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Arabian Travel News - Why leisure matters: Getting online

Arabian Travel News - Why leisure matters: Getting online

If you're a bricks-and-mortar travel agent reading this publication I am guessing you have read my headline and think you know the answer.

Your immediate response is that you need to be online because it's imperative you compete with the big Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) whom you believe are gradually eating away at your customer base, particularly with the amount of consolidation we are currently witnessing in this arena.

You are correct — you definitely need B2B and B2C booking engines to allow your trade partners and customers to buy your product online at the right price and in real time. But that's just scratching the surface in terms of how you should be using technology and the online space to run your business.

Your online strategy is an essential facet of your overall business strategy and both could be in need of a serious overhaul.

Your entire business should be automated and integrated to enable you to effectively manage your content, your operations and all your back office functions. If the solution you use is web-based, you can do this from anywhere in the world.

From a front-office perspective you need the aforementioned booking engines to allow your clients and partners to browse and book your content 24/7, plus you need be able to sit with a mobile device in front of your customer either in your office or at their home.

Online also matters because it's essential you have access to your business performance data, arming you with the information you need to run your company as effectively and as profitably as possible.

But perhaps most importantly, you need to view and analyse data that reveals the travel booking behaviour and preferences of your clients and the travel market in general.

This type of market intelligence, which should feed into your CRM systems, is the information you need to tailor your products, services, deals and marketing strategies.

It's time to think about who your customers are, what they want and when they want it and provide them with the right product and services at the right time, the right price, and on the right device.

You need to make better use of technology to decide what your customers want, to contract product, to construct a package or deal tailored to each audience or individual traveller and then to distribute it.

You then need to consider how you communicate with your customers, creating an ongoing conversation with them whether they have booked with you recently or not. It's most likely you'll be doing this via their mobile devices.

Recent PhoCusWright data found the mobile phone market is overwhelmingly “travel industry-ready”, with 97 to 99% of travellers now owning a mobile phone.

Most smartphone owners are keeping their devices on them 24/7, allowing travel shopping to happen anytime, anywhere.

Seven out of 10 travellers have apps on their smartphones, and 64% of them prefer these apps to mobile websites.

They use their phones for a multitude of functions while on the go including searching, booking and paying for flights and hotels, as well as add-ons. Google recently changed its search responses to favour mobile responsive websites.

Travel agents need to react to this trend now, ensuring their website is at least mobile responsive as a point of reference before taking their technology one step further to provide mobile booking capabilities.

They should also take into consideration the future rapid uptake of new devices such as the Apple Watch. It's another device that will allow your customers to stay digitally connected throughout their trip, creating more interaction opportunities and a chance to up-sell ancillary products.

Playing successfully in the online world means bringing simplicity to complexity and that's how smart web-based technology can help you stand out in a marketplace where many systems are clunky and lack intuitiveness.

If you complement this online strategy with an effective offline service, you have a recipe for success.

Your ability to provide product and destination expertise and a one-to-one customer service support will set you in good stead when your clients need advice and reassurance.

This can be done in person, but it can also be managed digitally, and that's where a well thought out communications and social media strategy comes into play.

Keeping open lines of communication will also help you identify new and upcoming travel trends and traveller behaviours allowing you to evolve your online strategy in sync.

We already know travellers are seeking greater personalisation, more intuitive search capabilities and more opportunities to communicate, research and book their travel plans online and through a number of devices and channels.

The travel companies who use technology to meet these demands and balance it correctly with human interaction and personalisation will be the most successful.

Online matters, not only because it's the space where your customers are forever present, but because automation and cloud-based solutions and services are the most effective ways of running your entire travel business