Can you imagine how airline travellers used to book their tickets in the past before the advent of internet? I worked as a clerk in Sime Darby Travel, Penang in 1988 and I can still remember those days when only travel agents registered with International Air Transport Association (IATA) were permitted to issue airline tickets. 

Airlines must give the ticket stocks to travel agents to make the reservation, mostly using Abacus ticketing system. Tickets issued were handwritten and not long thereafter, travel agents were able to print the tickets. Passengers had to either collect the tickets from the travel agent or the agent will personally deliver it to the passengers. 

“DAPO” the Seat

The word “DAPO” is an abbreviation used in the airline industry to mean “Do All Possible”. During peak season, it was difficult to get return tickets. So some tour companies would send their tour leaders to the airport daily to “DAPO” and use all kinds of persuasive skills to get the seats. Call it funny, such routine no longer happen today.

Having tickets in hand can also be a hassle. For passengers with multi stop flights, the tickets could even end up as thick as a booklet! And tour leaders had to endure holding stack of flight tickets of his tour group at the airport. 

Those were the days of airline ticketing. Today, everyone can book their flights from the internet. They just need to log in, pay online and print out their e-ticket for boarding. So has this changing landscape affect the travel agents?

Datin Catherine Tung, owner of Overseas Tours & Travel Sdn Bhd

Sunset Industry

The ticketing industry has become a consumer-driven business. The 80s and 90s saw the booming of many travel agents but since the introduction of internet, the numbers have reduced significantly. It has become a sunset industry. 

However, for Datin Catherine Tung, a travel agency owner, “Having online ticketing does not necessary mean that travel agents have become irrelevant. Purchasing airline tickets through travel agents has its own advantages. 

“For instance, travel agents can do group bookings and block seating. Group bookings enable customers to travel in large groups and block seating lets them choose seats anywhere in the plane. These services can only be provided by travel companies as they have specialised ticketing system to do so.”

Present Day

Today, tour packages have become niche and diverse including health and wellness packages, Muslim packages, garden tour packages and many more. Some tourists may even use the services of unlicensed tour guides who are mostly MPV drivers. This has posed challenges to licensed tour operators. 

Ticketing agents also depend mostly on corporate clients than walk-in clients. Corporate clients would want their staff to focus on their job rather than plan flight schedules for their bosses. Whatever it is, travel and tour agents are still very much needed and relevant today. 

Interviewees P. Andy, Sheikh Fauzi, Baharudin bin Tajalla

Special thanks to Datin Catherine Tung (Overseas Tours & Travel), Cathryn Lee (Chairman, Malaysian Association of Tour & Travel Agents, Johor), Baharudin bin Tajalla (Dialta Travel & Tours), Sheikh Fauzi (BT Tune Holidays & Services) and P. Andy (East Coast Adventure Travel & Tours).

Words & Photos by Francis Yip

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