Travel agencies in the age of e-tourism - A comparative study oft he current developments in Germany and France

Veronika Goertz

The thesis aims to contribute to the understanding of intermediariesin the tourism industry (i.e. travel agencies). In spite of their central role concerning the reservation of packaged tours, travel agencies provide most of all -and at best- a chapter in tourism literature and are primarily regardedas an actor in the tourism system(Dewailly et Flament, 2000 ; Kirstges, 2000 ; Stock et al., 2003 ; Decroly et al., 2006 ; Frochot et Legohérel, 2010 ; Schulz et al., 2010 ; Freyer, 2011 ; Jégouzo, 2012 ; Mundt, 2012 ; Dörnberg (von) et al., 2013). From 2000 onwards and with the advent of Internet distribution, publications about travel agencies increased. Main theme of these publications was the disintermediation of travel agencies or the demonstration of survival strategies for the latter(Klietmann et Borch, 2000 ; Barnett et Standing, 2001 ; Law et al., 2004 ; Bennett et Lai, 2005 ; Dolnicar et Laesser, 2007 ; Suárez Álvarez et al., 2007 ; Tietz, 2007).

The aim of the present work is to obtain a better understanding of factors influencing the travel agency system in France and Germany by a comparative study. Comparative studies are compatible with a variety of methods (Tarrow 2010, 32). The dissertation uses both quantitative methods (eg analysis of the travel agency dynamism, regression analysis, matching, analysis of maps) and qualitative methods (eg interviews and photos). The study examines the influence of politico-juridical, spatial, digital and cultural factors on the number of travel agencies in both countries. Thereby other indicators, such as sales per travel agency, company’s size or the number of employees per travel agency remain unconsidered, due to the lack of comparable data at international level.

The following 6-axled polar diagram summarizes combines the factors examined. The axes stand for digital, spatial (nights, inhabitants), politico-legal (regulation by the state, responsibility of the tour operator) and cultural factors. The dashed line represents France, the solid line represents Germany.

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Figure 1: Effects of the examined factors on the number of travel agencies in Germany and France

The main differences between the two countries are dueto a different regulation policyand different contractual relationships between travel agencies and tour operators (1), and due to the different importance of population density and number of nights for travel agencies (2).

(1) Effects due to regulation policy and the contractual relationship between the travel agencies and tour operators

Differences in the legislation of both countries affect the number of travel agencies. Compared to France and in proportion to the population, the permissive conditions to open a travel agency in Germany have ledto an excess supply of travel agencies, partly to the detriment of quality. In France, the conditions to open a travel agency were loosened; nevertheless they remain stricter than in Germany. The state still controls access to the industry. In comparison to France, open market access in Germany results in a larger number of travel agencies and a variety of mobile travel agents as well as travel agencies in secondary occupation.

Besides, the contractual regulations between travel agencies and tour operators are different in the two countries. Travel agencies in France selling a package holiday, retain a substantial part of the responsibility for the journey. For German travel agencies the entrepreneurial risk when selling a package tour is lower: the responsibility for the journey is passed to the tour operator. The higher entrepreneurial risk of French travel agencies also affects the number of travel agencies on the market.

(2) Effect of overnight stays and inhabitants on the travel agencies

The number of overnight stays and inhabitants plays a different role for travel agencies in Germany and France. The analysis of these two factors shows that in France the number of travel agencies is less affected by the number of inhabitants than in Germany. That is to say in France, the number of overnight stays by tourists is also relevant for travel agents, since they can play a dual role and both sell trips for the residents and excursions for tourists. They are often important for the outgoing as well as the incoming tourism. In Germany, travel agencies depend more heavily on the population density and can be explained to 99% by the latter. German travel agencies are less likely to have a receptive role.

The importance of travel agencies was not always undisputed. Our work confirms the impact of digitisation on travel agencies. For in these two countries the latter plays an increasing role in the travel agency system. Not least, online distribution has changed the customer relationship between seller and buyer: travel agents meet a more specialized and demanding customer who consideres the recommendations of the travel consultant with acertain skepticism and frequently compares and disputes their recommandations.

Regarding the influence of digitisation on the spatial distribution of travel agencies, two tendencies appear. Although a city center location remains important for travel agencies aiming to display their brand and establishing a “physical presence”, travel agencies in the periphery, however, can compensate drawbacks of their spatial location by the use of the technical possibilities and a significant specialization (eg, to a certain destination). The analysis shows that for highly specialized travel agencies the location is less important than before the “age of e-tourism”. The work also shows that some travel agencies have even been strengthened by the upheavals of e-tourism.

Cultural impacts are insofar important as they determine the size of the market (eg the share of people who never travel, the shareof population that travel abroad; the share of population using a travel agency). However, German and French customers who book at a travel agency are more similar than expected. For example, the “need for security”, which is according to the litterature an important point for German customers, is a major selling point for French travel agency customers, too.

To sum up, the 10,000 travel agencies in Germany and the 4,000 travel agencies in France play an important role in the tourism system. The thesis has examined the dynamics of the travel agency industry of the two countries and has analyzed factors explaining the differences. In this context, France can be seen as an exception: in comparison to many other countries, the number of French travel agencies has not decreased during the last decade. Thus, the French system challenges the relationship (often considered a causal one) between the rise of e-tourism and the decrease of travel agencies. In Germany, the decline of travel agencies depends not only on the increasing popularity of the Internet, but is also influenced by other factors, for example, by the unregulated market access.

REFERENCES

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Electronic reference :

Veronika Goertz, Travel agencies in the age of e-tourism – A comparative study oft he current developments in Germany and France, Via@, PhD abstracts, posted on January 23rd, 2015.

AUTHOR

Veronika Goertz

Veronika GOERTZ received her doctorate degree from the University of Pierre Mendès Grenoble, France. She worked under the direction of Prof. Dr. Bachimon and is attached to the laboratory “Politiques publiques, action politique, TERRITOIRES” (Pacte). Her main interests are research topics related to tourism, especially distribution via intermediaries and e-tourism. She currently works as project manager at Deutsche Bahn in Frankfurt.

TRANSLATION

Veronika Goertz