The profession that I am about to share with you appeared in ancient times and remains one of the oldest professions in the world. Far from the public eye, the inbound tour operator, also known as the local travel agency, has survived the ages while keeping the same principles: helping travellers discovering new cultures and offering them unforgettable moments. Although its status is largely unknown because of the modern tourism industry, the local travel agency is still relevant today.
THE LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCY: THE LESS-KNOWN ASSET IN THE TOURISM INDUSTRY
Local travel agencies are generally located in areas with a strong tourist flow and are specialised in their local territory. In the touristic industry, these agencies are referred to as “local” or DMC (Destination Management Company). In short, their role is to provide a range of services to welcome tourists on the spot. In my case, I am part of TTB Travel agency, which allows many travelers to discover the culture of Vietnam in a different way, far from the standardised tours. We welcome travelers from French-speaking countries (France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada in particular) as well as from Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark).
In practice, travelers (professionals or not) rarely have their own local tourist agency, they have to find external partners.
In the touristic industry, the incoming agency is an essential asset. As the conductor of an orchestra, it coordinates several services, although it may not be the owner of any of these businesses:
- On-site transportation
- Guided tours or other touristic activities
Traditionally speaking, travel agencies use a local tourist agency for its added value :
- Knowledge of the area
- Mastery of logistics
- Privileged access to accommodation options
- Local contacts
THE DIGITAL ERA: A TURNING POINT FOR LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCIES
The inbound agency business has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. Technology has enabled local agencies to break free from the control of large travel agencies which were responsible for the majority of customer acquisition. The local tourist agency therefore now has a wider scope of action/specialisation:
- Offering online services to tourists (BtoC)
- Classic BtoB offer (TTB Travel agency, the agency I work in, focuses exclusively on this offer)
Regardless of the business model, the incoming business now requires new skills:
- Creativity for the design of trips
- Salesmanship for sales
- Tech knowledge
Since the profession has evolved, the local travel agency has reconsidered its organisation. In the past, all human resources were focused on the operational aspect. In my case, we used to spend all day managing reservations and logistics. Now, our structure is based on four main functions:
- Product development: researching new ideas, testing new products, launching them on the market
- Marketing: promoting the agency and building awareness among target clients
- Sales: responding to requests for quotes and sign contracts
- Organisation and follow-up: monitoring the entire operational process to ensure that the trip is carried out in accordance with the signed contract
The fields of action are more diversified to respond to the rise of personalised travel and the search for authenticity. These two needs are becoming the new industry standards. Despite this, its core business still consists on creating and organising travel experiences.
CORPORATE VALUES (CSR): THE KEY TO SUCCESS FOR A LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCY
As TTB Travel remains in the BtoB segment, its clients are mainly wholesalers (tour operators) and retailers (travel agencies). Nevertheless, our family business is very selective in the choice of partnerships. We work exclusively with partners who share the same values and the same vision of travel. Regarding this, the immersion in the life of the locals is our priority. We are looking for partners who are as sensitive to cultural discovery and respect for the local population as we are.
We also put a strong accent in sustainable tourism. We defend these values through our company culture. Our communication, product design and service production, are all aligned with our values and our CSR approach.
THE LOCAL TRAVEL AGENCY: DAILY TASKS MAY VARY DEPENDING ON THE SEASON
Travel destinations may be more or less interesting in the eyes of a tourist depending on the season. Consequently, the intensity and nature of the work in a local travel agency varies from season to season too. Knowing how to juggle between these different periods is therefore an integral part of the job in an inbound agency.
The high season goes from October to March. During this period, tourists come in droves and the agency is running at full speed! Almost the entire team comes together to manage the current projects.
The local travel agency is in constant interaction with travelers, guides and other service providers to ensure that the programme goes ahead as planned.
During worldwide crises such as Covid-19, being reactive is essential. It is not unusual for the agency to spend sleepless nights assisting clients in difficulty. Fortunately, glitches of this magnitude are not so common in our daily lives!
The low season goes from June to August. When operational monitoring is less needed, production takes over:
Updating the prices of services: we meet with suppliers (hotels, restaurants, etc.) to re-negotiate annual contracts
Setting up new tours/travels/concepts: we scout several regions to find new contacts and test concepts
In a small organisation like TTB Travel, the boundaries between functions are quite blurred. Most of the time, the members of the company are multi-skilled and can occupy different roles. During the high season, one person from the management team assists the customer support department. In the low season, the same person is involved in the scouting. And for the rest of the year, she travels internationally. In short, the beauty of this job lies in the diversity of the tasks. You never do the same thing.
To sum up, working in a local travel agency requires a sense of craftsmanship. Each trip is designed like a unique work of art. It requires intellectual curiosity, precision and an acute sense of customer service. We don’t want people to just travel, we aim to make them dream!
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