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The travel industry must get modern

The travel industry must get modern

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Travel agents could become the go-to for holiday seekers. They have all the tools to offer a customised experience for travellers but they need to market themselves as a one-stop-shop. Jen Catto, Chief Marketing Officer, Travelport explains how their research shows that customers say getting what they want is more important than price. With this in mind, she explains how travel agencies can add meaningful value to consumers’ experiences while using modern retail solutions to streamline the shopping process.

The Internet has changed everything, and digital innovation has transformed the traditional retailing experience. Consumers today are spoilt for choice with great shopping options. A shopper can compare products, check availability and order items all within a matter of minutes and without leaving their house. Shopping has become a fast and efficient process, but unfortunately, travel retailing hasn’t.

In an increasingly inter-connected world powered by technological advances, it’s high time for travel to ‘get modern’. But where does the industry start? To become modern, travel retailers must understand modern. Travellers don’t want a fully automated travel retailing process. In fact, our recent study (entitled What consumers want) revealed that most people aged between 18-41 (83%) want human-led support – and this includes the digital natives that make up Gen Y and Gen Z. Consumers want offers tailored to their interests and needs, with on-hand support from travel agents to supply the best deal. Ultimately, travellers want an enjoyable, stress-free and convenient retail experience.

A modern digital experience should aim to simplify the process for all involved, from suppliers to travel agents through to travellers – championing travel agents along the way. If we can improve the whole journey by ‘getting modern’, everyone wins.

The complexity of travel

People love to travel and, in a hybrid working world, many now have more flexibility and time to do just that. While the travel industry is not new to online retailing and booking, the process of finding, comparing and booking tends to be more difficult than it should be. Arguably, the blame can be placed on the complexity within the travel industry. From processes involved to sort through the millions of offers and options for a single trip, to the difficulty of assembling a single itinerary across multiple purchase points, and of course, the frustrating exchange and refund process – travel retailing can be a burdensome task for all parties involved. And while travel is complex, the burden shouldn’t fall on travellers.

Consumers expect choice and it’s crucial they are provided with it. But, choice can be overwhelming and having the ability to easily filter from several options down to ones that best meet a traveller’s needs, is the difference between a great experience and a frustrating one. In Travelport’s What consumers want study, we determined that the majority (59%) of consumers say getting what they want is more important than price. This means, travel is missing out on higher sales opportunities when we focus on price points and do not present the options travellers want most while they’re shopping.

This is where travel agencies are best placed to offer the customer a modern retailing experience. Travel agents have all available choices to hand and can tailor the experience for their customers. So, they can spare travellers the complexities and instead present them with choices that best meet their wants and needs, in the same way that today’s modern retailers are doing when it comes to other products and consumer goods.

What is a modern retail experience?

A modern retail transformation will look feel different for travel, but it can be delivered in the same way as other industries in retailing. For agents, the experience will be underpinned by retailers who grasp modern expectations and build their processes around them to customise and transform the consumer journey from beginning to end. But travel retailers can look to other examples of great consumer retail experiences for inspiration.

Let’s consider how companies like Amazon and ASOS have differentiated themselves. As single marketplaces for thousands of suppliers, they provide consumers with a one-stop-shop for their needs. Travel agencies are uniquely positioned to be this one-stop-shop within the travel ecosystem. They can add meaningful value to consumers’ experiences while using modern retail solutions to streamline the shopping process. There’s a lot of competition in the space, so a modern travel retailer needs to craft a unique user experience that makes them the landing spot for purchase. Better retailing and merchandising technology are key to this unique experience.

Consumers want personalisation but they don’t necessarily expect it, especially in travel. Our research supports the fact that travellers don’t trust that curation is done well enough to take the full range of choices out of their hands. They’d rather suffer the work of sorting choices than let the retailer choose for them and maybe get it wrong (78%). But, a clear majority (64%) said if they received customised offers from companies they have already purchased from, they would likely buy from them again.

To stand out from the crowd, travel agents should prioritse personalised offers and recommendations. This will cement their position as a go-to contact and resource for all of their travel needs. The right travel technology can help agents achieve this capability. Content that is provided to agents can be delivered via data that can then be used by AI algorithms to guarantee shoppers see what they need when searching. By making travel content ‘retail ready’, agency shelves are prepared to display the right fares and personalised offers. If consumers feel heard, this system builds loyalty, trust and earns the ultimate compliment – repeated business.

It’s time to get modern

Travel suppliers have continued to improve their direct channels. They’ve broadened their offers to provide travellers with updated routes, more choice in seat sizes, extra legroom, pre-ordered meals and more. But, if travellers can’t access these choices all in one place, customers will continue to have complex fragmented experiences and everyone loses out.

Investing in the technology needed to improve travel retailing enables travel agents more choice and better knowledge when servicing customers. The benefits then come full circle – when travel agencies ‘get modern’, travellers purchase more and suppliers earn more.

‘Getting modern’ is a process. The journey can be a long and challenging one for agencies without the proper technical support, and without proper investment into improving older systems, the travel industry is at a risk of falling behind. Suppliers have done a great job at servicing travellers. It’s now time to get behind travel agencies – the true modern retailers of travel – so that we can all deliver a better experience for consumers.

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