Customer-facing travel retail technology that prioritises availability ahead of product search will emerge as the most successful, according to an industry IT veteran.
Peter Healey, founder of Vertical Group, believes the conventional approach that expects the customer to do endless searches based on their own set of criteria has had its day
He said the systems of the future will be more upfront about what’s available and how closely this matches requirements and this will take much of the pain out of the customer experience.
Healey said: “If you look at most systems they are basically search-based; you put in a range of dates and it tells you whether you can or cannot have it.
“If they are really good they are flexible in terms of three days before or after. But even BA is very absolute in that you are searching for your requirements and if it fails to match them you can search all day long.
“Our response is to operate systems which tell you actually what is available. Differentiated search is going to be most successful going forward where the customer wants to be offered what’s available.
“We have been seduced into the wonders of the search engine, but you can’t find what’s not there. You can spend a lot of time not getting where you want to be.
“For the customer a lot of the novelty of the search process has worn off.”
Travel technology giant Amadeus has sought to address the ‘paradox of choice’ problem through its Featured Search technology which narrows down the results to the most relevant.
This is an evolution of its Extreme Search technology, originally developed by its leisure sector Traveltainment arm, which sought to exponentially broaden the number of search options.
But Healey’s vision signals a revival of a more traditional tour operating approach in which product and deals are sourced by travel experts to meet demand based on knowledge of the market.
So rather than websites effectively saying ‘we have limitless product options, all you have to do is find your perfect combination’, it says ‘we have the perfect holidays for you, and here they are’.
This is the philosophy behind Healey’s newest division in Vertical Group, Your Hotel Integration, which he says is a modern version of the old General Sales Agent (GSA) approach.
YHI provides partner hotels and resorts with their own bookable content-rich websites and a UK sales team to fulfil leads, while the exclusive offers it can access are retailed through Vertical’s Holiday Experts homeworking division.
This division of Vertical sits under umbrella brand Your Holiday Booking, run by director of sales and development Chris North.
He said because YHB packages all the elements of the holiday, including airline ancillaries and transfers, and combines that with the exclusive hotel offers it has, the customer believes in the deal being offered.
Due to its partnership with hotels, YHI contracts specific rooms, so it can guarantee particular grades or room-types, like family accommodation or interlocking rooms.
The portfolio currently includes 35 properties, some single hotels and some small chains, in holiday hot spots like Greece, Spain the Canaries and Italy.
North said: “Some of the hotels we work with are maybe already in other markets and looking to break into the UK, others are already working with traditional tour operators and bed banks.
“The feedback from hotels is there is a lot of negativity around the bed banks and the OTAs. Many are not applying minimum mark ups and they are dumping prices and that damages the hotel name.”
North said YHB and Holiday Experts are trained to focus on upsell opportunities and claimed 50% of its upsell options are taken while the company has a 30% repeat customer rate.