• Tue
  • Sep 23, 2014
  • Updated: 12:59am

Choose your route: agent versus the net

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am

With so many options available to travellers, is there really any need for travel agents anymore?

Naturally, the agents will say yes. 'Hong Kong is an immature online market so travel agents are even more important,' says David Fraser, general manager of Flight Centre Greater China, a travel group that's defying the online wave by opening its second store in Hong Kong this year.

'People still want to deal with people, when there's an ash cloud or when they miss a flight.'

Fraser says that travellers with specific dates or needs won't necessarily find the best deals if they try to do it themselves. 'You might snag an air deal or a hotel deal but you need to be pretty flexible with when you can travel.'

For the best price, online providers argue that it's best to go direct. 'The power and the information moves over to you, the consumer,' says Johan Svanstrom, vice-president and managing director, Asia-Pacific, of online booking group hotels.com.

Svanstrom cites the example of pricing options for a hotel where there could be a variety of packages available from different sources online, including direct from the hotel. A consumer can weigh up the choices, as opposed to leaving it in the hands of an agent. 'One thing you see with quite a lot of providers is a price-match guarantee,' he says. 'It sounds a bit boring, but it's a good way of hedging.'

However, there are two provisos with this method. Travellers need to invest time into shopping around and weighing up the options, and they need to exercise due diligence. 'You have to be a little bit wary of who you're doing business with, you're giving out personal credit card details.'

Booking basics

Be flexible: moving travel dates even one or two days either side can get you better airfares

Book in advance to get exactly what you want

Consider low-cost airlines

Watch your timing: with the middle class expanding in countries such as Vietnam, India and China, beware of peak domestic travel periods such as school holidays

Hotels

Whether booking online or through a travel agent, changes in the industry are working in travellers' favour. Providers are offering more deals as consumers become more savvy in the way they find a room.

'Hotels in bigger cities have discovered [faster] ways of getting rid of inventory,' says Svanstrom.

A hotel might have 10 rooms left for the day and will lower the price for a short window to grab the attention of consumers who are quickly searching for deals online, particularly on their mobile phones. This tactic is in danger of being overused - hotels are increasingly wary of travellers who make last-minute bookings to take advantage of discounts, says Svanstrom.

Big cities are also a smart place to look for cheap weekends away, not only because of the obvious ease-of-travel factor but because larger hotels are looking to fill the rooms left vacant by the weekday business market. China is proving a particularly attractive market for Hongkongers.

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