There’s nothing like a busy autumn to remind you how much travel is a business that brings people together.

The number of events, many organised by Travel Weekly, such as this week’s fantastic second Association of Touring & Adventure Suppliers Conference, testifies to the power of face-to-face (see next week’s issue for full coverage).

Whether it’s B2C or B2B, people do business with people, and as Dame Esther Rantzen said at our executive lunch, empathy is vital if agents are to relate to customers.

As she points out, older customers who may be travelling solo for the first time, following a bereavement, may need their self-esteem boosted.

I can’t imagine a faceless website ever being able to do that – but a knowledgeable, compassionate travel agent has every chance of putting an anxious client at ease.

This is why agents get so upset when suppliers they have come to trust start undercutting them with online discounts they can’t match.

As we report this week, trials on new pricing models by Thomas Cook, which has won a lot of friends in the trade in recent years due to its price parity policy, have ruffled a few feathers.

Agents who put so much effort into getting to know their customers, providing the sort of personalised service Google talks about on page 14, feel they aren’t being valued.

It’s hardly new. Agents have fought a battle against online discounts for more than two decades. But are the tables turning?

Google says customers today want to be looked after in the way agents used to treat them. They’re right – except that good agents never stopped doing just that.

Comment from Travel Weekly, October 25 edition