The present and future of the modern travel trade points to the demise of the technophobe.
It’s time to make a decision: embrace the changes in your industry, learn how to service the now traveller and remain relevant; or reject the evolution of demand and become a tech dinosaur.
Travellers drive travel tech demand
They’re researching destinations, accommodation options, different experiences, sights to see, activities to do, and they’re doing it online, on laptops, tablets and mobile phones. They’re comparing travel products, prices, offerings, routings, and checking boxes as they go: is it on-trend, is it responsible, what are other travellers saying about it, what are the alternatives? Once they’re inspired because the imagery they’ve seen is persuasive and the descriptions resonate with the bucket list dream, particular requirements are met – that crucial moment for everyone involved – they want to book immediately.
Before and during travel, the convenience of access to travel content on- and offline meets the demand of the traveller in love with travel apps. Tech has the moves to facilitate that. A Travelport study of digital usage for travel-related purposes identifies the top 19 user nations below – are they part of your target market?
- Saudi Arabia
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
- United Kingdom
They want apps to use when they’re travelling, the kind of technology that makes travel easier for them, with maps and instant messaging proving to be the most popular at destination stage. Some might argue this business of apps is just a trend that’ll pass. But modern consumers are too heavily influenced by trends, including digital ones, partly because they’ve got that #FOMO but also because the notion of being tech savvy or dependent is becoming a trust barometer for brands.
Tech savvy good, absence of tech bad. It probably started as an easier, quicker way to compare different products (online) but it became a way for brands to assert transparency. Now the association with tech is necessary to win the consumer’s trust. If you’re in the digital race, you’re seen to have a level of expertise and competency, to be forward-thinking, service-driven, a luxury brand, reliable, accessible, and ultimately, the new face of professionalism.
If no alarm bells are ringing for you, let me ask you this: what’s your mobile strategy?
Up to 80% of last-minute bookings are made on mobile devices.
Tech loves some tasty Content
Ultimately, it’s content that travellers are after. But what they want to see – the type of inspiring, honest and accurate content that informs good travel choices – is often not what they get. There’s so much of it online – and with the vast and growing majority of travellers researching online rather than printed media at risk of being old news – that it’s a pain to sift through the gravel for the golden nuggets. Also, content can be available online but left unattended, badly managed. Those images that do inspire travellers to visit a destination could sadly be out of date by the time they travel.
Digital images, videos, virtual tours, something to click on and interact with, these hold sway over the imagination, they dig into fantasies and arouse curiosity and wanderlust.
Bookmark it to take another peek later, share it with a friend, comment on it on social media.
Its emotive quality makes of it a sweet manipulation that wannabe travellers are happy to luxuriate in because its true purpose is to entertain and transport them. You can’t click on paper.
This potent new currency in travel marketing is the kind of mojo you want for your website and need for your sales collateral. These content forms have the power to inspire travel choices of destination, activity, place or mode of accommodation or travel, and of a general travel experience. It crowns the travel buying journey and makes content King.
Distribution wears the pants
We understand what it means in our business. To travellers, it translates into what they get to see, where they see it and how they access that all important content. I’m planning a trip as we speak and I’ve done a fair bit of research on my mobile phone, on my tablet and then on my laptop – depending on where I am, what I’m doing, and time of day. Like me, about 80% of travellers from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Mexico and the USA visit travel inspiration sites to research destinations even if they end up booking with travel professionals. Whoever gets their travel content seen and marvelled at first, with the greatest impact, that’s who rules the roost. And running alongside across the winning line is relevance.
You’ve seen those articles or videos questioning the relevance of travel professionals. Why use a travel agent? Having worked in the industry, I know about those people who want everything done for them, because they don’t have time, because they know they don’t know enough. Whatever travel professional label you assign yourselves, you are vital. For your expertise, your destination knowledge, the fact that you know better than your client how to spend 3 days in Chiang Mai and what beach destination is ideal for mountain climbing and spelunking too. It’s super fun sitting online and researching, daydreaming and drooling over what could be – that’s the fun we don’t want to take away from travellers. Instead we give them something more: the invaluable foresight of experience and shared business intelligence that translate into practical, sound travel advice travellers can count on.
Are tour operators necessary? Absolutely, for your contacts, connections in-destination and competitive rates.
With such clear advantages going to bat for the travel professional, getting on board with tech raises the profession to a higher level and into the future of travel.
Thriving means growing your market share and converting more enquiries in a shorter time.
It means gaining a broader audience, exposing your brand to new demographic groups, language groups and traveller types.
It means becoming more efficient in your operations, in quoting, product design, marketing and customer service.
Tech has a game-changing role to play in each of these areas. It turns challenges presented by change into opportunities as if by alchemy.
Tech is only for youngsters
If that’s what you’re thinking, you’ve already given up. It makes good business sense to source new staff based on how tech savvy they are – if your travellers are tech savvy, they have certain expectations, and you don’t want your clients skipping ahead of where you and your staff are at. While it tends to be most prevalent among the younger of our species, tech savoir faire can come in any age. The key is to invest in the skills, in the mindset, in the curiosity and willingness to learn and adapt.
As for the staff that has carried you to where you are now – trusty, loyal and utterly knowledgeable of the trade and destinations you sell – encourage them to embrace tech for the friend it is. No need to reinvent the wheel – just welcome innovations that help it run more smoothly. There are plenty of ways that tech makes the work of selling travel easier, faster and less cumbersome. There are ways in which it simplifies operations, promotes productivity, facilitates good service and saves resources. You can be pioneers of the trade and accept that tech will continue to pave the way forward or fear it and get left in the dust. And where you can’t be first to take the leap (among the early adopters), you can at least ensure you’re not last!
In this information age there’s so much out there for the trade to keep track of too; so you and your staff should take the time to read online trade news and blogs.
Digital makes it easier for us to stay current with the latest trends and important events, rendering old school printed trade guides obsolete.
Another opportunity to shine in the digital space is to regularly share your own blog and digital newsletter with trade partners and clients. Information is power: the more relevant and up-to-date the info, the more powerful your brand is.
Same old stayed old
What if you dismissed new tools because you felt intimated by the technology behind it? You’d never read up about them and learn how they work, try to implement them to check for fit.. You’d never know how much you could streamline your processes if you don’t try out new methods and tools.
Your business is driven by value: the value you add to the journey and what you gain by investing in the right work tools.
Tech adds the values of time, precision and accuracy to the work you do, paying forward to what you then offer your clients: quicker response times, accurate costing, insider knowledge of accommodation and other suppliers of travel beautifully showcased, and levels of support and assistance that reassure travellers.
If not for this value, travellers would throw their fate in with self-service and hope for the best.
Collaborating via tech
What are your suppliers doing? Are they innovating, staying abreast of changes, willing to adapt? A gentle nudge from you can help them on board the innovation train. Internally, you can work smarter with tech, organise, collaborate with teams, share info remotely, keep track of deadlines and important trade events. You can integrate existing with new systems for efficiency and really impress clients. Those things you used to do over the phone, by email and in-person, technology gets you organising faster and networking further afield.
Fear of tech and all things digital is an irrational one. Even if you resent it, at least acknowledge its significance. It represents change, something many folks dread. What’s wrong with doing things the good old way? Because you get what you’ve always gotten – no more. It was the same with fire – now we can’t imagine life without it.
The idea of travel has always been glamorous, but the great prospect for us is how much more accessible travel and the world has become for all sorts of travel consumers worldwide. It gives us a larger audience to ply our trade to. People of different nationalities, interests and requirements, adhering to different trends. Travel tech is a bridge between your efforts to offer them meaningful experiences and running a business. You’re already on the right path because opportunity is on that stage too, waiting for you to steal the show.