OCEAN CITY – Some have called travel agents “dinosaurs destined for extinction”, but for Oasis Travel in West Ocean City, it hopes to be a name of distinction when you are booking your next vacation.
With the rapid growth of online travel agencies and discounted travel websites like Priceline and Expedia, store-front travel agencies have seemingly faded from the eye of the public and the consumer. This trend would seem like the overwhelming hurdle for a new full-service travel agency like Oasis to overcome, but according to a national travel industry survey conducted by the FocusWright group, the public image of “bricks and mortar” travel agencies is a bit skewed.
In-store travel agencies made upwards of 41 percent of the entire travel industry, or $110 billion, and according to managing partner Holly Hudson, who boasts 25 years of industry experience, the pendulum might be swaying away from the virtual travel agencies of the Internet.
“I think people will always start looking there, as it’s certainly a good way to educate yourself and find competitive prices, but I think with this economy being what it is, and the amount of fraud that is out there, people aren’t very comfortable giving their credit card information online for large sum of money for their vacation,” Hudson said.
Oasis Travel, which officially opened its doors for business in September in the Teal Marsh shopping plaza in West Ocean City, might seem familiar as it shares the same name as Oasis Car Wash, and that is not a coincidence as local proprietor Neil Hitchcock runs both businesses.
“Oasis has become synonymous with touch free car washes and the short-term goal is to make Oasis also become synonymous with the travel industry here in this area,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock, a long-time land developer as well as a car wash proprietor, didn’t necessarily have a “natural progression” in route to owning a travel agency, but cited years of business travel and experiencing the “Murphy’s Law” rule of “what can go wrong will go wrong” that faces every traveler at one time or another.
“I’ve faced the good, bad, and ugly as far as traveling goes. If you’ve ever booked a deal online, you know that most of the time you are just a number,” he said.
Hudson, who formerly owned Seaside World Travel Inc. on 18th street before selling it in 2000, agreed.
“Being able to talk face-to-face with someone is invaluable,” she said. “We’ve had customers that know what country they want to travel to, and know a few places they’d like to visit, but that is about it. We can help them fill in the blanks in their itinerary to give the best trip their money can buy.”
Unfortunately, Oasis Travel had to overcome a “nightmare” of a start dealing with the backlash of a travel fraud scandal that according to Hitchcock has finally been overcome.
The scandal took place in May of 2007 as the building’s former tenant, Seaside Travel Agency, was investigated by the Worcester Bureau of Investigation for an alleged 25 instances of travel fraud. Oasis who had just taken over the business, got caught in the “mess” and had to prove its reputation and credibility while essentially trying to earn one.
“We’ve been able to put that behind us and we’ve proven to the people that we’ve always done what we are supposed to do, and they’ve come back to us. Now we can move on and head in the direction we need to go which is forward,” said Hitchcock.
Though the traditional way to travel may be more personable, the numbers don’t lie as far as the growth of online booking.
Echo boomers (18-28 year olds) are heavily gaining on baby boomers (43-61) as the largest groups that travel. This younger demographic of echo boomers is extremely “tech savvy” and spend much of their time online including shopping, reading news, and of course, travel planning.
Seventy-one percent of echo boomers use the Internet to search for the best travel rates and well over two-thirds (65 percent) of those surveyed have used the Internet to build their travel itineraries.
With the rise in technology as a tool for the traveler, travel agents have had to rethink their strategies about how to get people in the door, and as Hancock says, use the Internet to their advantage.
“I can get my customers the same prices, and most times, I can get them a better rate, as I have the contacts with the actual companies. We can also give the reassurance that their investment is safe,” she said.
One of the ways Oasis plans to use the Internet as a tool is to allow consumers to plan their trips on their website, www.travelwithoasis.com, which will be fully operational Hitchcock says, by Thanksgiving. In doing so, consumers, “will be able to shop for the best prices, while still having an agent to help them if troubles arise leading up to or on their trip.”
Cruises and all-inclusive package deals are the most popular currently, with up to 50-percent savings on certain destinations. Hudson encourages people to book their trip at least a few months in advance. She also cited that despite the value of the dollar has sagged so low in global markets, that trips to Europe have been on the rise. “We can help you choose the destination of your dreams,” she said.
Despite a rocky start prior to opening, both Hitchcock and Hudson are extremely optimistic about the future, and hope to keep “Oasis” on the tip of people’s tongues when they are planning their next vacation.