Staying relevant in today’s changing travel market

In today's dynamic business world, Maxim Sevastianov, CEO and founder Traveknowledgy, takes a look at OTAs and TMCs can increase profitability while maintaining customer loyalty

Whether an OTA or travel management company, the focus for every business is more sales, greater efficiency and reduced costs. It’s a simple formula in a complex and highly competitive world, with competition continuing to turn up the heat. You’ve got to drive new business while at the same time keeping your existing customers happy without draining your resources.

The problem is, what may have kept customers with you 10 years ago no longer works today. New technologies have completely changed the way consumers behave and travel businesses have to adapt to stay relevant.

So, how do you increase profitability while maintaining customer loyalty? Here are three ways to ensure that you stay focused while operating in the best and most efficient way that maximises profitability and reduces poor time management.

Start by considering your sales funnel.

Provide an omnichannel touchpoint experience
Holidays are about personalisation and building great experiences. Consumers now spend more time researching and seeking inspiration, and this is before they’ve even considered their destination. So, make the journey with you as consistent as possible. Start with live chat on your site. You’ll be able to respond immediately to any concerns, questions or doubts at the important the early stages of the sales funnel and build that relationship with them. Social channels and bricks and mortar branches should be an extension of the experience and the process must be seamless.

Offering services through multiple channels is complex, however, every customer is unique. They want to communicate across channels of their choice. Adobe made the point that every screen and customer interaction is an opportunity to connect and travellers are interacting with your brand 24/7 in all kinds of places. Your brand must believe in and focus on all channels.

Omni channel approach translate to big gains

A recent Gartner study found that integrating four or more digital channels outperforms single- or dual-channel campaigns by 300 per cent. That’s huge, but many brands still provide a very divided approach. A “single view” of customers that can be tracked across their journeys from start to finish whether online, mobile or email, enables travel businesses to offer a service and a product that resonates with travellers and customer segments. Data is used to identify opportunities to further improve the customer experience.

By connecting with travellers through so many channels, at various points in their journeys, allows brands to be part of a holiday experience as well as building trust and connections.

Providing useful and compelling content also maintains the dialogue throughout. Destination guides either at the booking process, in airports or at the hotel continues the connection throughout and maintains that single view. These value add-ons are also a great opportunity to upsell as travellers consider what they are going to do when they arrive at their destination

Videos, reviews and customer engagement
Research company Forrester announced recently that 60 per cent of all traffic online comes from video. People who travel are an integral part of this process. They like to share their experience with friends and family with images and videos posted on social channels. This is great content and it’s capturing a wide audience.

Ask customers to share this with you by uploading on your website and social channels. You can encourage customers to leave their reviews by running a competition for the best safari or beach picture, then award a prize, give vouchers or a discount on their next holiday. Good reviews and images enable other travellers to get a clear idea of how the experience would be for them before making their choice.

Millions of people check reviews posted on OTAs and they want unbiased tips and advice.

So, make sure these are well managed. Take action on the negative comments and see them as ways to improve your services and better understand your market. It also helps to engage with your market and build relationships. Your brand may be working with the same customers for years because they trust you and know that they’ll get a great product.

This is what you want with all your customers, so keep them up to date with the latest deals, offers, hot spots to travel and so on. This will help them to find a travel product that fit them well. Good blog posts, local news channels and newspapers are also powerful tools you can use to engage your audience. Great customer reviews can improve your sales by five-fold

Can you automate parts of your business?
Now let’s look internally. In the World Economic Forum report of 2017, it was estimated that by 2022 automation in travel and tourism will generate a value of around US$305 billion. The report adds that US$100 billion is expected to be transferred from traditional players to new competitors over the next few years. The message for companies throughout the travel sector is clear “stay ahead of the competition by embracing digital innovation and automation or risk being left behind.”

There has been a great deal of research into automation for the traveller too and it’s clear that today’s holidaymaker and explorer prefers tailored solutions according to their past preferences. However, while it may seem tempting to automate everything you can, it’s very wise to have a plan in place.

If we look at the post-booking process, for example, there are so many processes that take up valuable time and resources. Think client communication, queue management, ticketing, checking fare prices before and after the ticket has been issued and many more tasks performed by staff. All of these tasks are costly, resource heavy and expose the business to inefficiencies and missed revenue opportunities.

You may want to consider automating these processes. So, find the best automation tool and assign a team in charge of testing and implementing it gradually. Make sure that you fully understand the process you’re automating, evaluate the process and change it.

Help your team to adopt automation. While the system may be intuitive and versatile, automation technology which takes years to develop will only work as well as the people who use it.

Change for every travel business is not easy, but as an OTA and TMC, in order to compete, you must continue to evolve and improve. Listen to your customers, look at your workflows and consider how technology can help to improve the way you currently run your operation.

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