Exploring the Major Factors Influencing Consumer Selection of Travel Agencies in a Regional Setting

Article excerpt

The research reported in this article explores why consumers choose to book their travel arrangements with travel agencies in regional settings. Consumers can now access online bookings for airlines, accommodation, transportation, sightseeing tours and other related products, so why do they still go to travel agencies for reservations? This article identifies the attributes consumers seek in a travel agency or consultant and determines the relative importance of these in their selection process. The research was conducted in two stages. The first stage was a series of in-depth interviews with 10 travel agency users and three travel consultants. The second stage was a mail-out survey of 400 users of travel agencies in the Darling Downs area of Queensland, Australia. Despite its regionality, the region is a significant consumer of travel with approximately eight agencies in the city of Teowoomba alone. The in-depth interviews highlighted the need to de-emphasise two particular agency attributes, agency promotion and adequate brochure provision, from the research questions and replace these with parking and travel reward programs as factors worthy of investigation. Survey results revealed that there were 12 significant attributes impacting on consumer selection and, of these, the most important were the knowledge and experience of consultants, and the helpfulness and friendliness of consultants. Of particular note was that these attributes related to the consultant and not the agency per se. Travel reward programs were seen as the least influential in this research.

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The number of Australian residents travelling both domestically and internationally has increased substantially in recent years. In the year 2002, Australians spent approximately 298.7 million nights (defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as nights spent away from home in association with individual visits; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006) domestically, which was an increase of 3.1% over the previous year of 289.6 million nights (Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, 2004). By contrast, in the year 2002, Australians travelling overseas had reached a record high of 3.46 million, which accounted for an increase of 0.5% on the year 2001 (Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, 2004). However, the impact of the terrorist attacks on the London transport system, World Trade Centre in New York, the demise of Ansett Airlines Australia, the Bali attack and the sudden severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak have contributed to a decline in both domestic and international travellers. This was particularly evident with 294.1 million nights spent by Australians travelling domestically in the year 2003, which represented a decrease of 1.5% when compared to 298.7 million nights in 2002. Only 3.38 million Australians travelled overseas in 2003, which signified a decrease of 2.1% on the year 2002 (Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, 2004).

The use of online search facilities for travel information has provided additional sources of information and opportunities to purchase travel direct from suppliers, such as airlines and accommodation providers, without recourse to travel agents (Buhalis, 1998). In some instances, such purchases can be made at discounts to prices available through travel agencies by eliminating commissions for such agents (example such as the Flight Centre). Furthermore, the capacity of the internet to promote and provide information very conveniently and quickly has provided alternatives to physical visits by consumers to travel agencies in order to access such information (Buhalis, 1998).

However, there is an apparent lack of research into the effects of such changes in the industry, particularly in the Australian regional context, and about the factors that drive consumer selection of travel agencies and if these pose a threat to existing travel agencies. If there is such a threat, then the research findings should assist conventional travel agencies in identifying the major factors influencing consumers' selection of travel agencies in regional settings. …