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Online booking woes? How travel agencies can win with off-the-beaten-path vacation planning

The tourism sector has seen enormous growth with unique travel. Here's how to get in the game.

Jetsetters are seeking quieter, lesser-known spots. This is one area where travel agencies can gain serious ground against online booking sites.
Jetsetters are seeking quieter, lesser-known spots. This is one area where travel agencies can gain serious ground against online booking sites.

The rise of online travel hubs have long threatened traditional travel agents and tour operators. While some vacationers do opt for the do-it-yourself approach, the industry is far from flat. The tourism sector saw enormous global growth in 2018, especially in regions such as the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the U.S. Thanks to social media platforms, photos – especially those from enviable holidays – are more widely shared than ever.

Because of this massive increase, a new phenomenon has emerged: over-tourism. Many of the most well-known attractions are becoming clogged with endless lines of tourists. Hotspots like Venice, Bali and Paris are all teeming with visitors during their high season. Earlier this summer, the Louvre, home of the famous Mona Lisa, was shut due to overcrowding when overwhelmed staff revolted.

In response, a growing number of jetsetters are seeking quieter, lesser-known spots. This is one area where travel agencies can gain serious ground against online booking sites.

Lately, travel publications are praising off-the-beaten-path locales and hidden gems over more standard fare. While crowd-weary travelers are open to such suggestions, their characteristically un-tourist status means that they’re usually tough to reach and lack the infrastructure usually found near popular attractions. While booking an all-inclusive beach vacation, Florida getaway or cottage is easy enough for the average Canadian, new destinations like Dakar, Senegal, Dordogne, France and Hoang Lien Son, Vietnam – all praised by National Geographic as top trips – are a little harder to reach.

In fact, many up-and-coming destinations are relatively tourist-free because they have few hotels, transit options and direct flights. A language barrier can also cause challenges for visitors trying to book their own stay.

Vacation planners who choose to offer guided tours of lesser-known areas like Albania, Uzbekistan and Rwanda – all voted as the newest must-see locations – could quickly amass a lineup of travelers looking for an easy way to visit the hottest destinations.

Of course, these areas also present challenges for tour operators. In particular, a number of these spots hold exotic currencies. Aside from being difficult to buy in Canada, the fees can be high and the wait times for ordering irritatingly long. The ability to make payments in local currencies or have cash on-hand in these places is of particular importance. Countries like Morocco use predominantly cash, meaning credit cards are less useful. This is the case in many developing parts of the world. Tour operators and guides in these areas must maintain a steady level of local notes for every trip.

Many traditional banks won’t carry these currencies and if needed, will work with a number of intermediary financial institutions in order to obtain bills. Not only is this time-consuming but it’s also costly. The processing fees charged by each group are passed onto the purchaser. If a travel agent is organizing regular treks to such a location, these charges may wind up taking a chunk out of the company’s profits.

Additionally, sending regular payments – for hotel rooms, local activities and transportation – can also come with extra fees. Often, businesses request USD, as it’s a widely traded and stable alternative. However, at some point the recipient will have to exchange these dollars for their local notes to pay their own staff and expenses. Many will also add a percentage to the total to account for movement of the dollar. After all, even the USD is volatile – albeit to a small degree. If the tour agency requests to skip a step and simply pay in the local currency, they may be in a better place to negotiate fees.

Partnering to send high volumes of small foreign payments can provide a travel agency with cost and time savings. As the desire for unexplored vacation spots continues to increase, organizers can be sure that their operations will reach new parts of the globe in the next few years. Learn more by contacting one of our specialists.