Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

*logoTravelers are now realizing what many travel agents have long known: Booking trips on the Web is not the simple, cheap, one-stop shopping experience it's cracked up to be.

According to a recent report by Forrester Research, "Using Digital Channels to Calm the Angry Traveler," travelers are "fed up" -- with hidden fees, the inability to easily make changes and by the vastness of online travel sites.

"There are 15% fewer travelers who enjoy using the Web in 2009 than there were in 2007," wrote the report's author, Henry Harteveldt, adding that only one in three U.S. online travelers feels that travel websites do a good job presenting travel choices. "Travelers feel that they, and their business, are taken for granted."

Travel agents who sell cruises have long made this argument. The complexity of planning a cruise vacation lends itself to a human touch. But as the Forrester report finds, this has become true for other types of travel as well.

The Web's success may ultimately be its downfall: When there are simply too many choices, the ability to decipher them is something travel agents are being increasingly called on to do. That's especially true now, when they can take advantage of the clutter that the plethora of online travel deals has created.

"Travel agents are winning the battle. Travel is very much a 'high-touch' sale and over the last several months, the travel agent channel has been our top performer," said Brad Tolkin, co-CEO of World Travel Holdings, whose brands sell travel online and through agents.

"Cruises and air/land vacations are not a commoditized experience. ... It's not as simple as going from point A to point B. Customers today want to feel that they are making an informed decision and getting the best possible value for their money."

Susan Reder, president of Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel, says her mostly upscale clientele values the experience that a machine can't offer.

"Your travel agent can do things that you will never get by booking on the Internet," Reder said. "Expertise, hidden treasures, restaurant suggestions, upgrades, VIP treatment, amenities and someone there for you at all times."

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