“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I was reminded of that Mark Twain quip by a statistic I just stumbled across; according to Forrester Research, 27 percent of travelers used a travel agent this year, up from 23 percent in 2008.
Huh? I thought the Internet sounded the death knell for travel agents? At least that’s what everybody predicted. I mean, who would need anyone to help put together a trip when now it’s all right there on the Web?
More than one out of every four travelers, that’s who. Myself included.
Oh, not for everyday business trips on well-known airlines to familiar cities. Those excursions are indeed simpler for me to book myself. But the next time I’m headed to an unfamiliar place where choosing the wrong hotel (or the wrong airline, or restaurant, or transportation, or part of town) can mean the difference between a memorable experience and a disaster, I’m likely to seek professional help. Sure, the Web is a terrific way to filter information, but there’s a whole lot more to filter these days, and I just don’t have the time or inclination to do it.
Sure, the travel agency industry has evolved; it has had to. But there isn’t any sector of the economy that hasn’t—or doesn’t. In fact, travel agents may have even had an advantage in that the threat to their existence was so tangible that it created an undeniable sense of urgency.
Change in other industries tends to be more subtle. In the ad agency world, for example, there are some changes that everybody sees coming. But there are also those that are happening a bit more under the radar. I think my firm has a good handle on them (and we’re leading the way on some), but I’m under no illusions that there could still be something we’re not seeing.
No company can survive if it becomes irrelevant. My hat is off to those nimble travel agents that paid attention, kept their eye on the ball and found a new way to compete. If those of us in other industries follow their example, it will keep us from missing the boat.
Steve McKee is a BusinessWeek.com columnist, marketing consultant, and author of “When Growth Stalls: How it Happens, Why You’re Stuck, and What To Do About It.” Learn more about him at www.WhenGrowthStalls.com and at http://twitter.com/whengrowthstall.