Marketing and innovation director at digital transformation agency Equator Martin Jordan gives his opinion on finding success in the travel industry.
When you look at the hole in the high street that Thomas Cook left behind, it’s evident the travel agent was sitting on a lot of legacy. Several of its retail units were so large that they made little sense in the 21st century.
Just as it was with Blockbuster and its aisles upon aisles of tapes and DVDs, the travel agent of old, filled with hundreds of paper brochures, has become obsolete.
However, unlike renting a movie, booking a holiday is still very much a thing, and remains a complex and costly business. And having a physical presence is still important for a large percentage of the holiday-booking population. Therefore, creating a customer experience that is more exciting than a cavernous retail unit and considers customers’ needs is pivotal. Much akin to the reinvention of the high street bank, there is an opportunity to reinvent the travel agency experience.
By delivering something the web cannot, brands can make it less about penny pinching at every stage. Augmenting human skill with the best digital browsing experience should be a priority for brands in this space.
This can include fully immersive video content about destinations, smart guides and an exciting space that makes people feel good about their investment in a holiday. Brands can reassure and reward those who still want someone else to do the hard work – and make a travel agency visit a must for almost any demographic.
As with any sector where disruptors enter the game, travel brands need to change, adapt and evolve. The threat may come from many small startups looking to change a traditional approach to solving an issue. This could be in the form of how car hire or transfers are packaged and delivered or how holiday searches are conducted. Or it could come from tech giants moving into the space and driving such vast technological influence that it completely redefines a sector.
In either scenario, it is the service design, the human elements and the reassurance and knowledge these offer that present the opportunity to set brands apart. There is an outstanding amount to be known in the travel space. Digitising that knowledge and using technology to eradicate inefficiencies and limitations can keep brands ahead.
But such undertakings must always be customer-first. The value is in truly knowing their needs and packaging them in a way that depreciates the importance of price, replacing it instead with trust and reassurance. Bringing knowledge and technology together in the design offering is what will disrupt the tech giants in their path to owning everything.
easyJet Holidays is prime example of how the industry needs to evolve in order to accommodate consumers. The new venture, powered by Artificial Intelligence, launched its data-driven offering to much fanfare, signalling a major transformation from what was once a legacy tour operator. The new, tech-focused offering is hardly a surprising move. With Google Travel already chipping away at the sector’s margins and other tech giants poised to enter the game, brands are rethinking their strategies.
easyJet and Ryanair moved from being budget shuttle services to European aviation leaders, the new norm in air travel over the flag carriers of old. New jet technologies will ultimately enable budget airlines to become truly transatlantic. With other airline innovations around the corner, consumers could soon be able to travel inexpensively from the UK to continental USA on aircraft they’re used to travelling domestically on. It makes sense for easyJet to be in this space.
It doesn’t end with carriers either. Brands like Skyscanner and Kayak are putting more power into the hands of consumers, informing them of the best flight options, collating package prices and more. Consumers have never had so much booking choice. And perhaps this is the problem. They’re overwhelmed by it. They can kit build their holidays piece-by-piece. Aggregator services exist for every part: flights, hotels, transfers, car hire, experiences, travel insurance, airport parking and so on… all things previously “packaged” in a holiday.
Nevertheless, statistics show consumers are booking more package holidays than ever, thanks to three things. Firstly, choice is overwhelming. Select any of the above ‘stages’ in a travel journey and you are likely to be drowned by choice… 30 different hire cars to choose from, nine different airport parking companies, 200 hotels, 25 airport transfer options, it is a LOT to coordinate.
Secondly, when it’s all self-managed insurance cover is more limited for travellers than using ABTA and ATOL protected options – both of which were in place for those affected by the Thomas Cook collapse. The future of our holidays is in the balance, empowered by technology. We’re not bound to the 7, 10- or 14-day routines of old. We’re not stuck with charter flights and an airport transfer that stops everywhere. There is a third way.
Next, technology can help brands stay ahead when it is contemporary, connected and clever. Contemporary in that everything that drives business and creates sales is current and updated from legacy systems. Brands cannot expect to ward off the threat of Google Travel or easyJet Holidays with people alone – they must be sitting on a strong foundation of modern technology.
This must be connected, with as much visibility of what the world has to offer that the consumer could find on their own steam as a minimum. And it needs to be clever – this is where the competition hopes to steal the edge. By exploiting Machine Learning, Cloud Computing and other edge computing technologies, tech giants hope to deliver a personalised service without people. And for a large chunk of the market, they will undoubtedly succeed.
But it’s in the marriage of technology and human talent that there is an opportunity to standout. With such turbulence and complexity in the marketplace, the consumer will be reassured with the human touch and will be willing to pay for that reassurance.