INDEPENDENT travel – where vacationers plan their own itinerary and make their own bookings – is growing in popularity against typical package holidays.
In a recent survey, Booking.com found 56 percent of the 13,000 people polled, wanted to try independent travel in the future, a desire particularly strong among travelers from the US, Brazil, India, Thailand and China.
But the trend is disputed by some travel agencies. In a press release last August, travel advisers Cruise Planners reported a growing demand for their services, especially among millennials who they say are keen to utilize the expertise of “well-traveled” professionals.
With such varying reports, here’s a closer look at indie-travel and its effects on the industry.
Benefits and pitfalls
Independent travelers have far greater freedom to custom-design their vacations. They can try different accommodation options, make the most of cheap travel offers and enjoy the flexibility that comes with planning their own schedules.
For explorers, indie-travel is also a gateway to authentic, cultural experiences and new discoveries.
But self-managed travel has its drawbacks. The seemingly endless options can be overwhelming and require hours of research and planning. For Australians, this is a particular bugbear as one in four spends half their annual leave each year planning and booking vacations according to Kayak.
If things don’t go to plan, indie-travelers can also experience additional problems. In some countries, flight-inclusive package holidays include added assurances to protect consumers. But travelers that book directly must instead rely solely on their vacation insurance if things go wrong.
Changing travel landscape
Despite these shortcomings, the trend towards independent travel continues to gain pace with various consequences for the industry.
As indie-travelers often plan and book their vacations online, they could be fuelling competition for direct booking among travel retailers. But the shift in favor of do-it-yourself travel may also be contributing to the growing number of travel agency and tour operator closures.
Yet, many still believe there is a place for travel agents because as a physical point of contact, they offer a human touch –something the web and new technology still struggle to replicate.
Can travel agencies compete?
To remain relevant in an industry increasingly driven by desires for greater individuality and a more tailored-made experience, travel agencies will need to offer something more innovative than cookie-cutter holiday packages.
Some have chosen to embrace the changing times by specializing in niche travel like adventure, couples only, family orientated or LGBT-friendly vacations. In this way, they can meet the needs of travelers that want the simplicity of a holiday package, but with options that better reflect their more specific requirements.
As the travel industry continues to evolve, two things appear certain. To engage new generations of internet-savvy travelers and compete with direct booking, travel agencies will need to develop a strong multi-channel presence. This could include better online facilities, use of app technology and a more enticing social media strategy.
But more significantly, they will need to prove they understand the needs and wants of vacationers, or more may simply choose to book and travel independently.