When my father booked our first family trip to Disney World, it was an ordeal. We had to visit the travel agent’s office a few times, and each time we examined a different vacation package. It was something like renting an apartment. Of course, this was back in 1988. When we booked a family vacation in 2005, the process was considerably smoother. In fact, we got the whole process done, soup to nuts, in just over a day. Technology had rendered the process easier and cheaper than ever.
Technology has changed every facet of our lives. But it has changed few industries in the way it has changed travel. Three factors make the internet an ideal medium for researching and booking travel arrangements.
Changed the middleman
Human beings used to help us make travel arrangements, and human beings charge a lot of money for their services. They charge even more when the average person does not have the means to do something themselves. In 1988 it wasn’t easy for the average person to research vacation spots, book flights and hotels that lined up, and find attractions along the way. Now it’s all at our fingertips.
Travel sites such as Expedia and Orbitz have taken the place of the travel agents who used to do the work for us. Since they’re automated processes, they require little human interaction. That necessarily lowers costs. There’s still a middleman, for sure. Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity — they all take a cut of every sale. But since they don’t require as many humans, and since they can handle a much higher volume of customers, they’re able to make profits while taking a smaller commission on each sale. That means better prices for us.
The process to book our Disney trip in 1988 took so long, because the information wasn’t available instantly. The travel agent had to call various places and find out their availability and rates. With Disney it was a bit easier, since the packages are pretty standard, but anything beyond that took considerable time. That’s clearly not an issue now.
When you book at a travel site, or even an individual airline or hotel site, you have the most up-to-date information possible. This means you can shop around rates in real time, which gives more power to the consumer. We can find out the price of every flight leaving a certain airport, bound for a certain destination, at any time of day. Our ability to find all these options means we can find cheap flights at every turn. Even when booking last minute, we can often find deals this way.
Another reason travel agents often took days to help book a trip: the research. While they had certain pamphlets ready to go in the office, anything beyond that requires a bit more research. Of course, that meant calling away for other pamphlets. If none were available, it meant going to the library and finding more information. Clearly that’s an intensive part of the process. It is no longer necessary.
Researching any location takes mere minutes nowadays. This loops back to the middleman point. Previously, the middleman had to gather all of this information and make it available to customers. That took time, which meant it cost money. Now you can do research at home. It’s pretty clear that the pricing on that will change considerably.
The effects of these technological changes in travel are pretty easy to see. It means that travel is more available to more people. With cheaper flights, hotels, and rental cars, people who previously could not afford to travel currently can. We’re able to get this because travel agencies are able to reach more people, and employ fewer human resources. While plenty of industries have been upended by modern technology, perhaps none has done so to the degree of travel.