HR and Travel Agents: Both Undervalued, Both Misunderstood

Quick, what is your first thought when you think of travel agents?

Mine? The 1970?s and 1980?s, women working in strip malls, with sunny vacation posters on the windows, selling over-priced, all-inclusive vacations and cruises to Mr. and Mrs. Middle America.

Quick: What is your first thought when you think of HR Managers?

Wait! Don’t answer that.

The most misunderstood occupation in America?

Time had a great piece recently about how travel agents might be the most misunderstood occupation in America today.

Most people, if you asked, would believe travel agents are no longer needed. We have the Internet! Expedia. Orbitz. Travelocity. Kayak. Why would anyone with half a brain ever use a travel agent?!

But, wait. Here are some facts from the article on the travel industry:

  • 8,000 travel agencies in the U.S.
  • 64 percent of all air travel is booked through travel agents — that’s $84 billion worth!
  • 64 percent of all cruises are still booked through agents.

Why use an agent? They give you the customer service you don’t get from an Internet site, and, they help solve travel problems.

Does it cost more? Yep. You pay for what you get.

The real value of HR

I had a young employee recently who recently booked a trip to Vegas on her own — cheap airline, limited flights. Weather became a problem and flights were cancelled.

The next flights were not for another couple of days. No, we won’t move you to another airline – it’s an act of God. No, we won’t give you your money back; we can give you a voucher for another flight. No, your deposit for your hotel won’t be refunded. Well, Vegas trip is blown up.

Travel agents wouldn’t have booked that trip.

Does this remind you of any other industry? (Hint: HR.)

HR Technology is moving the way of complete manager self-service. Need to add an employee to your staff?  We’ve got a program for that. What about onboarding that new employee? Got you covered! Performance Management? Come on, we specialize in that. Give us something challenging! Training? Bingo.

So, what can’t HR Tech currently do that we do in HR?!

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Hello, Travel Agent, I need to book a trip out of HR!

What you find out quickly is that your value to an organization is not measured in the “tactics” you use.

HR values can’t be replaced by software

Travel agents aren’t about booking your flights. Yeah, they do that, but you pay them for when your trip begins to blow up, when there’s a mile-long line at the airport desk to re-book. You make one call and have it solved for you.

Get to a horrible hotel 2,000 miles from home? “Don’t worry, Mr. Sackett, we’ll get you into something nice tonight.”

HR isn’t about all those jobs that tech can do. HR is about what we can do to help our organizations become more successful.

It’s about having the one-on-one conversation with the new manager who isn’t getting the most out of her team, and then helping her to get more out of that team. It’s about helping a star employee understand their role in the future and why “our” organization values them. It’s about ensuring our mission, values and vision are carried out across all parts of our organization.

HR technology companies can create a piece of software that can do just about anything. What that software can’t do is replace your interactions you have within your organization.

Get out of your office today and go touch some employees, properly.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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2 Comments on “HR and Travel Agents: Both Undervalued, Both Misunderstood

  1. Thank you for the post Mr. Sackett. Wow, I didn’t realize the stats were so high for number of travel agencies and percent of people still using them. Many of us who have been in corporate or consulting roles have become accustomed to not using them.

    The one point that really pulled this together was: ‘HR is about what we can do to help our organizations become more successful.’ I couldn’t agree more. Technology isn’t the best solution when human interaction is critical, but can sure help some pieces of the HR equation and making HR more effective.

  2. Your figure about air travel is kind of amazing…Maybe, it’s because of the huge amount of business trips? Anyway, it’s definitely a most relevant example showing that relations do matter.

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