Thursday, January 10, 2008

Can agents win over time-poor travel shoppers?

Kev's blogging time is limited at the moment, so here’s an open question to Travo readers from the Travel Weekly Blog.

In each issue of Travel Weekly we interview a prominent person about their travel habits.

This week, ECPAT UK director Chris Beddoe gave us the following response when we asked whether she books online or with an agent:

Definitely online, because the only time I have to think about holidays is after 10pm.

Where does that leave smaller agencies?

Do they try to compete online by investing in better web services - e.g. adding supplier data feeds to their site?

Or do they play to their traditional strengths, emphasising in their marketing that an agent could be exactly what someone with very little time to think about holidays needs?

Even worse, do they have to admit that someone in Beddoe's situation is lost to them?

Do your worst: I'll feature some of your responses in a post on the Travel Weekly Blog.

Nathan Midgley, web producer, Travel Weekly


Darren Cronian said...

I think those agents that provide 24-hour, booking online are going to be the winners in the long term.

Like Chris, I usually look for holidays late at night [I'm looking for a hotel in Berlin right now actually!]

It's great that smaller travel agencies are getting involved in the internet, but having a site which doesn't allow booking is pretty useless to me.

I get 30 mins lunchbreak, which is not enough to run around the high-street, so the internet is how I book nowadays.

Walter said...

I agree with both and I would think that booking a hotel in Berlin definitely is an online matter.

But the Web still gives me a hard time when I want to play golf in Vietnam or even Majorca. What's the good season for South Vietnam regarding weather? Because you need to know that the weather is very different in North Vietnam. And what handicap is required on which golf course? Do I actually need a visa? A matter that didn't even occur to me ahead of time when surfing the Web...

I also had an online look at a safari in Kenya with extension in Zanzibar. The combinations of local safari flights out of Mombasa are numerous, some even leave from a little airport South of Mombasa that would fit nicely with one of the beach hotels there, had you only known that and wouldn't stay at a beach hotel North of Mombasa...

I ended up booking with a specialised agent and the Little Governor's Camp was splendid!

I guess the Web still lends itself perfectly for simple tasks such as flights, city trips, rental cars. But even when you start combining these items it can easily take you hours.

So? I think people will want to prove to themselves that they could actually find and book all these things if they wanted. But... they will do it once or twice and then return to a savvy (!) agent because it's still more efficient.

I found my golf agent for certain destinations. He comes up with amazing stuff I may or may not have found on the Web...

Nathan said...

Thanks Darren, Walter ... sounds to me like one vote for invest in technology (Darren) and one vote for play to their traditional strengths (Walter).

Gualterio said...

No, it's both really. I think agents should harvest on the disadvantages of the Web but they should also invest in tech support such as CRM. Because the Web is after you, as suggested in another post: Not only are websites becoming more and more user friendly, they also become more savvy regarding your preferences. They start storing your click behaviour from newsletters and website navigation and start merchandising based on your profile or display only content relevant to you altogether (if your clicks allow for proper profiling, that is).

Once websites do this properly, agents will need to focus even more on niche offerings.

DJ said...

The point is that "booking" is not where agents add value. It's in "finding" and "recommending" particularly if what you want is unusual or undefined.

Agents need new models that allow them to get paid for playing to their strengths

Nathan said...

Thanks Gualterio, very nice points.

DJ - any idea what those new models might be? :)