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Fin du voyage18/06/2009 - par Mark Tungate (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Who uses travel agents any more? I found myself in one the other day with a routine enquiry about visiting the Venice Biennale. Did they have any special offers or hotel recommendations? I told myself that if the agency could come up with a cheap or unusual package, I'd book the three-day trip through them rather than doing what I usually do: booking the whole thing online in about ten minutes flat.
No, the agency had no special offers or packages linked to the Biennale, or indeed any special offers on Venice at all. Marketing failure numero uno. Instead, the woman let me glance through a brochure of Italian vacation packages. I quickly noticed that those devoted to Venice were approximately twice the price of the flights and hotels I'd seen on Opodo and Hotels.com a few moments earlier.
However, the woman was friendly and I was still willing to give her a chance to take my cash. I asked her if she could reserve the flights and hotels I'd chosen. That way, she'd at least get to charge me an agency commission. Not possible, she said. The agency only booked packages.
Sighing heavily, I left. It was no wonder, I thought, that her agency had been deserted when I arrived. These places must be slipping quietly into extinction. Or is there one out there with a new strategy? Such as offering specialist, insider advice that goes way beyond the information you can find on the Web? It's possibly their only shot at survival.