Trend Emerges with Online Retailers Returning to Traditional Brick & Mortar Operations

Travel Agent Industry Paves the Way with Fareportal on Leading Edge

by Richard S. Kahn

NEW YORK, NY (May 24, 2017) — A trend is emerging in both the travel arena and other retail avenues in which the online community is returning to the brick and mortar operations of the past to serve the needs of a growing consumer network that wants the validation of human touch. In the travel industry, one company — Fareportal — has been on the leading edge of this trend since its inception.

Fareportal, with its CheapOair.com and OneTravel.com online travel agencies has been, from the start, a unique combination of clicks and bricks. This fact, combined with reports in the travel trade publications about an increase in use of travel agents by consumers in the past few years, is a clear indication that Fareportal is at the forefront of an important trend for the online retail industry.

“Despite the continued rise in virtual sales, many people still want to touch and see the product before buying it,” according to an article in Direct Marketing News, (March 2017) entitled Clicks going back to Bricks — Why online retailers are opening physical stores.

While online shopping has been growing in both the travel industry and elsewhere for the past 20 years, it has not eliminated the need for the traditional travel agent industry nor the brick and mortar retail stores of any retail industry.

The Direct Marketing News article declared: “In recent years, traditional online retailer companies have opened more physical stores than ever across the country. Most recently, Amazon told the Wall Street Journal it has plans to open two New York City bookstores by the end of the summer to add to their five already-operating brick and mortar locations across the U.S.”

According to reports by many of the travel trade news publications, there has been a resurgence of consumer use of traditional travel agents. While Fareportal has been offering consumers access to live agents since its beginning, other large travel companies are now setting up a limited number of call centers with live travel counselors to service the needs of their customers.

Privately-held Fareportal Inc. and its multichannel travel brands, CheapOair.com and OneTravel.com, have been achieving high customer satisfaction levels with an innovative approach utilizing websites, call centers, mobile apps, tablet optimization, email and live chat.

The company’s 24/7/365 telephone operation features call centers answered by trained Fareportal travel agents, providing callers with travel solutions and telephone bookings any time of day. “Our call center agents are what differentiate Fareportal from the competition; they take the extra step to not only book over the phone, but to find solutions to any customer’s problem,” said Sam S. Jain, CEO of Fareportal.

Fareportal’s unique high-touch, high-tech capabilities in the travel industry and their impressive company-owned contact centers are vital to their success. Fareportal’s contact centers receive over 30,000 daily calls, manage over 450 emails and handle over 800 instant messages per day.

“All of Fareportal’s agents undergo the same training program regardless of where they are located,” said Jain, adding: “This ensures direct control over customer experience enabling our travel company to exceed customers’ expectations on a regular basis.”

Since its inception, Fareportal has emerged as a travel technology leader, opening new doors in the travel industry. The company is headquartered in New York City with more than 3,000 employees spread across operations in Las Vegas, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Kiev and two locations in India.

In 2006, the company launched CheapOair to focus on booking affordable air tickets to both domestic and international destinations and rapidly became a force in the online travel agency arena.  It has quickly and quietly become the second largest OTA in flight bookings, according to a company spokesperson.

In 2008, Fareportal launched another subsidiary, OneTravel.com, to expand its services to include a more comprehensive vacation experience including hotels, car rentals, attractions, transfers and insurance, appealing to a wider audience looking for more than just air tickets.

Beginning in 2011, the flagship brand made its way into new international and technological markets when it launched CheapOair.ca in Canada, CheapOair.co.uk in the United Kingdom, and the CheapOair mobile app which received the number one rating from Top Ten Reviews. More recent international expansions include the launch of CheapOair.mx in Mexico and CheapOair.au in Australia.

Together, these websites garner more than 16 million unique visitors and over 40 million searches per month, and the CheapOair mobile app has reached over 5 million downloads to date. The app receives thousands of bookings per week, ranking highest in user satisfaction among its competitors with its user-friendly interface and readily available customer care.

Whether it’s booking travel online or buying CDs, books or other traditional retail products, the computers, tablets and now smartphones have provided access to information and promotions that have enabled consumers to more readily purchase products and services without going to a traditional brick and mortar store.

The industry has changed and technology forced that change. Many travel agencies didn’t survive, while, at the same time, a new breed of online agencies began to flourish. A growing number of consumers were drawn to the ease of researching and booking online from the comfort of their home as they sat up late at night, often in their PJs, making their own self-educated decisions on what they wanted to do and where they wanted to stay.

The main difference was the convenience of not having to go into a storefront to talk with a travel counselor, especially when the consumer had done all the research and only needed the agent to make the bookings. Technology made it easier to both get information and to communicate with suppliers and make bookings.

As use of computers, tablets and smartphones grew and online agencies and the online review sites proliferated with advice, the role of the traditional human travel counselor became more and more obsolete. However, reports that began to surface more than 20 years ago about the demise of the travel agent have always been greatly exaggerated. While the travel agent industry did shrink, as it probably should have, it was the serious travel counselors that survived.

These survivors were knowledgeable travel agents who asked the right questions before making recommendations to their clients. They built a business out of providing advice and counsel and began charging fees for the work they did rather than relying on commissions from the airlines and hotels that they recommended.

The lack of satisfaction, and the lack of recourse in the event of a problem, has continually kept consumers running back to the traditional sales operations to find a human being to talk with and solve their issues. The absence of the human factor kept cropping up in stories that magnified the problems inherent in the new online industries. All too often, when a problem arose, there was no one to fix it. The computer screens could have been blank for all the help they provided.

During this time of transition, Fareportal came along with a vision of combining the traditional brick and mortar travel agency with the online technology to make it easier for consumers to get the information and, at the same time, communicate with live, human travel agents to get validation for their choices, make bookings and solve problems that may arise. It was a winning solution to a growing issue of trust in technology. And it worked as Fareportal, with CheapOair, rose to become the second largest online agency for flights in the world.

Part of Fareportal’s success is, of course, in combining the traditional travel agency model with the technology that enables consumers to own their research and dictate when and where they will research and book. But a large part of the success is based on enabling consumers to communicate how, when and where they want their information via all the alternative means now available such as tablets, smartphones, texts and apps.

Agents make arranging complex travel itineraries simple for travelers, whether over the phone or via live chat, to create the most affordable and hassle-free travel experience possible.

Fareportal has agreements with over 450 of the industry’s top airline carriers, as well as more than 150,000 hotel partners, major travel insurance providers, and hundreds of car rental agencies. Suppliers are enamored with Fareportal’s websites because of the software which enable disciplined search engine marketing resulting in significant consumer traffic.

While Fareportal’s online channel continues to be its most utilized channel for bookings, the company has seen tremendous growth in the mobile app and also has begun to increase focus on driving telephone bookings. Call centers around the world are owned and operated by the company to maintain quality control which has resulted in outstanding service awards.

Fareportal’s websites and mobile app have been the recipient of nearly twenty awards within both the travel industry and technology world for their fast search times, outstanding service and overall excellence. The Magellan Travel Industry Awards, Stevie Awards for Customer Service and Technology, Horizon Interactive Awards, and AVA Digital Awards are just some of the honors they have received in recent years.

 

About Fareportal

Fareportal is a travel technology company powering a next generation travel concierge service. Utilizing its innovative technology and company owned and operated global contact centers, Fareportal has built strong industry partnerships providing customers access to over 450 airlines, 1 million hotels, and hundreds of car rental companies around the globe. With a portfolio of consumer travel brands including CheapOair and OneTravel, Fareportal enables consumers to book online, on mobile apps for iOS and Android, by phone, or live chat. Fareportal provides its airline partners with access to a broad customer base that books high-yielding international travel and add-on ancillaries.

To learn more, visit www.Fareportal.com

 

About the Author

Richard S. Kahn is an award-winning travel writer and editor, former Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of The Travel Agent Magazine, Transport Editor of Aviation Week & Space Technology and recipient of the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also founder of New York-based Kahn Travel Communications.