4 Essential Technologies Travel Agencies Should Invest in 2019
The tourism industry over the last few years has witnessed a major shift in how travel is planned and booked. Let’s look at leisure travel for example: A few years ago, a customer looking to go on a holiday would typically pop into a travel agent’s office, explain to them their travel preferences, what kind of activities they’re interested in, the length of their trip and how much they’re willing to spend on the holiday.
The travel agent would then offer them some options based on their knowledge and product availability, with sample itineraries and approximate costs. These discussions would go on for a few days, possibly weeks before the client finalized a plan/package.
Fast forward to 2019, the same customer would pull out their mobile phone/laptop, launch their favourite app/site and start planning their itinerary and make the bookings themselves. That’s what’s fundamentally changed.
Customers want to be in control, and the internet has allowed them to do just that. It has empowered them to access all the information they want – whenever they want, wherever they want and in whatever form they want, be it blog posts and guides, checklists, reviews, videos, images, or even virtual 360 degree tours!
The modern traveler also loves deals. They would visit 10 different sites to find out where they can find the cheapest hotel, flight or a vacation package. Moreover, many of them don’t want to pay the whole cost upfront. They want flexible payment options, such as ‘Book now pay later’ or EMIs.
The pay later option, now offered by many OTAs, has become particularly popular for a lot of leisure travelers owing to increasingly stringent visa norms across many countries. The pay later option allows them to reserve a room without prepayment, so even if their visa gets refused, they don’t lose money.
Technology has significantly simplified and sped up the buying process – What used to take weeks, even months, can now be completed within hours. We’re living in the age of instant gratification and customers want everything to be smooth and fast. So it’s essential for travel firms to be equipped with the right tools to make that happen for their clients.
So what are the top technology tools they need to win customers in 2019? Let’s take a look:
1) Online Reservations and Back-office Management
As we mentioned earlier, a lot of customers today (particularly the millennials) like to search and book travel products online, at the cheapest prices possible. This makes it essential for modern travel firms to invest in a Travel ERP system with self-booking capabilities to provide their clients the flexibility and convenience they demand. With an online reservation system, agencies can accept bookings 24×7 with live pricing and availability. Customers are increasingly using mobile to book flights and hotels, so make sure the booking software you use is mobile-friendly. Whether to invest in a native mobile app or not is a matter of debate. For most small/mid-sized firms, a responsive website is sufficient.
A Travel ERP not only improves customer satisfaction, it also reduces an agency’s operational costs. By automating the ticketing and accounting, it allows agency owners and their staff spend less time on mundane tasks such as manually sending quotes/booking confirmations and calculating agent commissions, and more time on their core competencies. Moreover, it also reduces accounting errors that arise out of manual/offline bookings.
A good ERP also has a call center module that allows agents to make online bookings on behalf of their clients, using live inventory. This saves them the hassle of logging into different systems or calling suppliers for fares and availability, ultimately minimizing turnaround time and helping them generate more quotes and bookings in a given period of time.
The industry is going to be more competitive in 2019 for travel intermediaries than ever before, and margins are going to get thinner, making it essential to minimize operational costs, and using a Travel ERP is the best way to do that.
2) Customer Management and Personalization
Customers today want personalization at every touch point. They expect travel providers to be well versed with their tastes and preferences and tailor their experience accordingly. Personalization in 2019 goes well beyond using the customer’s name in an email, or wishing them on their birthday/anniversary. It’s about making the customer feel at home when dealing with your brand, and minimizing friction. So when a customer lands on your site/app, they should see personalized suggestions based on their browsing and purchase history.
This is possible by using personalization platforms that use big data and predictive analytics to transform static content elements such as images, CTA buttons and promotions and tailor them for different segments based on their past behaviour. Eg, is the customer has been frequently browsing flights on a certain route, or hotels in a certain destination, they should see flight/hotel promotions related to their searches, or receive emails or text messages that relevant to their interests.
Personalization is not limited to the pre-trip stage. Travel firms can also use it to offer suggestions and ancillaries once the customer arrives at the destination, eg. Suggesting them good restaurants around their hotel or things to do based on their interests. All these can go a long way in increasing customer engagement and loyalty.
It’s no rocket science that the more targeted the marketing communications; higher will be the chances of the customer converting. A lot of travelers have become accustomed to a high level of personalization from brands like Amazon and Netflix, and now expect the same from travel providers. Though it might require a significant initial investment, it’s worth every penny as it’s a great way for brands to stand out in an increasingly competitive market.
3) Marketing Automation and AI
Even though tourism is part of the service industry where the human element and personal touch are crucial, there is a lot of room for automation and use of artificial intelligence. As travel businesses scale and expand into different segments and geographies, so does the breadth of their marketing and customer service.
Whether it’s acquiring new clients, or nurturing existing ones, running highly targeted campaigns across a large audience necessitates a high degree of automation. Thankfully, there are tons of sophisticated tools available today that can help brands automate their marketing and scale economically.
Marketing automation and AI provide travel firms several benefits, including:
- Sending personalized offers to diverse customer segments via email, text or social media
- Retargeting customers who visited your site/app but didn’t make a booking
- Sending automated departure and arrival notifications on web and mobile
- Reminding customers of saved items in their shopping cart
- Answering customer queries or processing routine tasks using Chatbots
- Automatically sending feedback forms or surveys after a trip, and much more…
Many of the modern marketing automation solutions like Hubspot, Act-on, Mailchimp and Adobe include CRM capabilities, or integrate with your existing CRM. They allow you to segment your customers and build landing pages to optimize conversions. They also provide in-depth marketing and customer analytics to help you make more informed business decisions.
4) Inventory Management & Tour Building
Tours and activities is one of the fastest growing segments in online travel. More and more people are using the internet to find tours and experiences that match their tastes and budget. However, tour building and inventory management remains one of the most time consuming areas for a travel agency or a tour operator. They have contracts with several local accommodation, activities and ground transportation suppliers, and managing that inventory and building hundreds of itineraries on paper or spreadsheets can be an administrative nightmare for the agency staff.
Thankfully, there are solutions available in the market that help travel agencies and tour operators efficiently manage their catalogue of directly contracted inventory and put together different components from it to create complex tour packages online and store everything on the cloud. Using such a solution, agency owners can manage pricing, allocations, schedules, content and many other important aspects of their inventory on a user-friendly web-based interface.
Such systems are also extremely useful in building quotes, particularly for custom tours, which when done manually can be quite time consuming and prone to errors. Using a tour management system can eliminate manual errors, improve staff productivity and close opportunities faster.
Feel there are any other areas where technology can help agents in 2019? Do let us know in the comments section below.