Society is increasingly transforming into a service society, as Jeremy Rifkin had predicted, leaving behind consolidated habits and ways of operating.
Banks, the institutions which typically have most unambiguously stood for traditions and continuity, have strangely been among the first to adapt to this new approach to reality. More and more they are turning into suppliers of pay services, shifting away from their traditional role as money intermediaries, to turn into providers of services ranging from the sale of football tickets to pension plans. By now, virtually everything is charged extra, and at the end of a period the charges on your bank account for typical or atypical transactions often exceed the interests you earned.
The pay service frenzy reaches extreme levels when the public is charged three euros to receive information on a locality from an organisation which has the only and explicit purpose to supply such information.
These developments were bound to also influence travel agencies, which in addition to the economic crisis, the war, SARS and what more, are now having to face constant cuts on commissions on the part of carriers: as a result, agency fees are becoming a constant item. Only last year I participated in a meeting with the vice president of an American agency network, who had crossed the ocean to come and inform us about the evolution of the USA system, where the large majority of agencies charged commission fees on the services supplied. It seemed to be very distant from Italy, but in no time the same habit has taken hold here, too.
Carriers have drastically cut down commissions and – right enough – one needs to restore profitability; but the concept of pay service is expanding to embrace car rentals, hotel bookings, tour packages, the latter organised into subsystems: preparation of cost estimate, opening of file, delivery of documents. Rather similar to a bank: with charges for each operation.
This would all be very well, if we did not end up running the risk of colliding with a reality that did not exist in the past, but is now quite present and alive: the Internet, which is particularly active in the field of tourist services, and is becoming increasingly popular among consumers.
The system is probably in the process of finding a new equilibrium, but we need to understand what the new direction should be, which may not automatically consist of entirely applying now what was not done (or was not viewed as reasonable to do) in the past.
Translation of the Italian
editorial by Paola Praloran