Agents should employ tech “geeks” to ensure their futures the Aito specialist agents’ conference was told at the weekend.
Former Hoseasons chief executive Richard Carrick urged agencies to develop more of a web and social media presence to draw in clients.
“You are the information kings compared to the big companies,” he said. “You are the kings of content. You have the best flight knowledge – you should be top of natural search [on Google].
“Employ young web geeks. Use social media for brand awareness. Understand they need to acquire customers.”
Carrick said agents were not an endangered species but need to do more than just survive after “a most-difficult 18 months”. “There is a difference between surviving and thriving,” he said.
The former head of Airtours and agency chain Going Places said: “Most businesses have reduced costs, put up prices, held on to average margins, but lost volume.
“If businesses have survived they are probably in better shape. But that won’t result in growth. Businesses won’t thrive unless they sell more holidays and they won’t do that unless they get more customers.”
Carrick warned: “Consumer confidence is still fragile. Consumers are hesitant and there is some trimming of ‘expendable holidays’.”
He argued agencies should focus on their brand, product, technology, customer acquisition and customer relations.
“Make AITO [consumer] protection prominent. Tell people they can book with confidence. Demonstrate why you are a specialist – the geography [of destinations] is no longer a sufficient point of difference.”
Agents remain the most reliable distribution channel, but also the most-expensive – costing an estimated 15% of sales value, according to Carrick’s estimate.
A large part of that cost comes from brochures and agents should seek to cut back, said Carrick, arguing: “I see some appalling conversion rates – agents are not very good at stock control.”