A paucity of data in the luxury travel sector is holding it back online, a world Travel Market Amadeus round-table debate heard last night.
The event was the first of four such discussions organised as part of a series ahead of WTM in November and supported by Amadeus which has agreed a strategic partnership with the trade show.
This will see whitepapers being written up that focus on specific sectors of the travel industry, to be released at the show and form a view of the 21st century leisure traveller.
Speaking at last night’s debate Giles Parnwell, director of Distribute Travel, said: “The biggest problem with luxury operators is there is a dearth of data.
“We distribute data and we have not got any luxury operators. At the moment you type in luxury holidays [into Google] and you have to go one by one through each branded site. There’s no portal.”
Parnwell said there was a problem in the luxury travel sector about qualifying leads. “People want your product for an unrealistic price.
“What’s missing is that middle part where these leads are qualified. Someone who solves that will be a good publisher.
“There are some bespoke publishers making it work on a really small scale because they are qualifying leads but you are talking small volumes.”
Andrew Pozniak, vice president sales and marketing for luxury operator Kuoni, said the firm has sought to redefine what success looked like online.
He said until recently the key metric was how many bookings came from online but that conversion rates were very low at around 5%.
Pozniak said Kuoni drew up a spreadsheet of all the online activity it was seeing on its site including things like brochure requests and downloads.
“On the back of that, because we know booking online was never going to happen in big numbers we have gone through a process of stripping out access to our booking engine and being explicit with customers that we want them to call or visit a shop or fill out a form.”
In recent years Kuoni has started opening its own stores in key high street and partnering with existing agents, but Pozniak said it still needs to be a better job of exploiting luxury technology tools in-store like tablets.
“We are taking the view let’s provide great connectivity in shops and let’s try different things and see what works for the teams in the shops and what works for consumers.”
The panel agreed that the experience of searching for luxury travel online was a poor one, with many brands purporting to be luxury in results that were actually mainstream mass market.
Rob Sinclair-Barnes, Amadeus director of marketing, said: “When the consumer is actually looking for a luxury experience, I do not believe there is any way of servicing them unless they have a previous understanding of how we as an industry satisfies that immediate request.
“What I’m being provided from an instant search perspective is not actually what I would consider as being luxury.”
Sinclair-Barnes said the question was about how much the travel industry expects the customer to know about what they want and how much pre-defined search they must do to access the right product.
Online reviews were considered to be a potentially useful way to help customers home their options, although more needed to be done to segment reviewers, to “personalise the crowd”.
Steve Endacott, On Holiday Group chief executive, who moderated the discussion, said: “I have friends I would never go on holiday with.
“It’s getting a mass of data understanding your requirements and personalising the crowd. I want to know what people like me think, those people who meet my requirements.
Andrew Mabbutt, managing director of authenticated review service Feefo, said tagging reviews by the profile of the user who leaves them was on the development roadmap.
He said Feefo’s system generates a less emotionally driven set or reviews than other sites like TripAdvisor and offered a more generic view.
This opens up the possibility of review scores becoming a better indicator of the quality of a product than star rating that can vary from region to region.
John Bevan, managing director of SpaFinder, who previously set up luxury holidays flash sale site Voyage Prive in the UK, said the web may not drive luxury bookings but it was still vital.
“The internet has got to work for luxury. It drives prospects, whether it be to your website or call centre,” he said.
Danny Waine, director of Perfect Weddings Abroad, said 95% of his company’s leads come from the internet.
“We have changed from being more of a high street agent to being an online business focusing on either people searching for weddings or searching for something more specific, knowing they want to get married in a particular destination.
“People say you can’t book your wedding online. For us it’s about getting our name out there and getting our pages out there, whether that’s through SEO or PPC.
“We do online wedding webinars trying to get to the consumer in the comfort of their own home, it’s soft sell rather than trying to ram it down their throats, giving them something extra they can’t find on the internet.”