Travel agents to become 'designers of travel experiences'

To help travel agencies here stay on top of online competitors and manpower constraints, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is pushing for firms to adopt new business models and redefine what it means to be a travel agent.

STB and the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas) yesterday launched a plan to help agents go beyond ticketing and order-taking to become "designers of travel experiences".

The Travel Agent Road Map focuses on three areas: business transformation, technology and manpower.

With the Internet, travellers are better informed and have access to peer reviews and aggregator sites, but may still need advice "putting it all together in a coherent and value-wise way", said STB chief executive Lionel Yeo at an inaugural industry forum.

"And this is where travel agents can come in, curating travel for consumers with professionalism and knowledge of the most relevant and appealing travel products," he said.

A new committee will be set up in Natas to help agents redesign their business and jobs to stay competitive while remaining sustainable.

This business transformation committee, supported by STB, will develop a "step-by-step playbook" - targeted to be launched by the end of next year - on how travel agents can adopt new business models. It will also help firms in getting funding support.

STB and Natas will organise regular technology showcases for agents and provide them with an accompanying guidebook on the latest and most relevant technology solutions. These include a system that can help agents create a tour package in 10 minutes and a platform that allows them to develop trails on their own location-based apps, without needing any programming knowledge.

Travel agents will also get help with their manpower needs. They will be able to tap a suite of resources, such as mentorship programmes, skills training and seminars.

STB and Natas will engage schools and students to increase awareness of the career options in the travel industry.

Natas president Devinder Ohri said the road map "can create unprecedented opportunities to bring about business transformation for the travel agent industry, thereby ensuring viability and sustainable growth in the years to come".

Mr Robin Yap, 58, president (Asia) of The Travel Corporation, whose portfolio includes Trafalgar and Contiki, found it useful that firms will be guided to relevant funding schemes that can help transform their businesses.

He added: "If the whole industry uplifts itself to the next level of competency and professionalism, then the competition is at a different level. It's about providing the best service rather than the cheapest."

The forum, held at the Raffles Convention Centre, featured a technology showcase by more than 15 vendors and information booths by various government agencies to provide information on grants and customised aid.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'Travel agents to become 'designers of travel experiences''. Print Edition | Subscribe