Simon Bernardi is Managing Partner of Australia and Beyond Holidays.
Under the cover of Covid airlines are reducing commissions in unison.
The turmoil caused by travel restrictions puts travel agents in the “box seat” to increase their margins.
Some airlines are reducing some customer services whilst simultaneously encouraging direct bookings at a time when they cannot handle existing customer enquiries adequately.
During the break we would have all read stories of consumers who booked online direct and were stuck in transit points without correct health documentation for their final destination and end up spending hours on the phone or talking to algorithm bots, or earlier this week a consumer who called a Sydney radio station from London begging for assistance as over two days he had been on hold to a major Australian airline for nine hours combined to change a flight, only to be cut off both times before getting through.
Recently reductions of customer service staff by airlines at Australian airports means that customers are being encouraged to self-serve via call centres based across the world in different locations rather than find staff in the terminal. We are seeing full serve carriers adopting low-cost models but maintaining premium pricing to consumers. With the issues facing travellers now it can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars more to book direct than to use an agent.
This all contributes to a scenario where travel agents can fill the customer service offering gap being created by some suppliers and charge appropriate fees. It is also reasonable for agents helping customers navigate the current restrictions consider a COVID compliance fee just to interpret the changing jurisdictional rules and to be there when a customer does test positive overseas.
Because we all know without an agent they will be on their own and at the mercy of foreign call centres and in the queue with everyone else.