There is a small guesthouse on the island of Rhodes called the Koukos. Most of the place is dedicated to the tavern and restaurant occupying the first floor, but there are four rooms to rent up on the second. It’s a small place, tucked away in the back streets of the main city, and just a spectacular hotel experience.
It’s also next to impossible to find unless you already know what you’re looking for.
A new problem has emerged to disrupt the golden age of travel. At first Internet search engines like Orbitz and others arrived and introduced a critical service. They freed up everyone from the constraints of travel agents and booking fees and transformed transportation into a commodity that everyone could purchase, free of arbitrary gatekeepers. But somewhere along the way something happened to the online revolution.
Sociologists and political scientists call it “signal fatigue,” but consumers call it simply getting overwhelmed. There’s too much information out there. Travelers are increasingly unable or unwilling to search through the vast options made available by global booking sites, 95% of which are dominated by just four companies.
When the whole world is at your fingertips, you have to search through the entire world, and with hundreds of thousands of choices, it is increasingly impossible to choose.
The digital revolution stopped feeling like liberation and started to get frustrating.
A solution has begun to emerge, one that brings a human touch back to the technology of the 21st Century. It’s the new travel agent, and consumers have begun to respond.
As the world moved online, travelers began to find it difficult to find reliable resources for questions, concerns or been-there advice. Booking a commuter flight is one thing, but people planning a trip often want more detail than they can find at first blush. With nothing but dense screens and FAQ pages, booking a vacation started to feel a lot less exciting and more like getting customer support from the bank.
Online shopping has the same problem, except you can’t return two weeks at a lousy hotel and Chia pets historically have low rates of food poisoning.
It’s what led entrepreneurs to experiment with business models that combine web shopping with the customer service of a travel agent. The two most common are curated and concierge travel.
Curated travel keeps its web-forward presence, augmented by customer service for when a traveler has questions. It’s the approach of Gozengo, a site that allows individual purchases but rounds out the experience with a hotline staffed by travel agents. It’s a combination of the old school and new, targeted at travelers who like the ease of shopping for their own vacation but don’t want to feel completely on their own.
It’s an effort to bring the experience “back into balance,” said Josh Francia, general manager with Gozengo.
“For specific types of travel human elements are really crucial,” he said. “When we did our research we heard almost unequivocally how frustrated people are in trying to plan their vacation, with how hard it is, with how time consuming it is.”
Even when customers can reach a live person, on self-service websites they often get an agent who has little more than a script. That person can only help within the limits of their knowledge… and that’s usually not much.
Genuine expertise is the missing piece, and it’s what a traveler really needs. A concierge travel site lets the shopper ask questions and get feedback from someone who has specific experience with various destinations and properties. It’s a far cry from relying on online reviews, which may be ubiquitous but are notoriously unreliable.