By Tridip Saha, vice president and head of Europe for Sonata Software
In just a couple of decades, the Internet has completely changed the way we travel. In the past, travel planning often meant relying on a travel agent to get all details about destinations, transport, costs, hotel options, sightseeing options etc.
At most, you could get tips from a friend who might have travelled to a particular destination before. The role of the travel agent, however, was not just about facilitating bookings etc., but it was also very much about acting as an expert consultant who would educate and make recommendations.
But the proliferation of the Internet changed all that. Access to Information was no longer restricted to just the ‘experts.’ Instead, practically everyone with an Internet connection can now search for information, read reviews and recommendations, search for the best deals and go ahead and book everything from flights, hotels, meals, local transport and even tickets for tourist attractions without having to even step out of their house.
So, where does this leave travel agents? Is their role now obsolete? That need not be the case. Instead, the new digital landscape throws up a number of new opportunities to deliver value to travellers. And using the right technology framework can help enable this.
Multiple digital touchpoints
Compared to earlier times, a typical buyer cycle in the travel industry has several digital touch points all along. Throughout this journey travellers are constantly seeking engagement in a manner that is consistent, useful and informative.
For travel agents, this provides several great opportunities to engage with customers and deliver valuable services that generate revenue. The sheer amount of data available today means that there is scope for personalisation like never before. To understand this closely, let’s look at the typical traveller’s buyer journey:
Inspiration, search and purchase
For most travellers today, the inspiration to plan a vacation or holiday, comes from an online source. It could be a friend’s holiday pictures on Facebook or Instagram, or maybe an interesting article on an online travel portal.
Also, travellers search for options online, whether through a meta search or from an online travel agent. What’s great about this is that this provides an opportunity to engage with the prospective traveller through personalised and targeted offers. For example, if someone searches through your portal, you can quickly offer up a convenient shopping cart, give recommendations that can help you up-sell and cross-sell and ensure a consistent omnichannel engagement.
There is also scope to sweeten the deal and encourage a purchase by offering reward points and flexible payment options such as multiple-currency, payment gateway and ensuring PCI DSS.
Post booking engagement
Once a purchase is made, there is still ample scope to engage through notifications, reminders, proactive disruption management and relevant cross sell based on the data. For example, travellers will explore local activities, look for guides etc. A Destination App can improve engagement and boost revenue opportunities.
If the data tells you that the group is travelling with a child, you could recommend suitable sightseeing options or suggest pram rental services, to achieve customer delight. Once the trip is completed, visitors are likely to share, refer, review. Keep the engagement open by soliciting feedback to encourage customers to stay connected.
The Internet has undoubtedly transformed the travel industry is many ways. But the basics of engagement, customer-centricity and delivering value remain the same. Luckily, technology can help transform the customer experience and drive revenue in new and hitherto unimaginable ways.