Emergency! Travelers Abandoning the Web!

The latest Thing to Worry About comes in the form of a set of graphs showing the decline of the Internet as a source of travel information and booking. Things look dire.

But I’m not worried at all. And I try to make a living at it.

Forrester researchers see things differently. It’s a full blown crisis, and dammit, they can make money on it:

To put it mildly, travelers are so angry with poor online travel experiences they’re approaching a breaking point. ~ Angry Online Travelers Consider Abandoning The Web

Wow. Breaking News. Breaking tourists.

You can buy the full report for a mere $499 in PDF form (Note to Europeans: The idiotic $499 instead of $500 is a ploy to get us to think something is cheaper than it really is. It doesn’t work. They do it anyway.) Here’s the intro, and a link to get you started in the purchasing of the “product”:

Travelers are fed up. There are 15% fewer travelers who enjoy using the Web in 2009 than there were in 2007. Just one in three US online travelers feels that travel Web sites do a good job presenting travel choices, down from 39% in 2008. Travelers feel that they, and their business, are taken for granted. To reverse travelers’ dissatisfaction and avoid having them abandon the Web in favor of other, more expensive offline channels, travel eBusiness professionals must rethink their approach to travel eBusiness. ~ Using Digital Channels To Calm The Angry Traveler

As someone on the front lines, I think I can explain this phenomenon, or at least add to the confusion over it. Free. First, a little history.

The internet explodes onto the scene, a traveler’s delight. The world is open to those who’ve waited with processors buzzing; their little mouses fly across pages turgid with delightfully standard information on places they’ve never heard of. People who like to plan their travel can hardly keep their pants dry. Other people wonder what the fuss is about, but click anyway, just to see.

Then reality sets in. Some people just don’t want to deal with information. They want someone to tell them exactly where to go. It’s confusing, all this…stuff, these maps, these hotel descriptions. Add a boatload of arbitrary fees to airline tickets to break the free market so the consumer doesn’t have a clue what’s for sale, and a big bite of the travel consuming public yells “dammit, I wanna talk to somebody about all this!”

That person is a travel agent.

Now, I’ve met travel agents while on trips, and I’ve marveled at them. Seldom in a good way. Most I’ve met are women. They are strong women. Opinionated women. They say things like, “I tell my clients to forget Siena, forget Rome. I tell them they have to go to San Gimignano. Want a romantic place? San Gimignano. Want medieval architecture? San Gimignano. Want gelato? San Gimignano. They are all happy as clams. I don’t need to go other places to see what they’re like because I always tell them: San Gimignano.”

Of course, they don’t know what they’re missing (the rest of Italy, if you didn’t know). But that’s all right, they’ve seen the best of Italy and probably won’t be back.

It’s deeper than that, of course. Lots of people just want to take a vacation and not get involved in choices. My top mail subject is…“where should I go on vacation?” followed by “what’s the best city to visit in Europe?”

The web is not designed to help these travelers. Email exchanges are slow. It might take a week to get…well…nowhere. I might start like this:

“There is no best place in Europe. There are different places with different architecture, different cuisine, different museums, different habits, and different languages. What are your interests?”

“I don’t know. I like the color green.”

“Ireland then. You might like that. We have a guide to Ireland that’s great”

“No, I’ve been to Ireland. I like warmer places.”

“Well, have you been to Germany?”

“Once, my wife tried to eat one of those big dumpling things and it clogged her windpipe and a big waiter had to grab her just under her breasts and hug her until the thing came out like a missile and hit the wall. You can’t imagine the sound it made. Splat! I can never go back to Germany. Someone who was there might see us on the train and laugh and tell his friends and we don’t speak the language…”

As you can imagine, this exchange, carried out over four days of emailing, frustrates both of us. But I don’t mean to make fun, it’s just that some folks need hand holding, and the web isn’t good for them. Let me give another example, pretty much a real one.

Mr X goes to my site and buys a rail pass for each member of his large family to use in Italy. He uses them for short trips of 20km or less. At some point he realizes he’s getting “ripped off” on the prices. His rail pass has cost him many times more than point-to-point tickets. He’s mad. He thinks he’s gotten screwed.

Now, I actually have written an article called Rail Passes. It speaks to the fact that, especially in Italy, you must use your rail pass for very, very long trips or point to point tickets will be cheaper, especially on local trains.

However, if Mr. X is buying rail passes because he thinks that’s what everyone does on their European vacations, he’s not even going to think of looking to see if there’s any alternative. He’s never going to see my article.

But what if he’s in the office of a travel agent. Let’s say the travel agent’s name is Marge.

“Hey, Marge, I’m going to Italy! Guess I need some plane tickets and some rail passes.”

“Where ya goin’, X?”

“We thought Genoa, the Cinque Terre, and maybe Florence, what do you think of that?”

“Nice, George, if you add San Gimignano to that, you gotta perfect itinerary. But you don’t need no stinking rail pass.”

“Why’s that Marge?”

“Cuz with them short trips o’ yours, it only makes sense to use point to point tickets—or you’re gonna lose a bundle. I recon I saved you over 300 big ones with that advice, X”

See what I mean? In five minutes, X is out the door a changed man. He didn’t have a clue he didn’t need a rail pass. He does now.

So, the market is just matching up folks that need hand holding with big, strong, opinionated hands. Things are just now getting sorted out. No big deal, not even for me, a guy who just likes to write about the odd little places he’s enjoyed—and if you follow my scribblings, well, we can be friends and maybe meet over a glass of wine in Pitigliano some time.

So, don’t give up on the web for your travel info just yet. Sure, it’s a seething jungle of maps, opinions, information and misinformation, and fat, bald guys who refuse to tell you to go to San Gimignano unless they know you like towers and rubbing elbows with other tourists.

It’s a circus out there. That’s the fun of it. For some of us anyway.

Emergency! Travelers Abandoning the Web! originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Jan 21, 2021 © .

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