The traveller is looking for expert advice and reassurance as travel opens up again. Help is required to navigate complex travel restrictions and covid testing regimes that are likely to be in place for some time to come. A pure online, self-service experience is no longer meeting our customer expectations. Many travellers have experienced the nightmare of having booked via an online travel agency with separate flights, accommodation, and car rentals, only to find they had little protection from cancelations and/or difficulties with customer service call centres. However, the convenience of online will continue to be important as traffic generated on the high street moves to book online. The big question is, how do holiday companies make the most of their ‘in-person’ (from high street to call centres), and gain a competitive advantage, whilst ensuring they maintain profitability? Really embracing an Omni-channel selling and servicing model, needs both the right business model and technology platform but the rewards to both customer and company are considerable.
Post Covid-19 and beyond the travel industry, we are seeing many large brands exiting the high street. Others however, are embracing a true Omni-channel retail experience, allowing customers to move seamlessly between their online and offline presence. The high street will have to redefine itself as a ‘destination’, inspiring and entertaining consumers as they browse and purchase from the high street stores. This model is perfect for holiday companies, as travellers are looking to blend the convenience of online inspiration, searching, booking and servicing, with the reassurance, advice and expertise that can be found at the local travel agency.
Many travellers have been caught out during Covid-19, with non-refundable individual bookings. The flight may have been cancelled, but the hotel was still operating or vice versa. Gaining refunds has proved difficult with many OTAs operating under different jurisdictions, passing the issue straight through to the supplier and having limited ‘customer service’ capabilities. Tour operators have always offered flexibility, but in uncertain times, that becomes even more crucial (CondeNast Traveller June 2020).
Travel companies are getting enquiries from customers who have never used an agency before (euronews.com June2021). The protection of a ‘package’ plus the friendly face on a known high street brand, is reassuring the traveller. The advice and experience in sourcing accommodation and flight options helps to tailor the holiday. The level of expertise that these brands have, is not readily available in the more commoditised offering of the large OTAs, which is making the ‘packaged’ holiday very attractive.
Using modern platforms, these holiday companies can now offer a completely dynamically built package to suit the traveller’s needs, creating options to best fit the requirements of the traveller’s party size, destination choices and travel dates. Combining both their own and dynamically sourced inventory, the choices offered can compete with the self-build package without the risks, time consuming effort and endless collating of vouchers and booking confirmations.
Combining this online capability with the travel agencies expertise and advice, packages can be tailored and personalised with add-ons. This creates upselling and cross selling opportunities after the initial booking which improves both the customer experience and margins. Travel companies can supplement their online channels, not with large call centres, but by routing calls to high street travel agencies for that personalised service. Likewise, a holiday booked at your friendly local travel agency, is equally available for you to update, tailor and personalise online, after the initial offering was created.
Post Covid-19 travel will require businesses to utilise the travel agent experts and a true Omni-channel platform in order to deliver the optimal customer experience. From search to booking, departure to post stay, having an Omni-channel approach, combined with the technology platform capable of this seamless integration, will be key in the battle for the loyalty of the customer of tomorrow.