so simple can be attributed to the desire of the airlines to obfuscate the true market fare.

What should be a lesson for all concerned is that the lack of a true reference price that consumers can rely on is a problem that affects all outlets irrespective of geographies.

Consumers are forced to jump through a lot of hoops to get a best price. And this is not their fault and not really the fault of the travel agents. Having a deep skilled agent handle your travel has to be tempered with their performance and how it suits you. Most agents surviving today are skilled. But not all. That the airline price can vary based on so many factors should be a lesson to all. Sadly that means that the consumer generates massive amounts of unnecessary searches that are increasing at a time when actual purchases remain flat.

Will this get better? No... because the true players involved - the GDSs and the airlines are not tackling it. Some airlines have had enough and are doing something about it. But the current infrastructure and systems in place do not help.


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