Shayna Zand, head of partnerships at WeTravel, explained how modern booking and payments platforms can help smaller operators deliver a customer experience on a par with the industry giants
Travolution Summit 2023: Automisation and customisation are now a necessity
Travellers now have an expectation that buying processes like payment and pre-trip communications are automated but firms have to be able to customise them.
Shayna Zand, head of partnerships at WeTravel, the booking and payment platform built for SMEs, that online customer have an expectation of instantaneous customisation.
She said while providing this sort of service might seem daunting for smaller firms competing with the industry giants it is now possible through automation.
Pointing to how consumers are purchasing in other retail sectors, Zand said: “Consumers can take a couch can place that image directly in their living room before they actually purchase it.
“And travellers can now take an itinerary and within seconds customise it online through add-ons or preferences, or they can work with a travel advisor or a tour operator’s tailormade or groups team to entirely re-work and re-price a tour package.
“And similarly, the pandemic heightened this thing called choice payment, by which a consumer can decide when and how they pay for an item or service if they pay the total price at checkout at all.
“What started as a book now pay later feature to offset high cost items like couches has now become commonplace for even lower cost items. FinTech platforms are becoming the lenders replacing traditional banks. So what does this all mean for the travel business?”
Zand said WeTravel conducted a survey of 200 global tour operators in December last year to find out.
“Overwhelmingly, we saw the same theme of customisation in bookings and payment processes. Travellers are seeking options when booking and paying for high-cost tours, especially in uncertain and turbulent times.
“In travel, the more customisation a tour operator can offer its customers from the first trip page interaction to the follow-up email, marketing and payment options, the better the business will convert sales and improve its customer experience.
In the same survey, when comparing 2023 to 2019 we found that an average of 10% of operators saw a decrease in total up-front payments for travel, with more than 80% saying travellers like to pay with at least one instalment, but actually the most common was four.
“In 2023, more than 60% of our tour operators expect more reliance on instalment payments, book now pay later, and options like crypto payments.
“When it comes to offering front-end options for travellers for how and where they pay to adding meals and excursions to an existing tour, it's no longer a nice to have, it's now becoming a necessity.”
Zand said API integrations and automation technology is being adopted to increase productivity and efficiency and to reduce human error and allow business divisions to work more collaboratively.
Through these automated integrations the business owner can automate thousands of workflows from tour availability and pricing to marketing, CRM information, to payment collection and confirmation.
“For customers, automation has become mainstream and is expected in its entirety. When you automate processes like billing and payment confirmation, emails to trip itineraries to pre-trip departure information, you increase the likelihood of a satisfied customer.
“The best automation flows are expected by consumers, but are not really obvious to them. When these small businesses automate customer facing tasks, they need to be sure that they're using customisable formats to showcase their brands in all customer interactions, otherwise it can seem robotic and unattractive.”
Zand added that small and medium sized enterprises are often “bombarded” by solutions claiming to offer them value but the right solutions must be an enabler and not a barrier to doing business with their customers.
“Tech is meant to support, not take over,” she said. “A lot of SMEs do sometimes feel as though it is taking over and it's a big job to integrate
“I come personally from a major tour operator and technology decisions take forever because it's a lot to change within your own business. But with the right technological support, business can manage and automate cross team tasks and workflows and continue to keep a fine tab on their payments, their balance sheet, and their bookings.
“As a travel business owner, technology is their greatest asset. We believe tech has made significant advancements in all sectors as we as consumers consider e-commerce natural to the retail experience and online booking common practice.
“However, in tourism and hospitality, while tech has advanced in many regards tour operators have typically lagged with technological advancements to support back-end operations and front-end customer support, although some are doing an incredible job.
“Unlike other industries, tech isn't always a natural fit, especially when dealing with more localised tour operators in regionalised areas.”