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Travel agents dispute claim that Web makes job obsolete

A spokesman insists that although travel agents handle only 25% to 30% of air travel bookings, they specialize in complicated trips.

September 01, 2013|By Hugo Martín
  • Customer service agents help passengers below a bank of screens showing departures and arrivals at Los Angeles International Airport.
Customer service agents help passengers below a bank of screens showing… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

The digital revolution has imperiled the future of many job categories, including darkroom film processor, typewriter repairman and telephone operator.

With the surge of sophisticated travel websites, can we include travel agents to the list of nearly obsolete jobs?

As you might expect, the American Society of Travel Agents doesn't think so. The trade group that represents more than 5,900 travel agents and travel firms rejects the notion that travel websites will eventually put warmhearted agents out of work.

The trade group was again defending its profession last week after the job search site CareerCast.com listed travel agents among "useless jobs" that are becoming increasingly obsolete. The list also included data entry, sign spinning and shoe repair.

Paul Ruden, senior vice president of the trade group, called the CareerCast list insulting and inaccurate.

Although travel agents in brick-and-mortar offices handle only about 25% to 30% of air travel bookings, he said most agents focus primarily on booking complex trips, such as corporate travel or cruises and tours.

"Travel agents are alive and well and they do a robust business by providing expertise and advice to millions of travelers every year, using a combination of new and old technologies," Ruden said in a letter to CareerCast.com.

Website predicts future hotel room rates

Travel booking sites have become so sophisticated that some say they can save you money by predicting future prices.

Bing.com and Kayak.com, for example, offer price-predicting features that forecast the fares of airline tickets in the near future.

The latest travel site to offer soothsaying powers is TheSuitest.com, a hotel booking site that includes "The Hotel Time Machine." Once you pick a room, the feature tells you the chances that the rates will rise or fall within the next 30 days and the likelihood that the hotel will sell out.

"We developed this so people would have an idea of whether they can save money by booking now or waiting to book in the future," said Jeremy Murphy, a former analyst at Goldman Sachs, who founded the website with Michael Aucoin, a former senior engineer at Microsoft.

The website uses 10,000 pricing models, plus past rate trends and real-time information to estimate rates at individual hotel rooms, he said.

The website's predictions are not a guarantee and Murphy won't refund your money if you pay too much based on a faulty prediction.

"We are not making a definitive statement because we don't literally have a crystal ball where we can see the future," he added.

Ryanair affirms policy on making change for passengers

Ryanair, the ultra-low-fare carrier based in Ireland, wants you to know it is cheap but not so cheap as to stiff you on your pocket change.

The airline famous for squeezing fees from passengers took some heat recently from British tabloids that suggested Ryanair's flight attendants were not returning change to passengers after onboard sales.

The tabloids hinted that the penny-pinching airline was keeping the change to increase airline revenue.

"Nonsense," responded Robin Kiely, a spokesman for Ryanair. "Utter nonsense."

The stories, he said, were based on a training manual that instructed Ryanair flight attendants selling onboard food and drinks what to do when they run out of change. The manual tells flight attendants to suggest that passengers buy extra items to eliminate the need for change, Kiely said.

But the manual, produced by a third party, has been revised.

"Our policy is to give change right back," he said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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