Staying Alive

Technology and regulation have changed the Canadian travel industry, but travel agencies aren’t going anywhere

Rachel Neild
Rachel Neild

Increasing competition from online travel purveyors has left the Canadian travel industry in flux—but traditional travel agents are still quite relevant, says Rachel Neild, owner of Ottawa-based Think Travel Inc. Below, Neild tells us more:

“Technology has changed the industry. I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. When I started, technology wasn’t a part of the industry; we were using faxes. Now web-based travel engines allow consumers to book their own travel. Technology has been a huge driver of change.

Another change has been increasing regulation. In the past, people were giving credit-card numbers to fraudulent companies. Now, each province must comply with the directives of a regulatory body. In Ontario, it’s the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO).

It’s been a challenge to stay alive. We have to comply with increasing regulations—everything down to how present invoices. At the same time, we’re competing against people booking online. Meanwhile, many airlines have cut our commissions.

Travel agencies are still relevant. If you need to book a flight from Chicago to New York, it’s easy to do that online, but there are always consumers who need professional guidance. If you’re booking an expensive trip, or one with many components, you appreciate the guidance of an experienced professional. I think there will always be the need for the live interaction a travel agent offers—travel agents will just cater to a different clientele.

I’ve had clients with me since I started in the industry. They’ve followed me when I went off on my own. My clients could book flights on their own, but they come to me because they want to be sure they’re getting the best option and price, and they’re willing to pay a service fee to get it.”