Travolution held the final meeting of the year of its editorial advisory board this month. Lee Hayhurst reports on the discussion about the current state of the travel sector and prospects for 2012.
An obsession with trying to replicate desktop search and book functionality on smartphones is leading some travel retailers to under-invest in their call centre capability.
Speaking at the last meeting of the Travolution Advisory Board, members said the phone remained the most lucrative channel for travel sellers but one that has been downgraded over the years.
Google travel industry head Dan Robb said with 20% of all queries now coming via mobile the case for investing in mobile was clear.
But he said there would be a considerable cost of entry, particularly for full-service sites optimised for mobile.
However, he added: “It’s a phone – take your customers to your call centre. You do not have to go down the route of an enormous amount of rich content.
“People are obsessed by the PC capabilities of smartphones but when people come though from an ad they are requesting a service, and usually that can be delivered on the phone.”
Robb said the phone was not the be all and end all, but was playing an increasingly big role in tying the various marketing and sales channels together.
“Mobile spans all of the distribution channels,” he said. “In retail you have applications like QR codes and Near Field Communication, there’s call centres and online access.
“It’s the gel that pulls it together but it’s not everything.”
Andrew Nicholson, Traveltainment UK managing director, said it was amazing how things had moved from a strategy of “get people online, keep people online and close the call centre”.
Nathan Timmins, head of online marketing at Tui Travel, said decline in call centre volume has undermined the channel.
“Use the functionality of what these things (smartphones) were originally intended for. Call centres are continually written off.”
Timmins said investment was moving back into click-to-call technology which gives travel firms a far more trackable sales channel and one that provides a better level of customer service.
“In more traditional companies like ours technology is an enabler to do business cross platform and multi-channel.
“If you are saying you're customer centric then the consumer should decide how they want to book, how they want to interact.
“Whether it’s online, over the phone or through social media, it should not matter.”
The emphasis on customer service was something Matthew Crummack, lastminute.com president, said was driving its strategy.
“When you sell everything from a short trip to Spain to a two week holiday in Kenya you need a dynamic consumer service operation.
“We have put a lot of work into that over the last year. We have a really cool set of individuals out in Krakow in an operation we own. They are people who really love the brand. From a sales perspective we have been really ramping up in that particular area.
“I’m pretty ambivalent about whether somebody wants to book online or offline as we are just a business that offers services. I hope we offer great services and product and we should be making it easier for the customer to book with us.”