Travel agents must “keep your offline hat on when you go online”.
That is the view of Sabre and its expert partner bd4Travel, who gave a joint presentation to Travel Technology Europe.
Andy Owen-Jones, co-founder of bd4Travel, and Kenny Scullion, online sales director at Sabre, said the benefits of online and offline can compliment each other.
Owen-Jones said it was crucial for travel agents branching out into the digital to remember how they differentiate from their competitors offline and take their focus into the online arena.
He added that many fall into the trap of aggregating data, which means they are only targeting the “average” human being.
“Online, we often treat people as if they are average, but there’s no such thing as an average person. Try not to be average.”
He said old marketing techniques from the 1980s and earlier still stood the test of time and development in technology, in that you need to compete on either price or offering a better or different product.
“We seem to have thrown a lot of marketing principles away when we went into the digital world,” he said, adding that many travel companies’ websites look the same.
“If you are not a differentiator or if you don’t have a focus, you are stuck in the middle,” he added.
“So you need to identify where you have unique content or how you can address the needs of your customers differently. If you don’t do that you are spending a lot of money on technology without much benefit.”
Scullion compared the benefits of offline customer service and online customer service.
Offline won on personalisation in terms of human interaction, expert advice, and an easier booking process and help if things go wrong while online he said offered better flexibility with self-service, more available content, real-time pricing and audio-visual inspiration.
But Scullion said it was important to bring offline and online principles together, rather than separating them.
“They are blurred lines,” he said. “But you need the best of both worlds.”
He suggested travel agents interact with the most commonly used messaging systems, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and not overload customers with offers.
“It’s not enough to just be present anymore,” he said, using the example of Travel Homie as a WhatsApp pioneer in travel and Thomas Cook’s concept stores as an illustration of bringing online and offline together.
“I’m not suggesting that every travel agent has to implement this type of technology,” he added. “But if your customers are using these apps, that’s where you should be communicating with them.”
Bd4Travel’s Owen-Jones added that OTAs need to move away from advertising solely on price, as it rives dissatisfaction among customers and narrow down huge search results to relevant ones.
“It’s overwhelming if you see 1,200 hotels which all look the same in one destination,” he added and said data shows that 28% of people look at six or more hotels while only 13% of people look at six or more destinations.
He said data collected by travel agents’ websites could help them build profiles of their customers which can be used to personalise offers and adverts.
“But it’s not worth presenting personal options to people if you don’t know what your focus is,” he added.
“Don’t take off your offline hat when you go online.”