Friday, September 12, 2008
Sky News (same three headline stories every five minutes) was running a story about another travel agent collapse on heavy rotation this morning.
XL are apparently Britain's third largest travel agent. They have thousands of Irish customers too.
I'd rather leave it to experts within the travel industry to debate the effects of the credit crunch, or fuel prices, or the global economic downturn, or environmental concerns upon their industrial sector.
I do have sympathy for the customers stranded abroad today, and especially for the staff, who found out they'd lost their jobs when they turned on the news this morning, having heard nothing from the craven management whose decision-making led to this demise.
But it seems to me that something a little more profound has taken place than just corporate cocking-up.
This collapse, like those that preceded it and those that will follow it, like the consolidation of the airlines (BA and American Airlines look like the latest to buddy up in the ongoing turbulence of the travel sector), has to do with the democratisation of travel.
In short, this is a victory for the internet. The web's ability to put a vendor anywhere in touch with a potential market of the whole (online) world was inevitably going to lead to professional middlemen losing their jobs.
They're losing their jobs because people no longer need their services (except for special circumstances where professional planning assistance is useful to help organise complex travel arrangements).
They're losing their jobs because people can tell a good deal from a bad one simply by scouring some aggregator and price comparison sites online. The global market drove prices down.
But markets overshoot. And the Ryanair effect of no-frills, no-comfort, no-rights flights is for many people a discomfort too far.
I've discussed the Ryanair effect before on this blog, especially their contempt for customers, their maniacal chairman, their bullshit additional charges that add up to multiples of the advertised price of the flight, and their sense of social responsibility to the disabled.
But the Ryanair effect has pressured prices and practices of other airlines downwards too. And this is what is leading to the streamlining of the industry, as the last fat is burnt off the former national flagship airlines, but as also standards are cut to the bone in emulation of the Ryanair model.
The position of equilibrium for consumers is a happy medium between price and service. Unfortunately, as yesterday's latest Ryanscare emergency at Dublin airport demonstrated, Ryanscare standards of care and service are not sufficient.
We don't want a fright with every flight. We don't want the Seventies back either, when it cost a month's wages to fly one-way to London, but you got lovely meals and could smoke and flirt with the trolley dollies.
We want to be able to travel in a modicum of comfort, at a commensurate price set by a competitive market, in stringently monitored safety standards.