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Tue 28 Oct 2008 05:33 PM

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The internet: Be alert, not alarmed, says agent

Customers in the Middle East lack the confidence to book online, says industry stalwart.

The Internet may be an increasingly popular tool for many travelers, but agents do not need to panic just yet, according to industry veteran William Horsley.

A travel trade stalwart, Horsley, who recently took on the general manager role at Al-Futtaim Travel in Dubai, said the internet was useful for desktop research and information, but was far from being a direct competitor to travel agents at the moment.

"I think we're a little bit behind Europe and America; people do not have confidence to submit their credit cards online," he said.

Furthermore, he explained there were downsides for internet customers when it came to service and flexibility.

"The benefit of buying through the internet is that you may be able to get a cheap ticket, but the restrictions on getting these cheap tickets make it very difficult," Horsley explained.

"If you have a change of date or an emergency and you try to get reimbursed, sometimes you can't get a refund and you can't even transfer it to another date."

Horsley said that in the next three to five years, travel agents would remain the customer's top choice over and above the internet.

"In time, I think every travel company will try to improve itself by having its own online reservations," he said.

"I don't think in the short term we have to panic; I think what we have to do is improve the way we operate."

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