"It's inevitable that the business of travel agencies will change," says Alastair Morrison, professor of restaurant, hotel, institutional and tourism management. "The Internet is a way to bypass travel agents, and, though it doesn't signal their demise, it is impacting the travel industry."
Among the travel services on the Internet are currency converters, weather forecasts, customs information, lists of restaurants and accommodations, and ticket-ordering sites. "There are even sites that will send postcards to your friends," Morrison says.
Morrison, who is director of the Purdue Tourism and Hospitality Research Center, says the Internet is like a double-edged sword for the travel industry. "Yes, people can bypass travel agents, but for those travel agencies that are on the Web, the Internet gives them the opportunity to market themselves beyond the local community and go global."
He says about 20 percent of travel agencies now have a Web site. And some in the travel industry are finding new ways of doing business. "Consolidators," which are electronic travel agencies, buy bulk airfares and sell them over the Internet.
While the Internet is creating new business, it is also moving the travel industry back in time. He says travel agents need to get away from the role of "order takers" and go back to being "order makers."
"Travel agents will soon go back to their old way of doing business, becoming travel counselors instead of just agents," he says. For example, these counselors will personalize travel for individuals and organize group tours. You can easily book a cruise on your own, but you don't know which cruise line has the largest cabins or what the other travelers are like. A travel agent has that knowledge.
Morrison advises travel agents to become Web savvy. He says the resources of the Internet combined with their own knowledge of the travel industry will continue to make them a valuable expert source.
As travel professionals take on their new roles, he suggests they start by exploring some Web sites:
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