Travolution brought together four of the UK’s most innovative travel firms to showcase the best of British at a Singapore Tourism Board event in London.
Officials from the Singapore Tourism Board organised a fact-finding mission to Europe for some of the country’s leading travel firms.
They were interested in how UK firms are using technology to adapt to a changing market and the impact this has on manpower and customer service.
Travolution asked two technology providers, Traveltek and Infinity Tracking, and two travel retailers Travel Counsellors and Ocean Florida, to present their business approach to the delegation.
Mark Boniface, commercial director of Infinity, told delegates about its technology that allows firms to track web visitors before they call them.
This enables the call centre operative to be much better prepared to offer the caller what they want when they answer the call.
The Infinity technology uses unique phone numbers for particular online marketing campaigns or parts of a client’s website to determine what has interested the caller.
“This gives you an indication of how far down the buying process they are. From the page they’ve called you can get a great insight into what they’re interested in,” said Boniface.
Infinity has to date made this information available to clients’ marketing departments so they can determine which campaigns are most successful and tailor their marketing spend accordingly. But now it is also providing this data to agents in real time.
“This allows operators to deliver a better, clearer experience, allowing you to close the sale faster.”
Boniface said clients using Infinity generally see a 10% to 20% saving in online advertising spend and a further 10% efficiency in the call centre, with an average of up to two minutes saved per call.
“You are giving your operators the tools to have better conversations with your clients based on knowledge not guesswork,” said Boniface.
But he warned it was important to use the customer insight data carefully to ensure customers do not feel they are being spied on.
“Use the data you have to aid the conversation rather than as a start point. You don’t want to freak people out. Get the information ready you want to provide them with.”
As a leading pioneer of dynamic packaging technology, Glasgow-based Traveltek’s rise to prominence has charted the most significant changes in the industry over the past 15 years.
The firm is now internationalising its business and has new clients in emerging markets in South America, Australasia and parts of Europe.
Peter Whittle, business development director, said UK technology firms are leading the way.
“There are common themes wherever you are,” he said. “Consumers are becoming more and more discerning and are expecting you to know more about them at each touch point.
“It’s very important that they feel that they are valued and you understand what they are looking for. Another challenge is what’s different about your business to everyone else? These days just being the cheapest in the market is not really a path to profit and success.”
Whittle said the old distinctions between travel agent and tour operator were blurring, with agents looking to take more control and directly contracting with suppliers.
And he said with the global travel business worth $1.3 trillion, the days of establishing a company to serve the market in just one country are gone, adding: “Borders have gone away.”
Whittle said Traveltek understands the challenges of getting travel firms to move away from legacy systems. He said Traveltek servers last year processed $5 billion worth of transactions by more than 400 clients in 23 countries using200 data connect ions with suppliers.
If the Bolton-based travel agency had its time again it probably would not build its own technology, IT director Paul Speakman told the delegation from Singapore.
“It was a painful experience,” he said. “but weare seeing the benefits now and we are in total control of our system. We can make the system bespoke to how we want it to work and put safeguards in that work for us exactly.”
Travel Counsellors, which last year sold a majority stake to Equistone Partners, has developed its own Phenix selling system.
This allows its 1,300 agents in eight countries to put together their own tailor-made trips and to ensure customer payments are 100%protected under its trust account arrangement
Travel Counsellors was set up 20 years ago above a shop by Paul’s father David and has helped to pioneer the home-based agent model in the UK.
Paul Speakman said: “We have always got one eye on the developments on the internet and how other companies are doing.
“Undoubtedly it’s going to get more sophisticated and customers are going to book more bespoke holidays, but we think there’s a big gap between what we can do and what they can do themselves. You cannot replicate the experience of using a travel counsellor online.”
Speakman gave a live demonstration of Phenix including how its offers detailed sales and performance information on each counsellor constantly updated in real time.
He said the firm also uses technology to foster a sense of community among its agents, with a weekly TCTV show broadcast online from a studio in its Bolton headquarters.
Like Travel Counsellors, Ocean Florida has built its own software that helps it monitor the performance of its call centre agents.
Part of the Ocean Holidays group, the Florida specialist employs around 100 people in the UK and the US, a large proportion of whom are young sales consultants in its Essex base.
Ocean Florida does not offer online booking, but drives calls, which it says give it a better chance of converting and at higher values.
George Hastings, one of four directors of the retailer, said the firm strongly believes in sales agents and it has created its own customer relationship management technology, SPP, which is built around three key principles: speed, process and persistence.
He said this was built to reflect the customer journey, which starts with the customer filling out an online form specifying what they are looking for and turning this into leads. Ocean Florida is generating 10,000 of these forms a month.
“We believe the right technology and enforcing consistency is very important,” said Hastings.
“As we grow our business we need to makesure everything is consistent across the board. The whole culture of being an online model isto drive down margins, and there is no customer service. Offline you can respond to customers on their time rather than your time.”
Hastings said speed is the most important factor in responding to an enquiry, so the firm employs apprentices to quality-check leads and turn these into hot enquiries.
SPP is only 18 months old but Ocean Florida has already adopted gamefication principles, splitting agents into teams named after American Football teams to “drive the sales floor”.
Hastings said Google would continue to “reign supreme” in terms of return on marketing spend investment, but the key was to drive efficiency.
“The whole business is based on conversion,” he said. “If you map out the customer journey and get that right from the off it’s very hard to do a bad job.