The travel services sector is made up of a complex web of relationships between a variety of suppliers, tourism products, destination marketing organizations, tour operators, and travel agents, among many others. Under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), travel services comprises businesses and functions that assist with planning and reserving components of the visitor experience (Government of Canada, 2014).
Before we move on, let’s explore the term travel services a little more. As detailed in Chapter 1, Canada, the United States, and Mexico all use NAICS guidelines, which define the tourism industry as consisting of transportation, accommodation, food and beverage, recreation and entertainment, and travel services.
For many years, however, the tourism industry was classified into eight sectors: accommodations, adventure and recreation, attractions, events and conferences, food and beverage, tourism services, transportation, and travel trade (Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture, 2013). As you can see, most of these — from accommodations to food and beverage — remain virtually the same under NAICS and have been covered thus far in this textbook.
Tourism services support industry development and the delivery of guest experiences, and some of these are missing from the NAICS classification. To ensure you have a complete picture of the tourism industry in BC, this chapter will cover both the NAICS travel services activities and some additional tourism services.
First, we’ll review the components of travel services as identified under NAICS, exploring the function of each area and ways they interact:
- Travel agencies
- Online travel agencies (OTAs)
- Tour operators
- Destination marketing organizations (DMOs)
- Other organizations
Following these definitions and descriptions, we’ll take a look at some other support functions that fall under tourism services. These include sector organizations, tourism and hospitality human resources organizations, training providers, educational institutions, government branches and ministries, economic development and city planning offices, and consultants.
Finally, we’ll look at issues and trends in travel services, both at home, and abroad.
Components of Travel Services
While the application of travel services functions are structured somewhat differently around the world, there are a few core types of travel services in every destination. Essentially, travel services are those processes used by guests to book components of their trip. Let’s explore these services in more detail.
A travel agency is a business that operates as the intermediary between the travel industry (supplier) and the traveller (purchaser). Part of the role of the travel agency is to market prepackaged travel tours and holidays to potential travellers. The agency can further function as a broker between the traveller and hotels, car rentals, and tour companies (Goeldner & Ritchie, 2003). Travel agencies can be small and privately owned or part of a larger entity.
A travel agent is the direct point of contact for a traveller who is researching and intending to purchase packages and experiences through an agency. Travel agents can specialize in certain types of travel including specific destinations; outdoor adventures; and backpacking, rail, cruise, cycling, or culinary tours, to name a few. These specializations can help travellers when they require advice about their trips. Some travel agents operate at a fixed address and others offer services both online and at a bricks-and-mortar location. Travellers are then able to have face-to-face conversations with their agents and also reach them by phone or by email. Travel agents usually have a specialized diploma or certificate in travel agent/travel services (go2HR, 2014).
Today, travellers have the option of researching and booking everything they need online without the help of a travel agent. As technology and the internet are increasingly being used to market destinations, people can now choose to book tours with a particular agency or agent, or they can be fully independent travellers (FITs), creating their own itineraries.
Online Travel Agents (OTAs)
Increasing numbers of FITs are turning to online travel agents (OTAs), companies that aggregate accommodations and transportation options and allow users to choose one or many components of their trip based on price or other incentives. Examples of OTAs include Booking.com, Expedia.ca, Hotwire.com, and Kayak.com. OTAs are gaining popularity with the travelling public; in 2012, they reported online sales of almost $100 billion (Carey, Kang, & Zea, 2012) and almost triple that figure, upward of $278 billion, in 2013 (The Economist, 2014).
In early 2015 Expedia purchased Travelocity for $280 million, merging two of the world’s largest travel websites. Expedia became the owner of Hotels.com, Hotwire, Egencia, and Travelocity brands, facing its major competition from Priceline (Alba, 2015).
Although OTAs can provide lower-cost travel options to travellers and the freedom to plan and reserve when they choose, they have posed challenges for the tourism industry and travel services infrastructure. As evidenced by the merger of Expedia and Travelocity, the majority of popular OTA sites are owned by just a few companies, causing some concern over lack of competition between brands. Additionally, many OTAs charge accommodation providers and operators a commission to be listed in their inventory system. Commission-based services, as applied by Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, Hotels.com, and others, can have an impact on smaller operators who cannot afford to pay commissions for multiple online inventories (Carey, Kang & Zea, 2012). Being excluded from listings can decrease the marketing reach of the product to potential travellers, which is a challenge when many service providers in the tourism industry are small or medium-sized businesses with budgets to match.
Finally, governments are stepping in as they see OTAs as a barrier to collecting full tax revenues on accommodations and transportations sold in their jurisdictions. OTAs frequently charge taxes on the retail price of the component; however, they purchase these products at a discount, remitting only the portion collected on the lesser amount to the government. In other words, the OTA pockets the difference between taxes collected and taxes remitted (Associated Press, 2014).
Some believe this practice shortchanges the destination that is ultimately responsible for delivering the tourism experience. These communities rely on tax revenue to pay for infrastructure related to the visitor experience. Recent lawsuits, including one by the state of Montana against a group of OTAs, have highlighted this challenge. To date, the courts have sided with OTAs, sending the message that these companies are not responsible for collecting tax on behalf of government (Associated Press, 2014).
While the industry and communities struggle to keep up with the changing dynamics of travel sales, travellers are adapting to this new world order. One of these adaptations is the ever-increasing use of mobile devices for travel booking. The Expedia Future of Travel Report found that 49% of travellers from the millennial generation (which includes those born between 1980 and 1999) use mobile devices to book travel (Expedia Inc., 2014), and these numbers are expected to continue to increase. Travel agencies are reacting by developing personalized features for digital travellers and mobile user platforms (ETC Digital, 2014). With the number of smartphones users expected to reach 1.75 billion in 2014 (CWT Travel Management Institute, 2014) these agencies must adapt as demand dictates.
A key feature of travel agencies’ mobile services (and to a growing extent transportation carriers) includes the ability to have up-to-date itinerary changes and information sent directly to their phone (Amadeus, 2014). By using mobile platforms that can develop customized, up-to-date travel itineraries for clients, agencies and operators are able to provide a personal touch, ideally increasing customer satisfaction rates.
Take a Closer Look: Expedia – The Future of Travel Report
Expedia is the largest online travel agency in the world. Formed in 1996, Expedia Inc. now oversees a variety of online travel booking companies. Together they provide travellers with the option to book flights, hotels, tours, and transportation through mobile or desktop online functions. For more on Expedia’s thoughts on the future of travel, read its report at Expedia’s report on the Future of Travel: http://expediablog.co.uk/The-Future-of-Travel/
Despite the growth and demand for OTAs, travel agencies are still in demand by leisure travellers (Hotel Marketing, 2013). The same is true for business travellers, especially in markets such as China and Latin America. Business clients in these emerging markets place a premium on “high-touch” services, such as paper tickets delivered by hand, and in-person reservations services (BTN Group, 2014).
A tour operator packages all or most of the components of an offered trip and then sells them to the traveller. These packages can also be sold through retail outlets or travel agencies (CATO, 2014; Goeldner & Ritchie, 2003). Tour operators work closely with hotels, transportation providers, and attractions in order to purchase large volumes of each component and package these at a better rate than the traveller could if purchasing individually. Tour operators generally sell to the leisure market.
Inbound, Outbound, and Receptive Tour Operators
Tour operators may be inbound, outbound, or receptive:
- Inbound tour operators bring travellers into a country as a group or through individual tour packages (e.g., a package from China to visit Canada).
- Outbound tour operators work within a country to take travellers to other countries (e.g., a package from Canada to the United Kingdom).
- Receptive tour operators (RTOs) are not travel agents, and they do not operate the tours. They represent the various products of tourism suppliers to tour operators in other markets in a business-to-business (B2B) relationship. Receptive tour operators are key to selling packages to overseas markets (Destination BC, 2014) and creating awareness around possible product.
Destination Marketing Organizations
Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) include national tourism boards, state/provincial tourism offices, and community convention and visitor bureaus around the world. DMOs promote “the long-term development and marketing of a destination, focusing on convention sales, tourism marketing and service” (DMAI, 2014).
Spotlight On: Destination Marketing Association International
Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) is the global trade association for official DMOs. It is made up of over 600 official DMOs in 15 countries around the world. DMAI provides its members with information, resources, research, networking opportunities, professional development, and certification programs. For more information, visit the Destination Marketing Association International website: www.destinationmarketing.org
With the proliferation of other planning and booking channels, including OTAs, today’s DMOs are shifting away from travel services functions and placing a higher priority on destination management components.
One way tour operators, DMOs, and travel agents work together is by participating in familiarization tours (FAMs for short). These are usually hosted by the local DMO and include visits to different tour operators within a region. FAM attendees can be media, travel agents, RTO representatives, and tour operator representatives. FAMs are frequently low to no cost for the guests as the purpose is to orient them to the tour product or experience so they can promote or sell it to potential guests.
The majority of examples in this chapter so far have pertained to leisure travellers. There are, however, specialty organizations that deal specifically with business trips.
Spotlight On: Global Business Travel Association Canada
Internationally, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) represents over 7,000 business travel agents and corporate travel and meeting managers who collectively manage over $340 billion in business travel and meetings each year (GBTA, 2014). The Canadian chapter, headquartered in Ontario, holds annual events and shares resources on its website. For more information, visit the Global Business Travel Association: www.gbta.org/Canada/
Business Travel Planning and Reservations
Unlike leisure trips, which are generally planned and booked by end consumers using their choice of tools, business travel often involves a travel management company, or its online tools. Travel managers negotiate with suppliers and ensure that all the trip components are cost effective and comply with the policies of the organization.
Many business travel planners rely on global distribution systems (GDS) to price and plan components. GDS combine information from a group of suppliers, such as airlines. In the past, this has created a chain of information from the supplier to GDS to the travel management company. Today, however, there is a push from airlines (through the International Air Transport Association’s Resolution 787) to dissolve the GDS model and forge direct relationships with buyers (BTN Group, 2014).
Destination Management Companies
According to the Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME), a destination management company (DMC) specializes in designing and implementing corporate programs, including “events, activities, tours, transportation and program logistics” (ADME, 2014). The packages produced by DMCs are extraordinary experiences rather than general business trips. These are typically used as employee incentives, corporate retreats, product launches, and loyalty programs. DMCs are the one point of contact for the client corporation, arranging for airfare, airport transfers, ground transportation, meals, special activities, and special touches such as branded signage, gifts, and decor (ADME, 2014). The end user is simply given (or awarded) the package and then liaises with the DMC to ensure particular arrangements meet his or her needs and schedule.
As you can see, travel services range from online to personal, and from leisure to business applications. Now that you have a general sense of the components of travel services, let’s look at some examples in Canada and BC.
Travel Services in Canada and BC
In British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada, many agencies are members of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA). ACTA is an industry-led, membership-based organization that aims to ensure customers have professional and meaningful counselling. Membership is optional, but it does offer the benefit of ensuring customers receive the required services and that the travel agencies have a membership board for reference and industry resources (ACTA, 2014).
Spotlight On: Travel CUTS Travel Agency
Travel CUTS is 100% Canadian owned and operated. As a student, you may have seen its locations on or around campus. With a primary audience of postsecondary students, professors, and alumni, Travel CUTS specializes in backpack-style travel to a variety of destinations. It is a full-service travel agency that can help find flights for travel, book tours with a variety of companies including GAdventures or Intrepid Travel, assist in booking hostels or hotels, and even help with the SWAP overseas VISA program. For more information, visit Travel CUTS: www.travelcuts.com
Although travel agencies may be located in a specific community, the agencies and their representatives may operate internationally, within Canada, within BC, or across regions. In Vancouver alone there are over 500 travel agencies available to the searching traveller (Travel Agents in BC, 2014). Examples of some of the more recognized larger travel agencies and agents operating in BC include the British Columbia Automobile Association (BCAA), Marlin Travel, and Flight Centre.
Many different types of tour operators work across BC and Canada. Tour operators can specialize in any sector or a combination of sectors. A company may focus on ski experiences, as is the case with Destination Snow, or perhaps wine tours in the Okanagan, which is the specialty of Distinctly Kelowna Tours. These operators specialize in one area but there are others that work with many different service providers.
Spotlight On: Canadian Association of Tour Operators
The Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO) is a membership-based organization that serves as the voice of the tour operator segment and engages in professional development and networking in the sector. For more information, visit the Canadian Association of Tour Operators: www.cato.ca
Tour operators can vary in size, niche market, and operation capacity (time of year). An example of a niche BC tour operator is Prince of Whales Whale Watching in Victoria. Prince of Whales offers specialty whale-watching tours year-round in a variety of boat sizes, working with the local DMO and other local booking agents to sell tours as part of packages or as a stand-alone service to travellers. It also works to sell its product directly to the potential traveller through its website, reservation number, and in-person sales agents (Prince of Whales, 2014).
Examples of large RTOs representing Canada internationally include Jonview or CanTours. Operators of all kinds frequently work closely with a number of destination marketing organizations, as evidenced during Canada’s West Marketplace, which is a trade marketplace hosted by Destination BC and Travel Alberta. Each year the location of the marketplace alternates between Alberta and BC (past locations have included Kelowna and Canmore). This event provides an opportunity for Alberta and BC sellers (tour operators, local accommodation, activities, and DMOs) to sell their products to international RTOs who in turn work with international tour operators and travel agents to repackage the travel products. In a span of 10-minute sessions, sellers market and promote their products in hopes of having an RTO pick up the package for future years.
On a national scale, Rendez-vous Canada is a tourism marketplace presented by the Canadian Tourism Commission that brings together more than 1,500 tourism professionals from around the world for a series of 12- minute sessions where they can learn more about Canadian tours and related services (Canadian Tourism Commission, 2015).
Let’s now look a little closer at the role of BC destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in providing travel services.
Destination Marketing Organizations
At the national level, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) is responsible for strategic marketing of the country. It works with industry and government while providing resources for small and medium-sized businesses in the form of toolkits. In BC, there a variety of travel service providers available to help with the planning process including Destination BC/HelloBC, regional destination marketing organizations (RDMOs), and local DMOs.
HelloBC is the official travel service platform of Destination BC, British Columbia’s provincial DMO. HelloBC.com offers access to festival activities, accommodation, transportation options, and trip ideas. This website is complemented by a social media presence through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (HelloBC, 2014a). Although the online resources are highly detailed, visitors also have the option of ordering a paper copy of the BC Travel Guide.
To assist with trip planning, HelloBC features a booking agent system, offering discounts and special deals created in partnership with operators. Although the site can process these value-added components, it does not handle accommodation bookings, instead directing the interested party to the reservation system of a chosen provider.
In addition to operating HelloBC, Destination BC also oversees a network of 136 Visitor Centres that can be identified by the blue and yellow logo. These are a source of itinerary information for the FIT and a purchase point for travellers wishing to book trip components (HelloBC, 2014b).
Regional Destination Marketing Organizations
BC is divided into five regional destination marketing organizations, or RDMOs: Vancouver Island, Thompson Okanagan, Northern British Columbia, Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and the Kootenay Rockies (HelloBC, 2014c). Along with Destination BC, these RDMOs work to market their particular region.
Housed within the HelloBC online platform, each RDMO has an online presence and travel guide specific to the region as well as a regional social media presence. These guides are important as they allow regional operators to participate in the guide and consumer website in order to encourage visitation to the area and build their tourism operations.